History of Agave
Production of Tequila
Agave Tequileña also known as Agave Azul or Blue Agave is the type of Agave plant used in the production of Tequila
Tequila farmers generally harvest their Agave when the plant is between 6 and 12 years old. The size of the Agave varies and ripeness is measured by sugar content, rather than size
When the Agave is ready, the Jimadors harvest each plant by hand and use a bladed tool called a Coa to remove the piña. The piña of the Agave is tested to determine the sugar content and has to meet a certain criteria in order to be utilized
Cooking the piña converts the Agave’s carbohydrates in to fermentable fructose. The Tequila industry uses 3 types of ovens or hornos to cook the piña: steam, autoclaves and diffusers.
Traditional distillers steam-bake their Agave for 36-72 hours under gentle heat. Modern distillers use autoclaves or pressure cookers to roast them. How distillers cook the piña greatly influences the flavor of the tequila
Once the Agave is cooked, the juices must be extracted from the fibers. There are two techniques to do this: stone crushed by a tahona, or through a mechanical shredder. The juice that is separated from the fibers is called aguamiel (sugar water, honey water or Agave juice). The waste fiber is called bagazo and can remain in contact with the aguamiel during the fermentation process, lending additional flavor
Agave juice (sometimes with the fibers) is placed in large vats where water is added. Additives can also be introduced at this time to increase yields (sugars) or cut time (salts). Yeasts consumes the sugar and produces alcohol as by product. Fermentation time varies from 2- 12 days and the naturally fermented juice is called Tepache
During distillation, the Agave juice develops into three components. The first part of distillation, also known as the head or Cabeza is discarded, as it has the most volatile and strongest alcohol content. The middle part of distillation, also known as the heart, or Corazon, is saved for production as it has the most flavors and a reasonable alcohol content. Lastly, the Tail (Cola) is sometimes recycled into the next batch or thrown away as it contains the dirty remnants and residue. All Tequila must be distilled at least two times, and after the final distillation, water is added
The age of a tequila is an important distinction and must be stated on the label of the Tequila bottle. There are 2 important effects of barrel aging: the extraction of flavor from the barrel, and oxidization, the effect of exposure to air. Tequila can be unaged or aged in White Oak Barrels. The most common barrels used by Tequila producers are used Bourbon barrels. Alternately, new barrels are more expensive, but provide more consistency and impart more flavors on the wood
Blanco (Silver, Plata, Platinum): Tequila aged 0 to 59 days.
Joven (Young): An unofficial and optional category that refers to a silver Tequila with the addition of a caramel color, Reposado, or Añejo.
Reposado (Rested): Aged 60 to 364 days.
Añejo (Aged): Aged 1 to 3 years.
Extra Añejo (Extra Aged): Aged 3 years or more
Categories of Tequila
100% Agave – 100% of the sugars contained within a bottle of Tequila comes from certified Blue Agave.
Mixto (Regular) – Tequila with a minimum of 51% of the sugars coming from Blue Agave.
Gold - Some Mixtos are made with Caramel for color and flavor, these tequilas are called Gold
Terroir of Tequila
Terrior refers to all of the natural factors that influence the Tequila including region, soil, sun, wind, rain etc. While there are infinite combinations of Terroir in Tequila we typically talk about 2 main regions and their general Terroir:
Highlands - Located east of Guadalajara, the highlands have deep red clay soil, warmer days and cooler nights. Highland Tequilas generally express sweet, citrus and floral notes.
Valley or Lowlands - Located west of Guadalajara, the lowlands have dry, volcanic soil. Valley Tequilas generally express earth, spice and vegetal notes.
Historically, the word Mezcal means anything distilled from any Agave, anywhere in Mexico, however now, it is typically associated with a specific type of Mexican alcohol. Mezcal differentiates from Tequila in a few important ways:
Tequila and Mezcal are produced in different states of Mexico (though there is overlap).
By law, Tequila can only be made with Blue Agave. Mezcal can be made with upwards of 30 varieties of Agave, though most are made with the Agave Espadin.
The production process for Mezcal is different from Tequila, which leads to a distinctly different flavor profile.
Farming – Mezcals are made from Agave that are either cultivated or foraged in the wild.
Cooking –Mezcals are mostly associated with pit roasted Agave where the plant is buried in glowing wood embers for at least 3 days. The types of wood greatly influence the flavor of the Mezcal, just like in Barbecue. Some preferred woods are: Black Oak, Mesquite, Scrub Oak and Eucalyptus
Grinding – Traditional Mezcals are made using 2 methods of grinding referred to as Tahona or Mallots. These methods are preferred because they do not add heat through friction, which affects the flavor of the Mezcal
Fermentation – Traditional Mezcals are fermented with the Agave fibers in open top vats made of wood, stone or leather. Wild yeast ferments the liquid, and each distillery has its own yeast, which contributes to the individuality of the Mezcal
Distillation – Traditional Mezcals distill with wood fired stills made of either copper of ceramic. Mezcals must be distilled at least two times
Aging – The tradition of barrel aged Mezcals is somewhat new. Most traditional Mezcals are not aged. The rules for aging Mezcal are actually the same as Tequila