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May 03 Tequila

A Cinco de Mayo Special: Behind the Scenes of Tequila Making

By: lindsay-dye

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tequila making
photo by july brenda gonzales callapaza

Happy Cinco de Mayo! When thinking about Cinco de Mayo do you think tacos and tequila? Of course! Beyond the delicious Méxican food and Tequila do you know what the holiday represents?

Many people think that Cinco de Mayo is México’s day of celebration for their independence. It is actually a celebration of the Battle of Pueblo when México won a battle against France.

This traditional holiday isn’t as big of a deal in México like it is here in the US. Many in the US are using this holiday to celebrate Méxican culture and heritage.

Although México doesn’t celebrate the holiday as we do in the US, many Americans celebrate with tasty food and drinks. Many of the drinks at these celebrations are cocktails made with tequila. The majority of tequila is made in México, so it’s fitting to have a drink made with tequila on this holiday.

Have you ever wondered how tequila is made? It is made from the Weber blue agave plant. It is an exciting process that produces the tequila that everyone knows and loves.

Where is tequila made?

tequila bar
photo by ruben ramirez

Most of the world’s tequila is made in the Méxican state of Jalisco. Many of the larger name brands in the business are located near the town of Tequila. These include Jose Cuervo and Sauza. The red clay soils around Arandas and Jésus María also produce some of the lesser name brands such as Corazon or Tezon.

What is agave?

agave

The famous liquor that many in the US enjoy on Cinco de Mayo is made from Weber blue agave plant. Many think that the agave plant is a cactus, but it is actually a succulent that is part of the lily family.  

Tequila is made when this blue agave plant is fermented. Agave looks like a larger version of the aloe vera plant with spikes on its leaves. To be harvested and ready to use in the making of tequila, the blue agave plant must be 7-10 years old.

While the plant is growing, it produces a large bulb called the piña. The plant’s spikes are removed from the leaves and then baked with the piña to produce the juices from the plant. These juices are then fermented to produce the tequila.

How is Tequila made?

Once the agave plants have been harvested and transported to the distillery, they will be put into ovens for fermenting. Older distilleries are still using the old clay brick ovens. Newer and more modern distilleries are using stainless steel ovens.

The piñas that have been harvested can weigh anywhere from 50-150 pounds. The fresh piñas are put directly into the ovens for fermenting. Most distilleries will bake the agave for 2-3 days.

Extracting the juices from the plant are done in a couple of different ways. Some distilleries choose to do things the old school way and use the Tahona wheel, while others use the more modern way of using mechanical shredders.

From this point, the juices are taken to fermentation tanks where it sits for 2-5 days. During this process, the liquids are mixed with sugar and yeast to create a mixture that will soon be a tequila spirit.

After this, the juice is transferred to the stills where the juice from the agave will become tequila. The distillation process for tequila is very similar to many other alcohols. The liquid is heated, and then the vapor is captured by a condenser. The alcohol vapors that have been caught are run through the still and collected into a flask. Tequila is usually run through the still twice.

When the tequila is first collected, the liquid that comes out of the still has 3 parts. The head, the heart, and the tail. Most distillers only keep the heart and discard the head and tail. From this point, the liquid will move on to the bottling portion.

Méxican law requires tequila to be 51% Weber blue agave. It must also be produced, bottled, and inspected in México.

Tequila that is not 100% agave is called mixito. Mixito tequila is blended with sugar and water when it is distilled. These types are also able to be made outside of México.

Tequila is distilled until it reaches 110 proof. It is distilled in pot or column stills. Once the liquor is done the result is a clear spirit that is pretty high in congeners. Before the spirit is bottled, producers will cut the liquid with water to bring it down to around 80 proof.

The different types of tequila

types of tequila
photo by haley lawrence

Did you know there are different types of tequila? All of it is different and has a different taste to it.

Blanco, Silver, or White tequila

·       Clear spirt that is 100% agave or mixito.

·       Aged no more than 60 days in stainless tanks

·       This type is the rawest taste of agave you can get

·       Normally used for mixed drinks

Joven or Gold Tequila

·       Normally unaged

·       Colored with caramel, oak extract, glycerin, syrup, and other additives

·       Recommended drinking in cocktails or shots

Reposado tequila

·       Aged in wood casks for at least 2 months

·       Can be aged from 3-9 months

·       Barrel gives its color

·       Recommend being used in cocktails

·       Commonly used in margaritas

Anejo tequila

·       Known as the “old” tequila

·       Aged in French oak or used bourbon barrels

·       Aged for at least one year

·       Texture of this spirit is very smooth with undertones of agave and oak

·       Makes a nice ‘neat’ drink

Extra-Anejo tequila

·       Known as extra old tequila

·       Aged for over 4 years in barrels

·       This type is similar to older whiskeys

·       Good for drinking ‘neat.’

Mixed Drinks

Tequila comes in various forms. It can be used to make some fun holiday drinks or just drank by itself. Depending on your taste in cocktails, these drinks might be worth a try at your Cinco de Mayo celebration.

Simple Margarita

This simple margarita recipe is one that is a crowd favorite. It’s quick and easy to make and perfect for your holiday parties.

This recipe consists of:

·       Tequila

·       Agave

·       Lime juice

·       Triple Sec

·       Salt

Tequila Sunrise

If you prefer more of a sweet and fruity cocktail, you may prefer this tequila sunrise recipe.

This fruity cocktail includes:

·       Tequila

·       Orange juice

·       Grenadine

·       And orange slice and maraschino cherry for garnish

Cinco de Mayo, while mainly celebrated in the US, has become a day to celebrate Méxican heritage and traditions. Tequila is a native Méxican spirit. The process for distilling it is pretty similar to many other alcohols.

The thing that makes tequila different and unique is where it comes from. The Weber blue agave plant, which is part of the lily family, is what gives it a unique flavor.

Just as there are different varieties of wines, tequila also has its different types. These different varieties of tequilas come from the ways that they are aged. The longer is has been aged, the pricier the bottle of it can be.

Celebrate this Cinco de Mayo with your favorite Tequila cocktail and some delicious food!  

 

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