According to the Tequila Standard, only Tequilana Weber blue variety Agave may be used for the production of Tequila.
These Agaves must be planted within the territory protected by the Appellation of Origin, as well as being included in a registry of plantation controlled by the Tequila Regulatory Council.
Many different types of agave exist. In Mexico alone more than 200 hundred varieties have been identified. However, none is as suitable for the production of Tequila as the plant that was classified in 1905 by the German botanist Franz Weber, from whom this variety took its name.
The Agave is planted in parcels in forming neat rows leaving sufficient space between them to facilitate the care of the plant.
Normally, the Agaves reproduce through shoots that grow out of the mother plant from the fourth year onwards and are separated and later transplanted onto other fields already prepared for their cultivation. Nonetheless, the Agave may also grow from a single seed, although this technique is not very common nowadays.
The Agave requires from 6 to 10 years to reach its maximum sugar concentration. During its period of growth, the plants are subject to pruning or trimming of the tips of the leaves to favour the growth of the head.
All of the care and cultivation of the Agave is done manually following traditional methods that have been passed down from generation to generation.
For the production of Tequila, only the head (piña) is used. It can weigh between 40 and 60 kilograms once it is ready for harvest.
The cooking converts the complex carbohydrates of the agave heads into simple sugars, suitable for fermentation and also softens the heads to make the process of sugar extraction easier The most traditional cooking takes place in brick or stone ovens in a process that lasts from 50 to 72 hours involving steam injection. This process can also take place in steel tanks of several ton capacity, known as “autoclaves”. The higher sealed capability of these tanks allows the required time for this process to be reduced to 14 or even 8 hours After the juices have been extracted, known as fresh must (mosto fresco), these may be used to produce either Tequila or Tequila 100% Agave. The difference being that, in the case of Tequila, after the fermentation these juices are mixed with sugars obtained from sources other than the Agave Tequilana Weber blue variety, if and when they maintain a ratio of 51% Agave sugars minimum and the remaining 49% from other sources
After the juices have been extracted, known as fresh must (mosto fresco), these may be used to produce either Tequila or Tequila 100% Agave
The difference being that, in the case of Tequila, after the fermentation these juices are mixed with sugars obtained from sources other than the Agave Tequilana Weber blue variety, if and when they maintain a ratio of 51% Agave sugars minimum and the remaining 49% from other sources
The yeast that each producer decides to use initiates the fermentation processes converting the fresh must (mosto fresco) into dead must (mosto muerto), meaning the transformation of sugars into alcohol
The fermentation lasts many hours and differs among factories due to the standards that each one has established
Once the normal fermentation process has concluded and the must has reached an alcoholic content of 5 to 7%, it can be left to settle a few hours before moving onto the distillation stage
The distillation takes place in copper or stainless steel pot stills or in continuous distillation towers
Tequila is distilled twice. The first distillation is known as smashing (destrozamiento), it takes a couple of hours and it yields the “ordinario”, meaning a liquid with an alcohol level of around 20%
The second distillation, also known as “rectificación”, takes between 3 to 4 hours. The result of this process is a liquid with an alcohol level near 55%
During the distillation processes, the substances are divided into 3 parts. The heads (cabezas), that contain unwanted aldehydes, are disposed of. The heart (corazon) is used for the Tequila, while the tails (colas) are sometimes recycled in the following distillation and other times are simply discarded
After the second distillation, a transparent liquid is obtained that can already be considered as silver Tequila or it can be aged to become another type of Tequila
Barrels or casks are used for aged Tequilas. Extra-aged Tequilas and Ultra-aged Tequilas necessarily have to use barrels with a maximum capacity of 600 liters. All barrels must be made of white oak which can be American or French
The barrels may be new or may have previously been used for other spirits. Also, they may have been subject to a toasting or burning treatment that will ultimately transmit different characteristics to the Tequila
It is a test of the senses through which we can appreciate the characteristics of this mystic drink: Tequila, in their entirety.
Generally, when we drink different types of tequila, such as silver, gold, aged and extra-aged, we do it in a sort of colloquial, informal and carefree way. Usually, we use the shot size and we rush it down, complementing the act with a dash of salt and lime, although on occasions we may also accompany it with the traditional “sangrita”
However, the progress made in quality controls that currently monitor the Tequila processes, today allow us to drink Tequila with greater awareness and understanding of the mysticism of its spirit.
Therefore, we suggest gentle reader that you choose your favourite Tequila, find a Riedel glass for Tequila, fill it to a third of its capacity and proceed as follows:
When we refer to the term “taste”, we should consider that only four basic flavours exist and can be detected by our taste buds: Sweet on the tip of our tongue. Salty on the lower sides. Acid or sour on the upper sides. Bitter in the back part. Besides these four flavours, we sense stimuli on the algid or tactile; parts of the mouth, which are stimulated by sensations of heat, cold, astringent and burning (like alcohol). What is important in this case is to sense good harmony of the components and an acceptable aftertaste with prolonged and pleasant persistence.
Tilt the glass forward with a white tablecloth as background and observe the colour of the aged and extra-aged Tequilas. Silver Tequilas, with some exceptions, are crystal clear. Aged Tequilas have a colouring is a hay yellow with different intensities and their sparkles or glitters are gold. Extra-aged Tequilas tend to have an ambar colour with different intensities and with copper sparkles.
At eye level, observe the brilliance, transparency and limpidness.
Gently swirl the glass and observe how it spreads on the walls of the glass, indicating the body of the tequila. From the top of the spread surface, a few drops start to slowly slide down, indicating the quality of the body.
Draw your nose to the glass and inhale deeply, to perceive the primary aromas of Tequila. Rotate the glass to appreciate the secondary scents that are released thanks to the movement.
Considering the subtleness of the sense of smell, which according to the limits of each person allows us to identify known and unknown odours, we can appreciate the harmony and balance that Tequila presents in its wide array of scents.
The most common aromas
Herbal, citric, agavaceous, fresh fruit and floral
Agavaceous, ripe fruit, wood and spices
Dried gruit, wood, honey, vanilla, olives and spices
The olfactory test is complemented when a small amount of tequila is sipped, is retained in your mouth for a few seconds and is expelled. With your mouth closed, exhale the air through the nose and you will still sense the aromas with a few changes caused by the chemistry of the inside of your mouth
Tips to select a good tequila
The first and most important rule is to analyze the label carefully to make sure that what you will taste or purchase is real Tequila. This comment is meant to point out the fact that recently store shelves have been stocked with products that confuse consumers.
Taking advantage of the impressive boom Tequila has achieved in the last few years, some producers have started bottling distilled beverages made of different types of agave, cultivated in areas outside the Appellation of Origin Tequila. The normally use attractive bottles and labels that, by their shapes and tones, suggest that what they contain is Tequila.
For this reason, the aspects to take into account are the following:
- The word Tequila should clearly stand out
- Make sure that the NOM (Official Mexican Standard) and CRT (Tequila Regulatory Council) is printed, this guarantees the certification of these institutions
- For the Tequilas that have been produced with only Tequilana Weber blue Agave sugars, the description 100% Agave must be printed. When this description does not appear, assume it is a Tequila that guarantees that at least 51% of its composition was processed with sugars from Tequilana Weber blue Agave
- Select a type of Tequila according to your personal liking: silver, gold, aged or extra-aged. These descriptions should be clearly printed on the label
- Be sceptical of the products that contain descriptions such as :100% agave distilled, 100% natural, distilled of agave, etc. With this we do not mean to insinuate that they are products of bad quality simply that they are not Tequilas
Once that you have ensured the recommendations mentioned above and selected your preferred brand and type of Tequila, enjoy it with all your senses.
Try not to experiment with distilled products other than Tequila when you are living this experience. For the moment, concentrate on the Tequila you have selected; taste it, appreciate it, indulge in it, but above all, consider the effects of the following day.
If you fully enjoy your Tequila during the tasting and the following day you wake up optimistic and willing to repeat your selection, then you can be sure it was the appropriate choice.
But do not forget that when drinking an alcoholic beverage, it is advisable to moderate the intake so that you may better enjoy it and for a long time.
Gentle reader, always try to drink only the good Tequila that you find on your way, but never allow Tequila to drink you.
Source, The National Chamber of the Tequila Industry