Tequila is a unique distilled beverage that originates from Mexico and is known for its distinct flavor. It is made using the heart of the agave plant as the raw material. In this article, we will discuss the production process of tequila.
The agave plant is a succulent plant with a large rhizome that Mexicans refer to as the heart of the agave. It has a shape similar to a large pineapple and contains high sugar content, making it suitable for fermentation. For premium tequila, the best quality blue agave is specifically used. This variety grows in the plateaus and mountains of the state of Jalisco, at an altitude of over 1500 meters.
The harvested agave hearts are initially boiled in a container to remove external impurities like wax and leaf debris. Nowadays, advanced brewing technology utilizes high-temperature steam injection for pre-cooking.
Cook and Cool
The agave hearts, which have been cut to the appropriate size, are cooked in a stone oven until they become soft, a process that takes around 2 to 4 days. The slow fire temperature of 60-85 degrees softens the fibers of the agave hearts, allowing the natural juice to flow out while retaining the original flavor. The carbohydrates in the plants are converted into fermentable sugars during this cooking process. After cooking, the agave needs to be cooled for 24-36 hours and then ground to remove the pulp.
In the fermentation stage, the sugar is converted into alcohol in large wooden barrels or stainless steel tanks. Yeast can be added to speed up and control the fermentation process. While traditional tequila production uses yeast that grows on agave leaves, many modern distilleries use cultivated forms of wild yeast. Fermentation typically takes 7 to 12 days, resulting in a rich wine with an alcohol content ranging between 5% and 7%, depending on the method employed.
The fifth step in tequila production is distillation, which involves separating the fermented liquid through heat and steam pressure in stainless steel tank stills or distillation columns. Copper pot stills were traditionally used for double distillation, but nowadays, stainless steel stills are more commonly used. While some tequilas undergo triple distillation, most go through the double-distillation process. The first distillation, known as “deztrozamiento” or “smashing,” takes several hours and produces a liquid with approximately 20% alcohol content, referred to as “ordinary.” The second distillation, called “rectification,” takes three to four hours and results in a liquid with an alcohol content of 55%. After the second distillation, the tequila is considered silver or “Blanco” tequila.
The clear tequila from the second distillation can be bottled, but it can also be aged in oak barrels. Over time, the interaction with the wood imparts tannins, softening the spirit and adding character. Unlike other spirits, there are no specific rules regarding the maximum fill strength when aging tequila in barrels. The barrels used may be new or previously used for aging tequila or other spirits, such as American whiskey. The barrels can be roasted or charred to enhance flavor and color. Factors like the type of wood, previous fillings, and slat thickness all contribute to the maturation process of tequila.
Blends and Additives
In all categories of aged tequila, certain additives can be included, such as caramel color, glycerin, syrup, aged agave, and oak extract. The total amount of sugar cannot exceed 75 grams per liter, and other additives must not exceed 1% of the total volume, with a maximum of 85 grams per serving.
Filtration and Dilution
Tequila typically maintains an alcohol content of 38% alc./vol., although it can be bottled at concentrations between 35% and 55%. Distilled or demineralized water is used to dilute the tequila to the desired bottling concentration. Prior to bottling, tequila can be filtered at ambient temperature using mediums like charcoal or cellulose.
Bottling and Packaging
Mixto tequila, which is distributed outside of Mexico, is usually bulk shipped and exported in barrels or cans with high alcohol levels. It is then diluted and bottled in the destination country. By law, “100% Tequila” must be bottled in designated tequila-producing areas.
Similar to other wine categories, each bottle of tequila may contain a blend of spirits from different barrels of similar age. This blending process ensures consistency in flavor and allows for the creation of unique and rare products. Some tequilas, like Scotch whisky or French cognac, can have specific information on the bottle, including the barrel number, year, producer name, and sales volume. Additionally, all tequila sold in bottles must undergo inspection by the Tequila Liquor Specification Committee before it can be sold as a consumable beverage.
A Turnkey Solution for Breweries
If you are planning to open a brewery, you can reach out to us for assistance. ACE Craft’s engineers can provide you with a list of craft brewery equipment, distillation equipment, and their respective prices. We also offer professional turnkey brewery solutions, allowing you to focus on brewing great beer while we take care of the rest. We look forward to working with you!
Get a turnkey solution for brewery equipment. If you are planning to open or expand a brewery, you can contact us directly. Our engineers will design and manufacture brewery equipment based on your brewing process. We can provide a complete turnkey solution tailored to your needs. Whether it’s designing new equipment or expanding an existing brewery, we have you covered.