So, how is tequila made?
The Blue Agave plant must grow 8 – 10 years before it can be used to make tequila! Imagine all that can go wrong in that amount of time – climate & pests have to be controlled so that the plant can be protected before it can be used.
The agave honey is extracted from the pina with grinding blades after cooking the agave to turn the starches into sugars. Once the juices or “honey water” has been extracted, it is then fermented. Fermentation is when the tequila begins to form its personality.
This is also when tequila either becomes 100% agave or only 51% agave (by definition and regulation, in order to be tequila it must be at least 51% agave). If it is to be less than 100%, sugarcane or molasses are added to the aqua miel (honey water).
As the alcohol is formed, yeast is then introduced to the show and the tanks are lightly heated. Carbon dioxide forms (as in wine) and tequila alcohol is fully formed to 5%.
Finally, the tequila is distilled. Regulations require that tequila be distilled twice or else the alcohol would be devastating! The distillation heats the juice to the point of vaporization and then it is cooled and condensed. The first distillation removes what is called the ‘heads’ and ‘tails’ which contain all the bad alcohol and impurities.
The second distillation (and sometimes third and fourth for some of the high end tequilas) determines the percent of alcohol. The higher end tequilas are about 40% alcohol (80 proof) and counter intuitively, the lower end tequilas are usually about 55% alcohol.
OK, so we’re almost there! We now have Blanco (silver, plata) tequila. Many prefer what they think of as tequila in its purest form. However, like wine, tequila can also be aged. Aging 2-6 months produces a reposado tequila and aging over 1 year to 3 years produces anejo tequila. Of course, as with most wines, the more aging, the more color, character and tannins are produced.
Reposado tequila is usually aged in oak barrels, but anejo tequila is aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels – imagine the amazing characters of a good, well-aged anejo tequila!
Well, that’s all folks! You’ve got the basics, so now, on to the tasting – oh, right – you’re on your own! Of course, you can always come to Gringo Jack’s and try a tequila flight (hint hint!).