Tequila is a distinctive flavored spirit that originated in Mexico. It is made from the heart of a plant called agave. The most well-known and traditional type of tequila is Tequila.
Agave is a succulent plant with a large rhizome, known as the heart of the agave. It resembles a large pineapple and is high in sugar content, making it suitable for fermentation. To produce excellent tequila, the use of high-quality blue agave is essential. This specific variety grows at altitudes above 1500 meters between plateaus and mountains in the state of Jalisco.
The harvested agave hearts are boiled to remove external wax and leaf impurities. Modern brewing techniques utilize high-temperature steam injection for pre-cooking.
Cooking and Cooling
The agave hearts, cut to the appropriate size, are cooked in a stone oven until soft, which takes around 2 to 4 days. Slowly heating them at temperatures between 60 to 85 degrees softens the fibers, releases the natural juice, and preserves the original flavor. Carbohydrates in the plants are converted into fermentable sugars. Cooked agave has a taste similar to taro. After cooking, the pulp is removed by grinding and then cooled for 24 to 36 hours.
The sugar from the cooked agave is converted into alcohol during fermentation, which takes place in large wooden barrels or stainless steel tanks. While some wineries still use yeast found on agave leaves, many now prefer to use cultivated forms of wild yeast. Fermentation usually lasts 7 to 12 days, resulting in a rich wine with an alcohol content of 5% to 7%, depending on the method used.
The fifth step involves distillation, where the fermented liquid is separated using heat and steam pressure in stainless steel stills or distillation columns. Most tequilas undergo double distillation, although some are triple-distilled. The first distillation, called “deztrozamiento” or “smashing,” takes several hours and yields a liquid with around 20% alcohol known as “ordinary.” The second distillation, or “rectification,” takes three to four hours and results in a liquid with an alcohol content of 55%. After the second distillation, tequila is considered silver or “Blanco” tequila.
Clear tequila from the second distillation can be bottled directly. However, it can also be aged in oak barrels, which adds character and mellows the spirit through the tannins in the wood. There are no strict regulations governing the maximum fill strength of tequila in barrels. Barrels may be new or previously used to age tequila or other spirits, often American whiskey. Roasting or charring the barrels can enhance the color and flavor. Different factors like wood type, previous filling, and slat thickness influence the maturation process of tequila.
Blending and Additives
Additives such as caramel color, glycerin, syrup, aged agave, and oak extract can be introduced to aged tequilas. The maximum allowable amount of sugar is 75 grams per liter, and other additives should be less than 1% of the total volume.
Filtration and Dilution
Tequila usually has an alcohol content of 38% alc./vol., although concentrations between 35% and 55% are permissible. Distilled or demineralized water is used to dilute tequila to the desired bottling concentration. Before bottling, tequila can be filtered using mediums like charcoal or cellulose at room temperature.
Bottling and Packaging
Tequila sold outside of Mexico is often distributed in bulk form at high alcohol levels and then diluted and bottled in the destination country. By law, “100% Tequila” must be bottled in designated tequila areas. Like other wine categories, each bottle of tequila may come from multiple barrels of similar age. Blending ensures consistency in flavor. However, some rare tequilas are single-barrel products that can be traced back to specific barrel numbers, years, producers, and sales volumes. Additionally, all bottled tequila must pass inspection by the Tequila Liquor Specification Committee before being sold.