You’ve probably heard of tequila, but what exactly is it? we’re going to go in-depth about everything there is to know about tequila. Along with a step-by-step process of how it’s made. We’ll also tell you some of the most popular tequila brands and a little bit about them.
First of All… What is Tequila?
Tequila is a distilled alcoholic beverage that is produced in Mexico from the blue agave crop. Tequila was created in a Mexican town called, you guessed it, Tequila. This town is roughly 40 miles outside Guadalajara in Mexico’s Jalisco state. Mexican tequila has been around since the 1500s when the Spanish conquistadors decided to make their own liquor.
Tequila is strikingly similar to a drink known as a mezcal. This is because the only real difference between the two is that the agaves are steamed or cooked before the fermentation process. The agave is cooked in wood fire pits for most of Mezcal growth, which gives the distinctive smokey flavour.
Nowadays, tequila has become one of the world’s most popular spirits. Although it’s the most important ingredient for a classic Margarito, it is also very common that people drink it straight with a side of lime and salt. Because of tequilas’ global popularity, over 300 million of the agave plants are harvested each year.
The 4 Different Types of Tequila
This clear white spirit is recognized as tequila Plata or tequila silver. Typically, this tequila is distilled and packaged directly after distillation. However, some distillers let the tequila sit in the tanks for a few weeks before bottling. The pure form of this Tequila has a strong agave flavour. This is because it’s not aged in barrels. Some distillers refer to Blanco tequila as “the essence of tequila”, as it provides the most genuine flavour for the natural sweetness of blue agave.
This tequila is called “Joven” in Spanish, which means “young.” This golden tequila is also known for its rich brown colours, which are caused by flavouring agents such as sugar, glycerin, and pre-bottled caramel colouring. Gold tequila can also be a mixture of Blanco tequila and aged tequila. This variety is not as popular as the trinity of tequilas: Blanco, reposado, and Añejo.
Reposado means “rested” in Spanish, and this type of tequila is preserved in an oak barrel for at least two months, but never more than one year. This type of tequila is going to take much more of the wood’s flavour.
Añejo translates to “old” in Spanish, thus the requirement for this type of tequila is that it must be aged in small oak barrels for more than a year. Naturally, this adds its distinctive oaky taste to tequila Añejo. There is also a newly added high-end tequila category known as “Extra Anejo” along the same lines, which must be aged for at least 3 years. Typically, this type of tequila is sipped rather than mixed in margaritas or shots.
How is Tequila Made? Step by Step
Step 1: Harvesting the Agave Plant
The planting, cultivation, and harvesting of the agave plant continue to be a manual effort focused on century-old knowledge. The plants are grown in neat rows and are meticulously cared for until they are ready to be harvested. When the agave plants are ready to be harvested, a farmer will use a small curved tool called a “coa”.
Tequila is only produced by the heart or “piña,” of the agave plant. Mature piñas weigh between eighty and three hundred pounds, but the weight of the agave heart is not nearly as important as the sugar content. The older the agave plant, the more time it will have to accumulate the starches that can be converted into fermentable sugars. In order to produce one litre of delicious tequila, about 15 pounds of agave piñas are required.
Step 2: The Cooking Process
In the cooking process, steam injection in traditional brick ovens or autoclaves made of stainless steel is used to activate a chemical process within the piña. This is the process that transforms complex carbohydrates into simple fermentable sugars.
Step 3: Extraction
When cooked, the agave heads are taken to a sugar extraction milling area where the cooked piñas are crushed. Now, modern distilleries use a mechanical crusher to separate the fibre from the juices. Whereas in the past the most popular method was to crush the piñas with a giant grinding wheel called a “tahona”. Once the piñas have been crushed, they are cleaned with water and strained to remove juices.
Step 4: Fermentation
In large wooden vats or stainless steel tanks, the sugars are transformed into alcohol during the fermentation process. To speed up and control fermentation, yeast may be added. The natural yeast on agave leaves has historically been used, but many distilleries use a cultivated version of wild yeast today. Depending on the method used, the fermentation usually takes 7 to 12 days.
Step 5: Distillation
The fifth step in the production of tequila is to distil the ferments in stainless steel pot stills or distillation towers. Most tequilas are only distilled twice. But, sometimes they are distilled three times. The first distillation only takes a few hours and produces a liquid with an alcohol content of approximately 20%. In the second distillation, which takes three to four hours, the alcohol content is around 55%. The tequila that is known to be white, or “Blanco,” tequila is ready after the second distillation.
Step 6: Ageing
Nearly all tequila-ageing containers are French or American barrels of white oak. These barrels were previously used to age Bourbon. Reposados range from two to 12 months of age. Whereas, Añejos range from one to three years and Extra Añejos are aged for over 3 years. The more colour and tannins the final product will have is dependent on the duration that the tequila is aged. The longer the tequila is aged, the more colour it will have. Tequila’s flavour will also be influenced by the state of the barrels including their age and whether their interiors have burned or toasted. After the tequila has aged the duration that the producer wants, it is ready to be bottled.
Some of The Popular Tequila Brands
- Jose Cuervo
Jose Cuervo is one of Tequila’s most popular brands. During the prohibition period, this brand became popular when tequila was regularly smuggled from the United States to the south-west. A descendant of the founder, Don Jose Antonio de Cuervo, continues to run the business. This tequila is typically used for homemade margaritas.
Cast from one of Mexico’s oldest distilleries, Casa Siete Leguas, this high-end product is made of 100 percent Weber blue agave. As a first-class product, Patrón is handmade in small batches and has been reinvented to be soft, smooth and simple to mix.
Sauza, which is regarded as a cheap tequilas leader, is a highly popular low-cost product sold at $10 for a 750-millilitre silver bottle. There are several options available, including Platinum, Cucumber Chili, Añejo, Gold, and even some spiked sparkling water options. Suaza also sells a more luxurious line called Sauza Signature, featuring Blue Silver, and Blue Reposado. Both of these tequilas are 100 percent blue agave.
The first year that barrel-aged tequila was sold to the world was 1800, hence the name, “1800 Tequila”. This brand makes a great affordable tequila compared to some of the more expensive alternatives out there. 1800 Silver, 1800 Reserva Reposado, 1800 Reserva Añejo, 1800 Colección, 1800 Coconut, and 1800 Milenio are different kinds of tequila that the company produces. This brand of tequila is owned by the Beckmann family. This is the same family that owns the Jose Cuervo tequila brand.