Agave insights from longtime aficionado


David Suro-Piñera, owner of Tequila’s, uses this traditional gourd cup to drink mescal. His company, Siembra Azul, featuring highlands tequila, recently expanded into mescal
For most of the 30 years since David Suro-Piñera opened Tequila’s, his elegant ode to authentic Mexican cuisine and drink on Locust Street, he’s only had eyes for one kind of agave spirit: tequila. That’s no surprise, considering the restaurant’s name, his epic bottle collection, and Siembra Azul, the company featuring highlands tequila he launched 11 years ago. But with Siembra’s recent expansion into the world of mescal, plus a new line of tequilas featuring lowlands terroir (Siembra Valles), Suro-Piñera’s mission to preach the joys of agave liquor has grown more fascinating than ever. He took a moment between work trips to pause for a few sips, a grasshopper taco (his favorite), and a long chat about the evolution of his industry – and the challenges facing Philadelphia’s rapidly growing Mexican community.

You always talk about “terroir” with tequila. What’s the difference between tequila from the highlands and lowlands?

[Tequila production] crosses the Sierra Madre mountain range in Jalisco and goes from sea level to 8,000 feet above. With so many microclimates and diverse ecosystem biodiversity, the flavors you obtain in agave spirits are unique and endless. In the highlands, there is a cool, dry climate with soil that is rich in iron, so agaves live longer and develop more sugar content with unique flavors that are commonly floral, herbaceous with citrus notes. In the lowlands, there are warmer climates and more humidity, and the agaves complete their cycle in a shorter period of time. With volcanic soil, they form a lot of peppery, salty minerality and a little bit of a spiciness.

Mescal, tequila’s rustic cousin, has been hot for several years now. Why did it take you so long to get involved in that category?

Since day one, I’ve always recognized mescal as being the foundation – culturally and historically – of a distilling tradition that dates back possibly 3,500 years in the Mesoamerican region. At one point, tequila was mescal. But the category is getting quickly saturated, so I wanted to focus on some very unique mescales. Most are coming from Oaxaca, but the Michoacán region is the newest addition [of officially recognized points of origin], even though it has always been prolific in mescal production. And the flavor profiles we have in Michoacán have never been exposed to the States. They grow in a pine forest, and all the agaves we use have a unique character – a very piney, sappy profile and a lighter smokiness, even though they use also lava rock pits for cooking. Our mescales use very old processes – the still’s condensing pipes are made out of oyamel and pinewood – so we have a spirit that is connected with centuries of history.

Speaking of history, you’ve seen the Philadelphia region’s Mexican population grow from almost nothing to a couple hundred thousand since you arrived. What was the Mexican restaurant scene like here in 1985?
I was married at that time to a lady from Philadelphia. Love brought me here. But the Mexican scene? It was pretty much zero. Mostly Tex-Mex. I had to go all the way to Chicago to select my ingredients and ask a guy back in Avondale to bring them in. Even cilantro was difficult to get back in the ’80s.

Our Mexican culture is so rich now, especially in South Philly. Do you have any favorite taquerias?

I love Tamalex (1163 S. Seventh St.) for the caldo de res and menudo. They execute it just like a grandma would do it back in Puebla. I also really like Barbacoa South Philly (1703 S. 11th St.), where I like their barbacoa consommé a lot, and the way they season and bake the [lamb] barbacoa is just perfect, a very honest expression of the Toluca region. But I also like [the modern interpretations of] what Jose Garces did at Distrito, and the guys at El Vez, Coyote Crossing, La Calaca Feliz, and Carlos Molina at Las Bugambilias, my former chef. He didn’t know how to hold a knife when he first walked into my restaurant, but now he has such a beautiful restaurant on South Street – it cannot get any better than that.

Considering such progress, and the many opportunities for Mexican immigrants in Philadelphia kitchens, what are your thoughts on the recent focus on illegal immigration and undocumented workers losing their jobs due to background checks?

If it wasn’t for the thousands of families that immigrated to Philadelphia from Puebla, we would not have such a prosperous and vibrant restaurant industry. It makes absolutely no sense to deny the role that our community plays in [that]. For too long, we have blamed all that is negative on a very vulnerable sector of people who are typically the hardest workers at the entry level of our society. But it is a political decision. And I totally disagree with the lack of political willingness to find humane solutions. There can be many different ways to do that, from temporary visas to amnesty. But there at least has to be a debate.



DAVID Corporation Announces RMIS Insights™ – A Free, Open Community Supported Solution for Risk Data Graphic Analytics

SAN FRANCISCO, April 11, 2016 /PRNewswire/ — DAVID Corporation, Inc., a San Francisco-based insurance technology firm, is pleased to announce RMIS Insights™, an open community, cloud-based solution that provides powerful graphical insights which illuminate key RMIS data, leading to smarter decisions. The program, which is built on an open platform and designed to be developed as a community resource, allows RMIS data from any client data source to be uploaded into a powerful data transformation engine via an open standard for analysis.

Offered free of charge for up to 5,000 claims per organization, RMIS Insights makes it easy for users to share, compare and act on RMIS data analytics. No formal training is needed and users can find specific data analytic views to review, print or share via email. The program’s instant-on feature automatically provides a library of dynamic, ready to use RMIS data views.

RMIS Insights provides users with a choice of analytic categories to find the best solutions for their needs. Users can select from analytic categories covering Claim Metrics, Claim Trends, Policy Trends, KPI and Data Quality. Once the user finds the analytic model that meets their needs, each graphic allows users to directly drill into the underlying data.

Data security is a well-planned part of the solution, and authorized users can control what data they want to load and view, as well as if they have data they may want to benchmark in a safe cloud-data environment.

“The power of a collaborative community of users that cares about new evolving RMIS analytic models unlocks smart, new ideas that can help move the industry forward in strategic areas that make a measurable difference,” Mark Dorn, DAVID Corporation President and CEO, said. “RMIS Insights is the place to share a common platform of expertise, leverage pre built graphic exhibits and help build future ideas for RMIS data analysis of Key Performance Indicator (KPI) data,” added Michael Hamann, Vice President of Development.

RMIS Insights is ideal for large and small RMIS and Claim departments. Large clients with multiple data sources can consolidate their data and data analytic reporting in one platform. Smaller claim clients with data stored in Excel and isolated databases, can upload and leverage their data with high quality graphics and analytics. RMIS Insights is also beneficial for risk and claim managers whose older systems have report-only capability, yet they need, and want, robust graphic and data analytics without having to build a separate electronic data warehouse (EDW) or license costly training intensive analytic tools.

Users can register at to access the software and join the community of other risk managers who will be building and sharing ideas for additional analytic views and tools for winning results. Users can load up to 5,000 claims per organization free of charge. Additional claims can be obtained for $100/year per thousand.

“At RMIS Insights you can join your friends, colleagues, broker and partners in leveraging new ideas in risk data analysis,” Dorn added. “RMIS Insights is here and ready to help make RMIS data easier to understand and use.”

DAVID Corporation

DAVID Corporation has a 31-year history as one of the premier technology companies servicing the risk, claims and insurance markets. The company has one of the longest-serving uninterrupted independent commitments to clients in the industry. DAVID Corporation provides proven products, comprehensive technology and best practices that help clients reduce their total cost of risk as well as solve challenges in claims administration, underwriting, rating, policy management and reporting.


Young MKs gain insights in the US for their work in the Knesset

Itzik ShmulyFour young MKs flew to the US last week to learn about the American system and Jewish community, and plan to return in a week with insights to enrich their work in the Knesset.

MKs Amir Ohana (Likud), Sharren Haskel (Likud),Merav Ben-Ari (Kulanu) and Itzik Shmuly (Zionist Union) were in the US – first in Washington, then New York, and on Monday will travel to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, before returning to Washington. The trip is sponsored by the International Visitor Leadership Program, a project of the US State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

The lawmakers, freshmen except for Shmuly who is serving his second term, and all below age 40, learned about the US government system from academics and consultants, and are expected to meet members of Congress. They also met with leaders of AIPAC, J Street, the American Jewish Committee and the Arab-American Institute.

Shmuly spoke to The Jerusalem Post from New York about the trip that he said he found fascinating and eye-opening.

The Zionist Union MK said two topics were frequently raised: The two-state solution and Jewish religious pluralism.

“In every meeting, with almost everyone we met, [the two-state solution] came up,” he recounted.

“The good thing is that in America, it doesn’t matter who the president will be, the country is totally committed to the idea of two states… even though on the Israeli side there are opinions for and against it.”

Shmuly said that it is clear that the US is focused on other things with a presidential election coming up later this year, but that the two-state solution is the only longterm strategy as far as Americans are concerned.

As for tensions between the ultra-Orthodox and non-Orthodox streams of Judaism in Israel, Shmuly said: “We met with representatives from all different backgrounds in the Jewish community, and grew to understand how this [issue] is a central element of Israel’s relations with the Jewish community in America. Not everyone had the same response to the issue, but it came up constantly.”

Many of the Jewish Americans he met were “hurt and insulted” as a result of this conflict, a feeling that was “justified,” Shmuly said.

“It can’t be that you’re Jewish enough to make aliya and serve in the army, or Jewish enough to support Israel from afar, because the advocacy and lobbying work is a great contribution to our security, but not Jewish enough to be recognized by the State of Israel as such,” he argued. “We talked to people here who have a record of decades of activism for Israel and Jewish communities [in the US], and understood how important the topic is to them.”

Shmuly said that while being an MK is “never boring” because of security issues and his commitment to lowering the cost of living, he plans to add religious pluralism to his priorities.

“We need to push more on these topics and understand the strategic and moral importance of our connection with the Jewish community in America and around the world,” he said.

Last week, the Social Guard, a Knesset watchdog NGO, ranked Shmuly as the MK who deals the most with social issues.

Against that background and focus, he finds the current US election campaign fascinating – especially Sen. Bernie Sanders’s candidacy for the Democratic nomination – though he did clarify that as an Israeli lawmaker he is not endorsing anyone.

America is lacking in “things that look obvious” to Israelis, Shmuly said.

“It’s true that there are things that need to be fixed in the Israeli economy… but there are things that we take for granted, like public healthcare, basic welfare services – even if people are trying to reduce them,” he stated. “I respect that individualism is very important to Americans, but I have a lot of questions. What makes [Americans] live as a community? Doesn’t there need to be a level of solidarity in every society? These things are fascinating to learn about.”

According to Shmuly, Sanders’s appeal comes from such questions, from “middle-to-lower class people, young people and people from the weaker sectors who cannot fulfill the American dream as well as they should. They are creating the momentum toward Sanders.”

The Zionist Union MK did criticize Sanders’s exaggeration last week of the death toll (initially, he said 10,000) in Gaza during 2014’s Operation Cast Lead, and noted that it come up in major American news sources.

“The minute a candidate throws a number like that in the air without checking it is definitely disturbing,” he said. “I hope this was just a mistake of numbers and that there isn’t something else behind it. If someone is coming from a point of view of wanting to solve a complex problem, he can’t just throw abstract ideas in the air. It needs to be taken seriously with in-depth understanding.”


First LSD brain imaging study offers insights into consciousness

Multicoloured brain scansModern imaging methods are revealing LSD’s influence on the brain

Carhart-Harris et al.

Almost three-quarters of a century after chemist Albert Hofmann accidentally ingested LSD and experienced its mind-expanding effects, brain imaging has given researchers their first glimpse of how it causes its profound effects on consciousness.

One of the most notable aspects of the psychedelic experience is a phenomenon known as the dissolution of the ego, in which users feel somehow detached from themselves. Studying how the normally stable sense of self gets disrupted can tell us how neural mechanisms create this integral part of the human experience.

“This is why psychedelics in general but also LSD are special. They really alter consciousness in this fundamental way and therefore they are very powerful tools to understand the nature of consciousness,” says Robin Carhart-Harris of Imperial College London, who carried out the new study.

The team gave 20 volunteers infusions on two days, once containing 75 micrograms of LSD, the other a placebo. Then volunteers lay in a scanner and had their brains imaged with three different techniques, which together built up a comprehensive picture of neural activity, both with the drug and without.

Scans showing marked difference in active areas between placebo and LSD

Carhart-Harris et al.

MRI scans showed that LSD caused brain activity to become less coordinated in regions that make up what is called the default mode network. The size of the effect was correlated with participants’ ratings of their own ego dissolution, suggesting that this network underlies a stable sense of self.

Another imaging type, magnetoencephalography (MEG), showed that the rhythm of alpha brainwaves weakened under LSD, an effect that was also correlated with ego dissolution. Alpha rhythms are stronger in humans than other animals, and Carhart-Harris thinks it could be a signature of high-level human consciousness.

But LSD also made the brain more unified in its activity, and there was more communication between regions that normally work separately. “The brain is functioning in a simpler way,” says Carhart-Harris.

The results also go some way to explaining how LSD causes dreamlike visual hallucinations. Although the primary visual cortex usually communicates mainly with other parts of the vision system, many other brain areas contributed to the processing of images in volunteers who received LSD.

There was intense research into LSD in the 1950s and 60s, and the drug showed great promise in treating mood disorders, addictions and other conditions. When it was banned by an international treaty, most scientific work ground to a halt even though it was still technically allowed.

David Nutt, the senior author of the study, says he hopes the study will be transformative and inspire others to follow them. “This, for human neuroscience, is the same as the Higgs boson,” he says.

“This is a milestone study,” says Matthias Liechti, a drug researcher at the University of Basel, Switzerland. “It seems that research on LSD is making progress again despite regulatory and funding hurdles.”