Mexican police are cracking down on illegal tequila. In a pair of raids on underground distilleries over the last week, Mexican authorities seized nearly 20,000 gallons of fake “agave distillates” according to multiple reports.
In the first police action, 18,700 gallons of “tequila” were confiscated. In the second action, about 1000 gallons were hauled into evidence.
The issue is not just a matter of upcharging for a well bottle. The products being marketed and labeled as “tequila” are truly dangerous. At least 235 gallons of the contraband tested positive for dangerous levels of methanol. Methanol is an extremely toxic chemical also known as wood alcohol. The human body metabolizes methanol first into formaldehyde and then into formic acid. However, the layperson probably knows methanol best as an active ingredient in both antifreeze and windshield washer fluid.
Authorities also discovered 30 gallons of pure cane alcohol, 150 gallons other alcoholic “products” and almost 800 of juice made from inedible agave waste products according to the Consejo Regulador del Tequila (Tequila Regulatory Council.) The group theorized that the potpourri of chemicals are mixed together and the resulting product is marketed as tequila.
The raids come in the wake of increased outrage north of the border. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel recently published a high profile exposé about tourists at Mexican resorts suffering from blackouts and violent illness after just a one or two drinks. The reporters spoke with over 150 guests at resorts in popular destinations like Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Puerta Vallarta, and Los Cabos. Counterfeit alcohol is one possible cause of the illness although the Mexican government has denied that the bad booze is making its way to the hotspots.
The reports have sparked pressure on the U.S. State Department to take action. “Unfortunately, the issue of illicit alcohol in Mexico is not going away, and U.S. citizens continue to be victimized,” Sen. Tammy Baldwin, wrote in a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. “Making matters worse, this is just one thread in the larger web of Mexico’s degrading security, governance and human rights climate.”
While the topic is serious, a satirical outlet predicted such issues years ago. In a classic Simpsons episode, Bart breaks up a ring of French winemakers diluting their bottles with antifreeze.