Tequilas are the product of the central Mexican state of Jalisco. Here, rows of agave plants – succulents with thick, fleshy central portions – are cultivated at heights of 1,500 feet above sea level and further, while many acres’ worth of lesser quality are planted on lower plains, too. In fact, all counted, roughly 400,000,000 plants thrive on the region’s high plateaus and flatlands, most grown for purposes of making tequila.
An agave plant’s harvest time is determined by a jimador, an artisanal specialist whose training allows him to choose the right time to shear a plant’s leaves away, leaving the heart behind. This starchy central portion will then be sent through six steps before becoming tequila.
- Cooking: Agave hearts are steamed in brick ovens (or any developed device) to convert complex carbohydrates to fermentable sugars.
- Crushing: Once the outer layer is removed, the baked, but stilly starchy, inner portion of the plant is crushed. Juice, or aguamiel, is released during this process.
- Fermentation: Yeast is added to sugary aguamiel and fermentation takes place. A low “beer” is the result.
- Distillation: Fermented liquid is placed into distillation, where it evaporates and re-condenses in the same fashion as other distilled liquors.
- Aging: Finished tequila is placed in specifically chosen barrels and aged to meet certain classification status.
Those classifications are:
- Silver/Blanco/Plata/White/Platinum: Pure expression, possibly aged for four weeks
- Gold/Joven/Oro: Usually a “mixto,” or blend of agave and cane sugar liquors. Can be bottled in other countries and contain coloring or flavoring
- Reposada: Generally aged in oak or steel cask from 8-11 months
- Añejo: Aged for at least one year in smaller barriques. Referred to as “Aged” or “Extra Aged.”
- Extra Añejo: The newest classification (2006), these tequilas are aged in barrique for at least three years before release.
Three tequilas were sampled tonight. The first was Sauza Hornitos Plata, which had a fruitier, more herbal upfront expression with citrusy finish. Next was darker, American Oak-aged Conmemorativo. Dried fruit and agave nectar were on the nose, and its finish was clean. Last, Casamigos Reposada, aged for seven months in oak. Its character was warm with cocoa and caramel.