Salud! Cheers! One, two, threee..¡Tequila ¡ The Making of Tequila in Mexico
By Alfie D’Souza, Illinois [ Published Date: October 3, 2014 ]
“One Tequila..Two Tequila..Three Tequila…Floor! – that’s right, when you had a few shots of Tequila you’ll most probably find yourself on the floor. Like when you are in Goa, many of you may not go back home without buying one or two bottles of Goa’s very own “Feni”, similarly when you are in Mexico, you surely want to take back home one or few of the best “tequila” available there. When you refer to Mexico, it is impossible not to mention “Tequila”. For Mexicans, besides being an essential part of their culture, it is the drink of choice in all parties and reunions and a “must have” drink for those visiting this country.
Even though Tequila comes from the Jalisco Region in Mexico, you will find a great place in Guanajuato. During my trip to Mexico few years back, I toured places like Mexico City, Acapulco, Puerto Vallarta, and off course, Guanajuato-the land of Agave and “tequila”. Guanajuato and its tequila tradition goes hand-in-hand.The tequila, Mexico’s traditional beverage par excellence, is also produced in Guanajuato, since this state is also part of the designation of origin area where the Tequilana Weber blue agave is grown and harvested.
During my tour at Tequilera Corralejo – a tequila making factory I discover the process that hides behind a shot of tequila, from the harvest of the agave, the jima, its fermentation and distillation. And southwestern Guanajuato is the perfect place to expand your knowledge about this beverage, since it is there where you will find the must-see tequila wineries located around the city of Penjamo. Coexist with the producers and tour, with them, the blue agave plantations where you will be able to become a jimator for one day, and separate the pineapple from which the tequila originates, from the agave stalk.
During the tour at the tequila factory, you will find a large variety of tequila flavors for sale plus they offer a very interesting class where a tequila expert tells you everything you need to know about this fun drink, Tequila. From the blue agave, the plant where it is extracted, to the aging process this drink goes through until it is distilled and ready. Since in most cases after the theory you must then practice, the tasting experience begins soon after the class is over. The tasting includes many different types of Tequila including Tequila desert flavors. You taste up to 9 different tequila flavors including “White tequila”, “tequila añejo”, “Raspberry shot” etc…You have to try them all! Some of them are a real treat…like having candy.
While I enjoyed all the drinks, I must confess that my favorite was definitely the one the person in charge of the tasting (Fernando), drew a triple decker, which consists of coffee tequila liqueur, almond, caramel and “Tequila Reposado”, besides the fact that I’m a coffee lover, this drink had a touch of sweet that all the women love. And trust me, by the end of this tour I was seeing stars in the broad daylight?
Here I explain some of the details I learned during my visit to this place: Currently in Mexico, tequila production is still done in the traditional way; The tequila is a registered mark of origin, which legally protects the original producers against producers from other areas who want to copy the process in a lower quality; It takes between 7 and 8 years to produce a bottle of tequila, and thereafter begins the process of aging in oak barrels to form different types: Reposed, Aged and extra Aged.
Ah, now the million-dollar question… How is tequila made? You might be a tequila drinker, but chances are you are not a true tequila aficionado. The difference? Anyone can drink tequila, but not everyone knows what it takes to make it. So how is tequila made? If you’ve taken the time to research how tequila is made, I say you’re awesome. If that’s not your case, however, you’re still awesome… you just have some quick learning to do!
What is tequila?
Tequila is an alcoholic drink produced with blue Weber agave. This agave plant is also known as weberi agave, weber agave, and agave tequilana (its scientific name). Agaves from the Highlands produce sweet and frutal tequilas, while agaves from the Lowlands are more herbaceous in nature. This becomes evident in the liquor’s aroma and taste. It has a denomination of origin which limits production to 5 Mexican states: Jalisco, Nayarit, Tamaulipas, Michoacán and Guanajuato. The Consejo Regulador del Tequila (CRT for short) is the entity responsible for enforcing laws and regulating all tequila products.
A similar Mexican drink, mezcal, also uses agave. Mezcal can be produced anywhere in Mexico and is subject to different regulations than tequila. An aficionado will also recognize that mezcal has a different, usually harsher flavor. In short, all tequila is mezcal, but not all mezcal is tequila. Now on to our question: how is tequila made? The Production involves 6 basic steps:
Planting and Harvesting
The process begins with the jima, the harvest, and the jimadores, those responsible for growing and eventually harvesting the agave. Producers may have their own agave, but most choose to buy it from growers. The plant is left to grow 8 to 10 years, enough time for agave to produce honey within its piña (I’ll call it “pina” for all you gringos… You’re welcome!). Jimadores will then use a coa, a tool used for centuries, to extract the pina and clear it of leaves and thorns.
Cooking and Milling
The pinas will be weighed, cut up in halves or quarters, and cooked. The traditional method takes pinas and places them in hornos, or cooking ovens. The modern method involves using steel pressure cookers called autoclaves. The latter approach cooks the pinas faster. Fortunately, flavor doesn’t vary with either process. Agave is cooked to transform starches into sugars, which will then become transform into alcohol. To extract the agua miel, or honey water, the cooked fruit passes through grinding blades. Fibers are sprayed with water, ensuring all sugars are released. Leftover fibers, known as bagazo, are generally used as fertilizer for agave fields.
The juices are now ready to be fermented. This is each tequila starts to acquire its unique taste and classification. If the producer wants 100% agave tequila, then the juice passes straight to fermentation vessels. However, if he wants mixto tequila (non-100% agave tequila), then the agua miel must be placed in formulation tanks. Sugarcane or molasses sugar are then added to the juice. Only then can the mixto be placed in fermentation vessels.
Now’s the time alcohol begins to appear (finally!). Producers will introduce yeasts. These can either be chemical catalysts or natural ingredients. The tanks are lightly heated and carbon dioxide is released, giving the agave juice 5% alcohol content per volume. Is this how tequila is made…? Not yet, but we’re getting close.
The mosto, or fermented agave juice, is finally ready for distillation. The juice will be heated to alcohol’s vaporization point and then cooled and condensed to create ordinario (ordinary in English). You could try to drink this ordinario, but chances are you’d be blinded and intoxicated afterwards! That is why Mexican law requires all tequila to be distilled twice. The mosto can be distilled three or even four times for top-shelf tequila.
The first distillation will remove all “heads” and “tails”, the first and last portions of the distilled product. These contain bad alcohols and other impurities, which is why they must be discarded in favor of a quality (and safe) drink. A second distillation determines the percent of alcohol the tequila will have. Premium tequila will aim for 40% alcohol per volume or 80 proof; a bulk, mixto, or lower quality spirit instead aims for 55% alcohol per volume or 110 proof, which will be later diluted with purified water.
Following along? Good… We finally have tequila! Tequila blanco, to be precise. A blanco is agave in its purest alcohol form (it’s also known as plata and silver tequila). Finally, something we can drink! But this blanco can still be worked with. Reposado and añejo tequila can be obtained from a blanco (again, let’s make it easy on your eyes and call it “anejo”).
To do so, silver tequila is aged in barrels. Reposados use redwood or oak barrels, while anejos almost exclusively use Kentucky bourbon barrels (I’ve also heard of former cognac barrels being used for anejo). A reposado will age from 2 to 12 months; an anejo from 1 to 3 years; and a new, recently regulated extra anejo will age for over 3 years. The more time the liquor spends within a barrel, the more color and tannins the final product will have.So you have it – How is tequila made? It’s made by harvesting, cooking, fermenting, distilling, and aging the blue agave. This final product (blanco, reposado or añejo) is ready to be drinked.
So you have it – How is tequila made? It’s made by harvesting, cooking, fermenting, distilling, and aging the blue agave. This final product (blanco, reposado or añejo) is ready to be drinked.
The beverage is pretty much ready to be consumed. However, there are rules regarding how and where tequila can be bottled. All 100% agave tequila must be labeled and sealed in Mexico. Non-100% agave tequila, or mixtos, can either be bottled in Mexico or in the U.S.
Wrapping things up…And that, ladies and gentlemen, answers the million-dollar “how is tequila made” question. Now you can show off your new tequila knowledge at your next party- if Tequila is one of the alcohol there. Happy drinking!
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