Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Tequila
Tequila is more popular in the United States than in Mexico. And that’s not a surprise, considering how great it tastes. If you enjoy drinking tequila, you might like to learn a little bit more about it. Here we discover what it is and how it’s made and what makes it so special.
What Is Tequila?
You already know that tequila is an alcoholic drink, but it’s also known as agave tequilana – its scientific name. Tequila is made with the blue Weber agave plant. Its production is limited to 5 Mexican states: Jalisco, Tamaulipas, Guanajuato, Michoacán, and Tamaulipas. There is even a regulatory agency that is in charge of enforcing the laws about tequila products.
Do not confuse tequila with mezcal. Mezcal is another Mexican drink that uses agave. Unlike tequila, it can be produced anywhere in Mexico. It also tastes a little different with a harsher flavor. While all tequila is mezcal, not all mezcal is tequila.
How Is It Made?
Producing tequila is very time-consuming. In fact, it takes the agave plant at least 8 years to mature before it can be harvested. At that time, the plant produces honey inside the heart of the plant – also referred to as piñas. The agave plant itself looks a little bit like a pineapple, but it must be crushed in order to make tequila. To make more tequila, you must wait another 8 years to grow a new plant. This is obviously not a very efficient process, but that’s what you have to do to have delicious tequila.
After the harvest, the insides of the agave plants are cooked inside of steel pressure cookers. Traditionally, they were prepared in cooking ovens, but the flavor doesn’t vary with either process. Once the agave is cooked, the starches turn into sugars, which will later transform into alcohol. The plant is also passed through grinding blades to extract the agua miel inside, also known as honey water.
Now the juice must be fermented to get that tequila taste. To make 100% agave tequila, the juice just goes into the fermenting container. However, to make mixed tequila, sugar and molasses will be added before the fermentation begins. Can you taste the alcohol already? It’s almost done.
The fermented agave juice must be distilled. Actually, It must be distilled twice by law and is often distilled three or four times to make the best tequila. The distillation process removes impurities to make it safe to drink. At this point, the alcohol content is decided. The best tequilas have about 40% alcohol content, while lower quality versions aim for 55% and later dilute the drink with purified water.
The last step is aging and bottling. Technically, you can drink tequila at this point, but the aging process improves the flavor even more. You can find tequila that has been aged from 2 to 12 months, but there is also tequila that has aged for more than 3 years. To be labeled tequila, the product must also be bottled in Mexico.
As you have learned, not all tequila is made of 100% blue agave. In fact, the legal requirements require tequila to be 51% blue agave. The rest can be filled with neutral spirit, which is usually made from cane sugar juice. The result is known as mixto tequila. Of course, even mixto tequila can taste delicious, although some people may consider it to be of much lower quality than the 100% tequila.
Fun Facts about Tequila
Did you know that donkeys can play a role in the making of tequila? The traditional process to crush the hearts of the agave plant is called the Tahona process. Instead of using a machine, a massive volcanic wheel is dragged over the steamed agave hearts to crush them. That’s where the donkey comes into play – to drag the wheel.
The agave plant that’s used to make your tequila is extremely heavy. In fact, the heart of the plant can weigh 80 to 100 pounds. And some of them are much bigger than that. Making tequila is backbreaking work – no wonder you need that donkey to help.
Contrary to common belief, your tequila should not come with a worm. If it does, you probably shouldn’t be drinking it. The misunderstanding arises from the fact that worms often nibble on the plant. If left alone, the gusano de maguey will turn into a butterfly. When they’re added into the bottles of liquor as larvae, the drink is a mezcal but not tequila.