What comes in your mind when you hear the word Tequila? Shots? The sharp ting burn after a suck at lemon and salt? Is that all? In case you think this is all then you are mistaken. Indeed Tequila has a rich history just like the favourite Bourbon family. Explicitly, Tequila comes from a town called ‘Tequila’ located in the heart of Mexico. Given the desert conditions to grow, Tequila is an extract of a desert succulent.
Given the desert conditions to grow, Tequila is an extract of a desert succulent called the blue agave/agave tequillana. You may think it’s a cactus but it’s not.Lets get more into How Is Tequila Made.
So what is Blue Agave?
Blue agave (pronounced as Uh-Gah-Vee) is a progeny of lily family. It looks like a giant ball with enormous bluish spikes. Red, silicon rich, volcanic soil is its domicile. Furthermore not suffering from water stress as the leaves and roots are smart enough to adapt. Yet one flaw, flaw to follow the long period of maturity. As Blue agave grows old it accumulates ample amount of sugar and starch in the center called piña. Moreover it contains Inulin, a chain of fructose molecules which are abundant in nutrients. Even the sprouting stalk called quiote are cut as they grow up to 5 meters so as the plant doesn’t use the pool of nutrients to grow. The harvesting of Blue agave takes about 8 years, hence making Tequila so extraordinary.
Harvesting is more of a manual effort where the the Jimadores (the man who harvests) use the centuries-old tactics. Thereupon working under rows and pull over the pups without hurting the mother plant. The more the skills of the Jimadores, the better would be the yield. January to May becomes the best season to harvest the blue agave as this season witnesses the highest yield.
Coa, a sharp curved tool detaches the agave leaves. For this reason only the heart or piña is used for the production of tequila. Piña are lofty upto eighty to three hundred pounds with starch content adhering inside the piña. As piñas attain maturity they get ready for harvestation. The ripen piña has red brown spots of bleeding sap as the pencas trim off. Ripe piña from mature agave plants have more sugar henceforth giving a higher yield and producing superior tequila.
The are cut into two halves or quarters for uniform cooking. Their journey further moves into the oven through a conveyor. Chiefly, traditional oven and stainless steel autoclaves are used to convert complex carbs into fermented sugars. Further, steam baking takes place to convert the starchy sap into fermented sugar. Likewise slow baking of steam heating masory called Horno occurs for 24-48 hours.
The steam shuts off and the pinas are cooled for about 16-48 hours. At less than 200°F (90-95°C), caramelization occurs with the slow cooking process. Consequently adding a bitter flavor and reducing the sugar level while retaining the natural agave flavor. The cooking breaks down the fibers and releases the natural juices.
We can extract the juice from the piñas through three different methods:
1. The Artisanal process:
A mule/ox pulls a huge stone wheel called Tahona over the pinas. The process continues with stone-lined cooking ovens in addition to wooden fermentation tanks, and steam copper pot.
2. Modern process:
Mechanical rollers, shredding mills and presses crushes the cooked agave.
During shredding, water washes the fibers which helps in the extraction of sugars. And the processes thus goes on using stainless steal autoclaves, stainless fermentation tanks and stainless pot stills.
3. Diffuser Process:
Mechanical shredders break down the uncooked pinas into fibers. Diffuser extracts the carbohydrates from the earlier shredded pinas with water. The product is then fed through an in-line cooker. It involves different columnar stills. Variances and combinations occur to define the quality of the final product according to the manufacturer.
Yeast now converts the fermentation sugar (Aguamiel) into alcohol. Prior to fermentation, water dilutes the content to reduce the concentration of sugar to a level (8-16%) depending on sugar tolerance of yeast strain. For mixed tequila, cane or corn sugar will be added to a maximum of 49%of the fermented sugar. For tequila 51% of fermented sugar in mosto. In 100% agave Tequila only blue agave Aguamiel is fermented with no sugar. Occurs in stainless steel or vats of wood lasting for 24-96 hours on the process. The aeration of vats occurs first to encourage aerobic fermentation causing the yeast cells to multiply. Later in the process the anaerobic fermentation takes place encouraging yeast to produce alcohol.
Pot and column stills distill the Tequilla twice. After first distillation it is called Ordinario and after second distillate it is termed as Tequila. Different flavouring compounds evaporate at different temperature and the distiller has to find the right balance. After the first distillation, what we get is “Ordinario“. Similarly after the second distillation, we get Tequila. At this point the tequila normally has an alcohol content of 55% or higher. 55% alcohol is the equivalent of 110 proof. Distilled water dilutes the product to reach the desired level of alcohol (normally 38 – 40%). Many manufactures use 38% alcohol content for tequila being sold in Mexico, and 40 % for tequila being exported to the United States.
Now comes the time for the Tequila to age longer than 3-4 years. It rests well in the wooden barrels, mostly from the oak from US, France or Canada which gives a smoother texture with a woody taste and golden colour. Some companies likewise use white oak and char it for a smoky flavor. Some also use barrels previously holding a different kind of alcohol(i.e., whiskey, scotch, or wine) The holding capacity of barrels cannot exceed 600 liters.
What’s the benefit of aging is, it disguises the agave flavor and an incomparable taste and aroma. Reposado, añejo, or extra añejo are the Tequila sold in the barrels.
Reposado, featuring richer and more complex flavors. Many people has a belief that after 4 years of aging the tequila is at its best. People drink a lot of young tequila having the aging standard: blanco/joven is just 0 to 2 months old; reposado is 2 months to 1 year; and añejo is 1 to 3 years. But there’s such a thing as “extra añejo,” taking tequila aging to another level of maturity (3 years or more).
How Is Tequila Made Video