Tequila 101: Your Complete Guide to This Classic Mexican Drink
Vast Jalisco skies, desert heat, and verdant green leaves distilled down into a spirit that we endearingly call tequila. Quite possibly the most misunderstood spirit in the market, tequila is often associated with shots consumed late into the evening and pounding hangovers the very next morning. However, this hangover-inducing inebriant has its roots dating all the way back to the 13th century to when the Aztec Empire was still thriving.
Steeped in centuries worth of heritage, pride, and culture, this Mexican spirit is deserving of respect beyond that of a mere strong distilled liquor. The dedication displayed during the labour-intensive, complex process of producing tequila is to be appreciated, and it could even make converts of non-believers. Discover in detail the astonishing process, and you too may just find a newfound respect for this liquor.
Where It All Begins: The Agave Plant
Behold, the star of the tequila process: the agave plant. Characterised by their thick and fleshy leaves that sprout from the ground, these agave plants maintain a high production level of fructose and sugars called agavins, which stimulates the fermentation of making tequila. There are 166 different species of agave, but since 1964, only the Agave Tequilana Weber Azul (Blue Agave) can be used to legally make tequila.
The cultivation of agave is truly a labour of love backed by many years invested before the first drop of liquid gold is poured. It takes approximately 8 years for the Blue Agave to mature and be ready for harvest. The harvesting process today still employs the same techniques invented hundreds of years ago and everything is done entirely by hand.
The shoot is first cut off as soon as the plant begins to flower in order to preserve the high concentration of starch stored in the heart of the agave. This bulb-shaped part of the plant, otherwise known as piña, is then removed for the next step.
Baking the Piña
To extract the fermentable sugars, the piña has to be baked first. Traditionally, they were baked in pits lined with rocks. Today, however, piñas are baked in either large stainless-steel ovens or brick ovens called hornos. The cooking process takes approximately about 48 hours, and once it is done, the piña is ready for the fermentation process.
Extracting the Sweet Agave Juice
Once cooked, the agave heads are transported to a milling area where they will be crushed and shredded to extract the sweet juice that is also known as mosto. There are two ways to go about this extraction process: either by the traditional method of using a large stone grinding wheel operated by mules, oxen or tractors within a circular pit or by utilising an industrial mechanical shredding machine. Once the piña are shredded, they will be washed with water and strained to remove the sweet agave juice.
Fermenting the Mosto
The fermentation process involves combining the mosto with yeast and water in large wooden barrels or stainless-steel tanks. Traditionally, the yeast that grows naturally on the agave leaves is used to transform the sugars into ethyl alcohol. However, modern distilleries prefer to use a cultivated form of wild yeast instead. The fermentation process typically takes seven to twelve days, depending on the method employed.
Distilling the Fermented Mosto
Following the fermentation period, the agave juices are then distilled. This process will separate the ferments via heat and steam pressure, purifying the liquid and concentrating the alcohol in the mixture. Whilst some require three rounds of distillation, the majority of tequila is typically distilled twice. The first distillation, otherwise known as deztrozamiento, will take a couple of hours to produce a liquid with an alcohol content of about 20% known as ordinario. The second distillation, also referred to as rectification, will take three to four hours to yield a liquid with an alcohol level near 55%. This liquid is considered silver or blanco tequila.
Ageing the Tequila
All tequila is aged for at least 14 to 21 days, typically in French or American white oak barrels that have been previously used to age bourbon. Aged tequila comes in three types: reposado (aged for two months to one year), añejo (aged for one to three years), and extra añejo (aged for over three years). Unlike these three types of aged tequila, silver tequila does not require a long ageing process and is, instead, aged for the minimum time. The fifth kind of tequila that is thoroughly enjoyed by most tequila fans is a mix of silver tequila and reposado tequila. This type of tequila is known as joven or oro,
The longer the tequila ages, the more vibrant its colour and the higher its concentration of tannins. On top of this ageing duration, the condition of the barrels will also influence the tequila’s taste profile.
Enjoying All that Tequila Has to Offer
This long, back-breaking process all leads up to the moment where the liquid gold graces your taste buds with its complex taste profile. There is a myriad of ways to enjoy this spirit, one that goes beyond downing a shot of tequila. You can enjoy it with lime and salt or have it as cocktails. For premium tequila, you can simply sip it straight and enjoy the colourful notes swimming in your mouth.
Offering you only the best that tequila has to offer, our extensive catalogue includes award-winning premium and ultra-premium tequila and mezcal selected specifically for Singapore and the region. At Tequila Stop, we wish to share our love for Mexico and their beloved spirit. Join us and immerse yourself in the world of tequila today!