Tequila is a distilled spirit from Mexico, produced from the cooked and fermented juice of the agave plant. Famous for its bite, strength and role in many popular cocktails, many people are still in the dark about exactly what it is and where it comes from. We’re here to give you the lowdown on the spicy spirit of Mexico…
What is Tequila and how is it made?
Tequila is made from the agave, a plant native to Mexico, with a spiky appearance, much like a cactus, but which is, in fact, a member of the lily family. Although there are a few hundred varieties of agave, only one can be used to produce tequila. This is known as the Blue Weber Agave (named after a European botanist).
Once the agave has reached maturity – usually between 5 and 8 years after planting, depending on how ripe the distillers wish the fruit to be to create a unique flavor – harvesters called ‘jimadors’ use long handed knives to expose the pina, or the heart of the plant. And it’s this that’s used for the tequila production.
Tequila aficionados sip tequila from a special tequila glass or brandy snifter. That way, the agave flavors and aromas can be properly enjoyed.
The pinas are then cooked into ovens where they are steam baked for about 2 days, then cooled and crushed to release the juice. Traditionally, this process is completed in an ancient style of circular mill called a ‘Tahona’ using horses to pull the millstones and squeeze out the sugary sap.
Then, depending on which type of tequila is to be produced, cane or corn sugar is added along with yeast to kick-start fermentation. Distillation follows. Tequila must be distilled at least twice. Traditionally, copper pot stills are used for this process. The product, once it’s completed its second distillation is then legally allowed to be classed as tequila.
Maturation of the tequila happens when certain variants are being produced (such as anejo or reposado). Tequila is aged in oak casks. These can either be new or used, but most commonly used American whiskey casks are employed for this job.
Once this is complete, the tequila is filtered and in some cases, diluted with demineralised water to bring the spirit to bottling strength.
In the mid-20th century, tequila sales spiked after California residents thought it was a psychedelic. They were wrong, confusing mezcal with mescaline!
Gold Tequila is typically a Mixto, where colorings and flavors are added just before bottling. Tis young and flavoured type of tequila tends to be less expensive and used in many bars and restaurants for cocktails ‘Gold’ or ‘Joven’ Tequila can, however, also be a blend of Silver Tequila with a Reposado or Añejo Tequila.