A Field to Table Guide for Tequila
Agave takes quite the journey to getting from field to table, transforming into quality tequila, and arriving in your glass. From a raw product that has a 7-10 year growth cycle, to fermentation with natural yeasts, the story of tequila is a beautiful one, read on for more.
How To Make Tequila
Agave are part of the succulent family. For premium Tequila, one kind of agave must be used - Tequilana Blue Weber agave (100% Blue Weber Agave). These agaves take between 7-10 years to mature and have enough sugar content to be harvested and used for tequila.
When the agaves are ready, a jimador (agave farmer) comes to harvest them from the ground with a special sharp blade tool called a coa. First the pencas are removed, then the piña is shaved(it is called a piña because it looks like a pineapple), and then halved to be stacked in trucks for transportation to the distillery.
Agaves are full of natural starches, and similar to a sweet potato or yam, they need to be cooked to convert that starch into sugar. Rather than baked, agaves are cooked with hot steam and pressure in a traditional stone-clay oven or an auto-clave, which is like a big metal pressure cooker. The taste of cooked agave evokes thoughts of honey, bananas, caramel and you guessed it, sweet potatoes.
Once the sugars are nice and caramelized, it’s time to separate them from the agave fibers and add water so the alcohol fermentation process can begin! The fibers must be crushed and washed and there are a few ways to do this. Traditionally a large stone called a tahona was pulled by a mule around a stone pit, water was added, and tequileros would work the fibers and removed them from the process. There is also a more modernized mechanism called a roller mill that crushes the fibers along a motorized belt and washes the fibers with spigots along the way. The resulting “agua miel” or sugar water is ready to be sent off to fermentation.
Agual miel is pumped to large vats, either wooden or stainless, and yeast is added. The yeast works to convert the sugars to alcohol and the agua miel is transformed into an agave brew, similar to beer or wine typically between 3-7% ABV. To increase that percentage, and purify the juice into tequila, we must now head into distillation.
By law, Tequila is required to be distilled at least two times - some brands choose to do more but most stay at double distillation. The first distillation removes most of the particles in the brew results in a cloudy liquid called ordinario which is about 20% ABV. Since Tequila must be bottled at an ABV between 35%-55%, another distillation must be made to increase alcohol content and clear out the rest of the solids from fermentation. Typically the second distillation, carefully guided by a master distiller who tends to the heads and tails of the process, results in Tequila blanco, or “silver Tequila” between 55-60% ABV.
Bottling and Aging Tequila
Tequila blanco, undiluted is the starting point for all sipping tequilas that make their way to your glass. If the tequila is meant to stay a blanco, it will be diluted down to 40% and put into a bottle straight away. If it is meant to be aged tequila, its put directly into the barrel of choice for the selected amount of time, and diluted after it is removed from the barrel.