Deep in the highlands of Jalisco, the scrubland slopes are filled with smallholdings. Farmers there tend spiky blue agaves, much the same way as they have for generations. They coax them to maturity for several years, a labor-intensive process aimed at producing a hearty core, or piña, that can be roasted in prep for tequila-making. It’s a cottage industry, and one that—at least at first—seems almost determinedly retro.
Then the buzzing starts. It isn’t a bee or a tractor, but rather a drone, swooping through the sky as it photographs and scans every plant. It doesn’t ruffle the farmers, though: The drone is just a sign that the Tequila Regulatory Council is undertaking one of its intermittent inspections, which more resemble a scene from a spy novel than the Farmer’s Almanac.
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The Tequila Regulatory Council, or CRT, is tasked with enforcing the strict rules around tequila farming and production. Founded in 1994, the privately run non-profit is the booze world’s version of the FBI; it polices the production of tequila, with a particular focus on protecting the appellation of origin, which outlines various requirements for any producer who wants to claim its tequila is 100 percent blue agave.