How is Tequila Made?
The main ingredient in Tequila is the Blue Agave, a plant native of Mexico. Just like rum, the steps for their elaboration are the same.
As this is a product with a controlled designation of origin, the body in charge of regulating the production of Tequila in Mexico is the Tequila Regulatory Council. This is responsible for certifying that the steps for its production are rigorously followed in order to ensure the highest quality.
Regardless of the distillery, each one has its sources of Agave and regions where it’s extracted, quality processes and special techniques for the production of Tequila. Although, they’re always under the supervision of the Council.
The steps to make Tequila are harvesting, cooking, fermentation, distillation, aging, and bottling.
What are the Tequila’s ingredients?
- Blue Agave
- Wild yeast
Elaboration of Tequila
Sowing, cultivating, and collecting Agave requires effort and knowledge about the plant that has been passed from generation to generation for hundreds of years.
To obtain a quality Tequila it’s necessary for the plant to grow for 6 to 10 years, with rigorous care until they’re ripe and ready for harvest.
The person in charge of harvesting the Agave is known as “Jimador”, he’s trained to pull the plant out of the ground with a tool called Coa.
First, he cuts the leaves of the Agave to then extract from the ground the Agave’s heart or the piña.
A ripe pineapple can weigh between 30 and 150 kilograms; however, weight is not the most important thing. Its sugar content is what really matters.
Cooking the Agave
Cooking depends a lot on the distillery that makes it, some use pressurized steam inside traditional brick kilns and others, stainless steel boilers.
The purpose is the same, to activate chemical processes that convert the complex carbohydrates within the “piña” into simple sugars. Also to soften the piña to facilitate the extraction of the sugar.
Once the piñas have been cooked, the sugar must be extracted from them. This is done by pressing them to extract the liquid called “Aguamiel”.
Traditionally it’s made with a “Tahona”, a giant wheel inside a circular structure used to crush and press the piña.
The liquid resulting from this process is deposited in stainless steel tanks or in long wooden tanks so that the sugars in the mixture are transformed into alcohol through fermentation.
Yeast is added to speed up the process and to control fermentation. The yeast that is traditionally used is one that grows naturally in the leaves of Agave, although today it is not the only one that is used.
This process can take from 7 to 12 days depending on the distillery.
Distillation is made by subjecting the resulting liquid to heat and taking the resulting steam to distillation towers.
Some go through 3 distillations, but the common is that the process is of 2 distillations.
The first distillation takes a couple of hours approximately and it seeks to bring the mixture to a concentration of 20% alcohol.
Then it goes through another distillation that takes about 4 hours where the objective is to bring the mixture to a maximum of 55% alcoholic saturation.
After this process, the result is what is called Tequila Blanco.
The process to age Tequila uses American or French oak barrels that were previously used to age Bourbon.
The Tequila Reposado is aged from 2 to 12 months, the Añejo from 1 to 3 years, and the Extra Añejo beyond 3 years.
As with all spirits drinks, the longer the contact with the barrel, the more complex its flavor will be.
Finally, the flavor will be affected by the type of barrel, which was aged before, and whether the barrel is charred or not.
Tequila is a drink with a Controlled Designation of Origin, which limits its production to 5 Mexican states: Guanajuato, Jalisco, Michoacán, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas.
The state of Jalisco is the one that produces the highest amount of Tequila, it’s also considered the cradle of tequila and is the only state with its own Designation of Origin.
All bottles of Tequila must be bottled in the permitted states and all must say “Made in Mexico / Hecho en México.”
Tequilas that are not 100% Agave or the so-called mixed, can be bottled and sold anywhere in the world.
Finally, there are many factors that are involved in the creation of Tequila, the truth is that as you look for an older Tequila it’s possible that it’s much tastier than one that has not been in contact with the wood of the barrel for so long.