What is Agave and How is it Transformed into Tequila?
The origins of tequila can be traced back to many centuries. Mexico’s Aztecs fermented the juice of the agave plant to produce a low alcohol drink called pulque. When the Spanish conquistador arrived they added distillation to the process for a much stronger drink, and tequila was born. Pass the salt and lime!
Tequila is to Mexico, as Champagne is to France. Tequila is only made in this part of the world and Mexico has claimed exclusive rights to the word tequila. For centuries, workers called jimadores have grown and harvested the agave plant for tequila. It takes 7 years on average for a species called weber Blue Agave (or Agave Azul) to mature. Even today, it’s harvested entirely by hand using a razor sharp pole-like tool. The jimadores chop away the greenery until all that’s left is the core called the pina. Filing the round blade frequently keeps it sharp, allowing them to remove the most bitter tasting leaves from the piña.
The tequila distilled from this crop will be a premium grade, made from 100% agave juice. The jimador’s routinely remove a small piece and measure the starch content of the crop. Only if it’s deemed to be sufficient is the agave piña sent to the distillery. Workers chop the piña and transfer it to a brick oven where it’s steam baked for 79 hours. This thorough cooking converts the agave starch to sugar. In the process the flesh softens and the color turns from white to reddish brown. The baked agave piña now spills onto a shredder which tears the fruit into long thin fibers which lands in a pit where a worker forks it up and moves it into a large stone wheel called a tahona, which crushes the fibers and squeezes out all the agave nectar. It takes 2 hours of crushing to squeeze out all the agave juices. They pint the juicy mass into wooden sacks and add yeast. The yeast causes fermentation, the process where sugar is transformed into alcohol.
After 72 hours of fermentation, the liquid is known as ‘mosto’ and is roughly 5-7% alcohol. They transfer the mosto to copper stills. Inside the stills, the alcohol is boiled off and the vapor condensed into a more potent liquid, called distillation. After two distillation cycles, they have tequila! A technician measures the alcohol content, and it’s 55%. After straining out the pulp they transfer the tequila to steel tanks where they add purified well water to dilute the alcohol content and bring it down to 40%. The tequila is now ready to drink!
For a drink with a little more complexity, they age the tequila in oak casks for 2 months or more. During aging, the tequila takes on a woody flavor and turns a warm shade of amber. The master distiller personally approves every batch. He checks the color, inhales the aroma, puts his observations down on paper, and of course takes a sip!
Check out tequila from GulpBkk in Tequila section.