How is tequila made?
#83145. Asked by trevor1968. (Jul 10 07 12:23 PM)
The process of tequila begins when a blue agave plant is ripe, usually 8 to 12 years after it is planted. Leaves are chopped away from its core by a "jimador" who assesses the plants ripeness. If the plant is harvested too soon, there won't be enough sugars to do the job. Too late and the agave's sugars will have already been used to form a once-in-a-lifetime stem "quiote" that springs 25 to 40 feet high so that the seeds grown at the top of the stem can scatter with the wind. The jimador's task is a crucial one; once he decides that the plant is ready, he wields a special long knife known as a "coa" to clear the core. The cores or piñas (Spanish for pineapple) weight an average of 40 to 70 pounds, and can weight up to 200 pounds. The photo shows a ripe agave, at least 8 year old) that is being harvested. The “piña” in the photograph (third at right) will be visible when all the leaves (pencas) have been cleared.|
Piñas are hauled to the distillery where they are cut in half or chopped and put to roast. Starches turn to sugar as the piñas are roasted in furnaces called "hornos". Modern distilleries use huge steam ovens to increase output and save on energy. Roughly speaking, seven kilos (15 lb.) of agave piña are needed to produce one liter (one quart U.S.) of tequila.
Different agaves and processes produce mezcal with different names throughout Mexico: stotol in Chihuanhua, mezcal in Oaxaca, and bacanora in Sonora.
For detailed information on the agave, see the Agave Pages and Agavaceae.
The roasted piñas are then shredded, their juices pressed out and placed in fermenting tanks or vats. Some distilleries use the traditional method to produce tequila. In this method –artesian tequila– the cores are crushed with a stone wheel at a grinding mill called "tahona" and the fibers are dumped into the wooden vat to enhance fermentation and to provide extra flavor. Once the juices are in the vats yeast is added. Every distiller keeps its own yeast as a closely guarded secret. During fermenting, the yeast acts upon the sugars of the agave plant converting them into alcohol.
Juices ferment for 30 to 48 hours then they are distilled twice in traditional copper stills or more modern ones made of stainless steel or in continuous distillation towers. The first distillation produces a low-grade alcohol and the second a fiery colorless liquid that is later blended before being bottled. Alcohol content may be between 70 and 110 Proof. At this moment the liquor is no longer mezcal but tequila.
All types of tequila start with this colorless distilled spirit. Each type will be called depending on its aging.
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