The history of tequila dates back to the Aztec people, who created a precursor to the drink called Pulque from the Agave plant. When the Spaniards arrived, they distilled Pulque to create a drink they found more palatable.
From those simple origins, the production of tequila has grown. Tequila must adhere to three strict rules to legally be called tequila. First, tequila is only distilled In five Mexican states (Jalisco, Michoacán, Guanajuato, Nayarit, or Tamaulipas). Second, tequila must be made with Blue Weber Agave, also known as Agave Tequilana, and contain no less than 51% agave (spirits with up to 49 percent distillation from other sugars are called Mixto). Finally, to be certified, tequila must be approved by the Tequila Regulatory Council in Mexico. Tequila that has earned certification will have a small rectangle with the letters “CRT” on the label.
There are actually not one but three major types of tequila: Tequila Blanco, Tequila Reposado, and Tequila Ańejo, and each has its own unique characteristics. Tequila Blanco is bottled immediately after distillation. Tequila Reposado is aged in oak barrels for 2 to 12 months, while Tequila Añejo is aged for 1 to 3 years in oak barrels.
The first step in producing tequila is harvesting the agave plants, which reach maturity after six to eight years. The plants are cut by hand by farmers who slice the waxy leaves away from the core, which is called a piña. The piñas are cooked to break down the starches into sugars. There are four primary methods of cooking piñas:
- Underground: The oldest cooking method involves using an underground oven, usually a pit dug in the ground. The process involves placing the piñas inside, covering them, and setting a fire on top, which produces a smoky flavor that some connoisseurs appreciate.
- Brick Ovens: Another traditional method involves slow cooking the piñas in a brick oven for about 36 hours. This method produces richly flavored, well-rounded tequilas.
- Autoclaves: A modern cooking method involves placing the piñas in a stainless-steel autoclave. This oven baking method uses pressure cooking and only requires nine to 11 hours while still producing high-quality tequila.
- Diffusers: Diffusers shred the piñas before cooking and use high water pressure to convert starches to sugars, releasing the juices in as little as three hours. Diffusers also eliminate the need to crush the piñas after the cooking process. However, many purists claim diffusers produce inferior tequilas.
The first three cooking methods also require crushing the piñas to release juices after the cooking process. The piñas are typically crushed using a tahona – a large wheel made of volcanic rock that spins in a rock pit – or a roller mill that uses sharp wheels and water to tear the fibers away from the piñas to release their juices. After the piñas are crushed and their juices extracted, the resulting liquid is fermented and distilled.
Whatever your preferences for tequila, Joe’s Tequila Bar at the Inn on the Alameda features a wide variety of spirits distilled from the Agave plant, aimed to satisfy both conservative and adventurous tastes – ask about our flights. Come and enjoy a drink with us!