How Is Tequila Made?
Last week we talked about the history of Tequila. This week we found this interesting article at The Spruce about how Tequila is made.
Tequila is made by distilling the fermented juices of the Weber blue agave plant with water. The agave is a member of the lily family and it looks like a giant aloe vera plant with spiked barbs on the tips. After seven to ten years of growing, the agave plant is ready to be harvested and used in the production of tequila.
Underground, the plant produces a large bulb called a piña, which looks similar to a white pineapple. The agave’s spiky leaves are removed and the piñas are quartered and slowly baked in steam or brick ovens until all the starches are converted to sugars. The baked agave is crushed in order to extract the plant’s sweet juices, which are then fermented.
100% Agave vs. Mixto: According to Mexican law, all tequila must contain at least 51 percent Weber blue agave (Agave tequilana). Really good tequila is 100% Weber blue agave and will be clearly marked that way on the bottle. The law also requires them to be produced, bottled, and inspected in Mexico.
Tequila that is not 100% agave is called mixto (mixed) because it is blended with sugar and water during distillation. Mixto tequilas can be produced outside of Mexico. Until around the turn of the 21st century, mixtos were the main tequilas produced. Today, the majority of the tequila you will find is “Tequila 100% de Agave.”
Distillation: Tequila is distilled in either pot or column stills until it reaches around 110 proof. The result is a clear spirit with a significant amount of congeners. These congeners are byproducts of alcohol fermentation that are often thought of as impurities which may lead to more severe hangovers.
Some tequileros (tequila producers) re-distill the tequila to produce a cleaner liquor. Before bottling, the distillate is cut with water to obtain the bottling strength, which typically is around 80 proof, or 40 percent alcohol by volume (ABV).
Some tequilas are clear and are called blanco or silver tequila. Others take on a brown color due to one of two possible sources. Gold tequilas often get their color from the addition of caramel or other additives. Reposado and añejo tequilas obtain their golden-brown color from barrel aging. Some tequilas are flavored with small amounts of sherry, prune concentrate, and coconut, though these are not “true” tequilas, but “tequila products.”