Tequila 

Tequila is protected as an AOC. Area covers a selection of specific

municipalities within the 5 states of Jalisco

Raw Material

Blue Agave

  • succulent native to central America

  • grows natively throughout Jalisco, those used for tequila production are grown in the provinces around the town of Tequila 

  • made up of a hard core "pina"

  • pina > packed full of the carbohydrate inulin, and covered with long thorny leaves

  • grow 7-10 years building up the inulin, used to produce a huge flower stem

  • after flowering the plant dies

  • blue agave, only agave species permitted for Tequila

  • it has high concentrations of inulin, low fibre content 

  • takes 6 years to approach maturity

  • most are harvested between 7-10

  • younger agave > lower quality mixto

  • older agave > 100% agave tequila

  • the plant is able to mature slower by cutting off the flower stem before it can grow and trimming back the leaves, forcing the plant to concentrate its energy in producing inulin

Highland Agave 

  • larger, slower maturing 

  • fruiter aroma of green mango and pear

Lowlands 

  • earthier and robust

  • vegetal with a lime tang

Image below - Agave 

Processing the raw materials 

Harvest (Jima)

  • outer leaves are cut off as close the pina as possbile by using a flat circular blade on a pole

  • leaves give a bitter flavour to the spirit

  • weigh between 20-90kg depending on soil conditions, health and climate

  • pina are taken to the distillery and are halved and cooked

Cooking 

  • cooking process softens the pina, making further processing easier

  • when heated the inulin in the core hydrolises turning into fermentable sugars 

  • cooked via steam, 2 ways > Hornos and Autoclaves 

Hornos 

  • masonry ovens replaced the old Mezcal style roasting pit

  • chopped pinas are placed into an oven

  • cooked for 36-48 hours at 100c

  • inulin converts to sugar and caramelising some of the sugars creating extra congeners

  • sugars that are caramelised can not be fermented, reducing alcohol yield

  • care must be taken not to caramelise too much

  • pina's rest for 2 in the oven after fermentation

  • the liquefied sugars that flow from the pulp during the cooking process are collected, can be added back to the agave juice before fermentation

Autoclave

  • pressurised cookers (modern style)

  • runs at high temperatures, up to 121c

  • speeds up the cooking process > 6hours 

  • 6 hours resting

  • make sure not to over cook or burn the pina, can result in burnt, smokey aromas with a higher level of methanol

Pior to fermentation

Milling

  • ovens are emptied

  • soft agave is crushed to obtain the sugar solution

  • 2 techniques > stone grinding wheel and cutters/shredders 

Stone grinding wheel (Tahona)

  • agave is crushed by a circular stone 

  • traditionally operated by animals this process is now mechanised

  • the stone is pulled in a circular motion grinding the agave underneath to release the juice 

Cutters/Shredders 

  • most common milling method 

  • uses a combination of water and milling to extract the juice

  • cooked agave is cut into pieces by rotating steel blades to release the juice

Image below - Stone grinding wheel

Fermentation

  • ​final sugar solution is made depending on the type of tequila 

  • Tequila 100% agave > juice created by milling is mized with the honey water collected from the cooking process 

  • Tequila > minimum 51% agave sugars. The distiller will add other fermentable sugars, usually molasses or corn-based sugar syrup

  • fermentation in wooden or stainless steel vats 

  • commercial yeast > mixto

  • isolated yeast strains > 100% agave  (more complex end product)

  • natural, wild ferment > traditional distillers eg Tapaito (more complex end product)

  • standard 24-72 hours 

  • wild ferments up to 10days 

  • basic mixto producers sometimes use yeast nutrient to accelerate the fermentation

  • some add agave fibres from the milling process to the fermenter (more flavour)

Distillation 

​Pot Still 

  • typically double distilled 

  • easier to achieve the desired character using a pot still

  • 1st distillation > 30%abv

  • during the 1st distillation some distillers make cuts for heads and tails and can be re-distilled with the next batch, some will discard the tails

  • 2nd distillation > strength varies depending on the style

  • during the 2nd distillation cuts are made for the heads and tails, some choose to discard the tails

  • no maximum or minimum 

  • usually between 55-60%

  • premium producers aiming to produce a tequila with the greatest agave flavour will collect at 40%abv

Column Still

  • less aromas and agave flavour 

  • sometimes the distillate is blended with Tequila from pot stills for a balanced character 

Maturation

  • delicate spirit, the agave character can easily be covered by oak maturation

  • oak maturation can overwhelm the aromas of agave 

  • typically not aged for longer than 5 years 

  • mostly ex-bourbon barrels 

On the label 

Blanco (Silver) > no minimum ageing requirements 

  • batches can be blended for consistency

  • alcohol reduced to bottling strength > between 35-55%abv

  • some are aged for a short period of time in oak to soften

  • any colour is removed via filtration

Joven or Oro (Gold) > no minimum ageing requirements

  • mellowed with abocado giving unaged spirits an appearance of age

  • not used for premium quality tequila

ABOCADO >  adding one or more of the following 

caramel / oak extract / glyercin / sugar syrup 

Reposado (aged) > minimum 2 months 

  • size of oak not specified 

  • can be softned with abocado

  • can be a blend of Reposado and/or Anejo and/or Muy Anejo 

Anejo (extra aged) > minimum 1 year in oak barrels 

  • 600L or smaller 

  • traded at premium prices 

  • can be softened using abocado

Muy Anejo (Ultra aged) > minimum 3 years 

  • 600L or smaller

  • traded at premium prices 

  • can be softened using abocado

Mezcal 

  • ​small scale production

  • rural feeling distilleries

  • few large producers 

  • has its own AOC > defined area includes many places throughout Mexico

  • vast majority is produced in the state of Oaxaca 

  • growing fan base, with the revival of the cocktail culture 

Raw Material 

  • large number of permitted agave

  • most used is known as Espadin 

Processing the raw material 

  • pina are harvested by hand 

  • outer leaves are cut off as close to the pina as possible

  • the pina is cooked inside of a deep, rock-lined roasting pit in the ground 

  • heat comes from a fire that is lit within the pit heating the stones

  • the fire is dampened down and the pinas are placed inside 

  • they are covered with earth and agave fibre left from the previous fermentation or woven palm leaves

  • the heat inside the pit cooks the agave and causes the pina to acquire a smokey character

  • 2-5 days fermentation

  • cooked pinas are shredded using either a stone grinding wheel (tahona) or by hand-held mallets

Fermentation

  • if making Mezcal > up to 20% non-agave sugars can be added 

  • open wooden vats or tanks 

  • wild yeast and agave fibres are common

  • 14-30 days, high temperatures can reduce this fermentation time

Distillation

  • Pot stills

  • typically copper, sometimes wood-fired clay stills or bamboo tubing are used

  • double distilled, similar flavour intensity to Tequila

Post Distillation

  • oak ageing is not very common

  • stainless steel takes to preserve flavour and smoky aromas 

  • small production - can be sold a individual batches and unblended 

  • a worm can be added to the bottle, moth larvae that is found o the agave plant itself

Styles 

Joven (young) > typically unaged 

Reposado > aged in oak for a minimum of 2 months 

Anejo or Anejado (aged or old) > minimum of 1 years in 200L oak barrels 

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