Tequila is an exotic drink made only in Mexico that too in just 5 of its 32 states. The drink is made from blue agave plants that grow in volcanic soils around the city of Tequila and hence it got its name. Tequila production is divided into 7 steps and every step is strictly regulated by the respective authorities to ensure the quality of the final product.
In this session, we discuss about the steps involved in tequila making. Read ahead to know.
The planting, tending as well as the harvesting of blue agave plants is based on centuries old techniques that are passed on through generations. Tequila is made from mature blue agave plants, with the plants taking about 6 to 12 years for maturation. Agave plants in highlands take about 12 years to mature.
The plants die off after the first flower is formed and the harvesting begins at the onset of the flowering season. The harvester known as “Jimador” trims off the leaves around the piña or heart of the agave plant that is used to make tequila. The starch content in the piña is crucial in deciding the quality of the drink made from it, and older the piña is, higher will be its starch content.
Steam produced inside stainless steel autoclaves or brick ovens is used to activate the chemical processes that convert the carbohydrates inside the piña into fermentable sugars. Sugar extraction is made easy by the cooking process.
After cooking, the piñas are brought to a milling area to extract the fermentable sugars. In the milling area, the agave hearts are crushed with tahona, a huge grinding wheel operated by tractors, oxen or mules inside a circular pit. Modern distilleries use mechanical crushers to separate the juice from the piñas. After the agave hearts are crushed, the juices are removed by mixing it with water and straining them.
Fermentation process is carried out inside large stainless steel tanks or wooden vats, and yeast is often added to assist the process. In the traditional step, yeast that grows on agave leaves is used but many distilleries have now started using wild yeast cultures.
In the distillation step, ferments are separated using steam pressure and heat within distillation towers or pot stills made of stainless steel. Most of the tequilas are distilled twice while some are distilled thrice.
In the process of aging, tequila is stored inside oak barrels and different types of tequila have different aging periods. Anejos are aged about one to three years while extra Añejos are aged more than three years. Check out the codigo Añejo review that gives a clear idea about why the Añejo is so special.
100% agave tequilas should be bottled only in specific regions of Mexico whereas mixtos (51% agave+gluose+fructose) can be bottled and sold anywhere.
It is a combination of environmental and human factors that decides the quality and flavor of the tequila.