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Tequila: The production

Born in the early 1600’s in Mexico, Tequila has become one of the most known and consumed spirits in North America. Started as a fermented drink called Octli, it is now the center of group outings and shot related drinking games.

Its story started with the Aztec people, who first started fermenting blue agave plants. When the Spanish conquistadores arrived and ran out of their brandy, their need for a distilled beverage sparked the idea to distill the Aztec’s agave drink. Fast forward to the 19th century, the first Tequila is mass-produced in Guadalajara, Mexico. The founder of Sauza Tequila was the first to export tequila to the United States. But before that, he shortened the name from “Tequila Extract” to simply “Tequila”.

Tequila production
The blue agave plant is at the start of the Tequila story. The harvest of the agave plant still remains a manual effort, regardless of the recent technologies in the farming business. Agave plants are harvested by “Jimadores”, who possess generations’ worth of knowledge about the plants. Harvesting agave plants is not just pulling them out of the soil; there is a whole process that the Jimadores need to complete. First they need to pull the Agave offspring, without damaging the mother plant. La Piña, which is at the center of the agave plant, is considered the soul of the tequila. The Jimador removes it with a special knife called “Coa”. The larger the La Piña, the riper, fuller and more mature the sugars.

Once La Piña arrives at the factory, it is cooked and softened to facilitate the juice extraction. In brick ovens or steel autoclaves, the plant is injected with steam of 100 ⁰C, to extract a liquid called “Cooking Honey”. Just like normal cooking, it is important not to overcook the agave. Overcooking will give the Tequila a smoky taste. After two hours of cooling, the agave is ready for milling, which involves the shredding of the plant in a cutter. The juice obtained is later combined with a solution of sugars. This step is only done during production of tequila varieties that are not 100% agave.

Next step is fermentation. The three basic ingredients for fermentation are yeast, water and the agave juice. The combination of these three ingredients is called “Mosto”. The fermentation takes place in either wood or stainless steel vats for several days to convert the sugars into alcohol.

During distillation, a cloudy or milky liquid is produced. After the second distillation, the milky liquid transforms into clear silver Tequila. Some distilleries go as far as three distillations. However, tree distillations can result in a final product that is considered flawed and believed to have lost essential flavors.

The silver tequila is then bottled as Silver Tequila or pumped into oak barrels to start the aging process. Like any other distilled beverage, ageing adds richer and complex flavors.