The Magic Inside The Bottle – How Tequila is Made
The process of finding the magic takes a long time. It all starts with a ripened blue agave plant. This ripening usually occurs 8 to 12 years after the seeds are planted. The leaves are then chopped away from the core of the plant by a tequila farmer, a ‘jimador’ who looks to see if the plant is ripe. This is a tedious process because if the plant is harvested too soon, there will not be enough sugars, too late and the sugars will have been used to form a once-in-a-lifetime stem called a ‘quiote’ which produces the seeds.
Once the jimador' decides that the plant is ready, he wields a special long knife known as a "coa" to clear the core. The cores or piñas (Spanish for pineapple) weight an average of 40 to 70 pounds, and can weight up to 200 pounds. The photo shows a ripe agave, at least 8 year old) that is being harvested. The “piña” in the photograph (third at right) will be visible when all the leaves (pencas) have been cleared.
The piñas are hauled to the distillery where they are chopped and put to roast. Starches turn to sugar as the piñas are roasted in furnaces called "hornos". The more modern distilleries use huge steam ovens to increase output and save on energy. It takes 15 pounds of agave piña to produce one quart of tequila. That’s a lot of plant for such a small amount of drink.
The roasted piñas are then shredded, their juices pressed out and placed in big fermenting vats. Some distilleries use the traditional method to produce tequila called the artesian tequila. In this method the cores are crushed with a stone wheel at a grinding mill called "tahona" and the fibers are dumped into the wooden vat to enhance fermentation and to provide extra flavor. Yeast is added after the juices of the piñas are in the vats. Every distiller keeps its own yeast as a closely guarded secret. During fermenting, the yeast acts upon the sugars of the agave plant converting them into alcohol.
The juices are then allowed to ferment for 30 to 48 hours then they are distilled twice in traditional copper stills or more modern ones made of stainless steel or in continuous distillation towers. A low-grade alcohol is produced in the first distillation process. The second distillation process produces a fiery colorless liquid that is later blended before being bottled. Alcohol content may be between 70 and 110 Proof. It is at this moment that the liquor becomes TEQUILA.
All types of tequila start with this colorless distilled spirit. Each type will be called depending on its aging. The longer you age the tequila, the more different the taste.
About the Author: Don Tekela has been in the search of the perfect Tequila for the past 20 years. He currently resides in Mexico, the tequila capital of the world.