What is tequila made from? Tequila is a national treasure of Mexico that is widely regarded as one of its greatest accomplishments. This spirit is made from the heart of the Weber azul agave plant, and it has been mass-produced since the 1600s. Tequila is one of the first indigenous distilled spirits of North America, and it has rapidly grown in popularity since its creation.
Tequila is widely consumed in the United States due to its reputation as a versatile, enjoyable, and health-conscious spirit. Its quality depends largely on the caliber of the agave plants that are used to produce it. According to Robert Gonzales Jr., a spirits expert and judge for the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, tequila should have a vegetal and earthy flavor profile that is accented by a roasted marshmallow note, which is typical of mature cooked agave.
Additional flavor characteristics, such as vanilla or honey, are typically the result of aging and blending after the distillation process. Much like wine, the aging process can greatly impact the flavor profile of tequila. Some tequilas are aged for only a few months, while others are aged for several years, resulting in a more complex and nuanced flavor. Regardless of the aging process, tequila remains a beloved spirit that is enjoyed by many around the world.
What is tequila made from?
In the same way that Champagne must be produced in the French region of the same name, genuine tequila must be made primarily in one of five authorized states: Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit, Tamaulipas, and the most famous of all, Jalisco, which produces the majority of tequila.
According to Gonzales, tequila must be made using a minimum of 51 percent Weber azul agave, which is a native succulent plant with long, spiky leaves that grows exceptionally well in the volcanic soils of the region. Furthermore, there are other requirements that must be met, such as a minimum of 35 percent alcohol by volume (with a maximum of 110 proof) and a minimum of two rounds of distillation, which helps to eliminate impurities and concentrate the amount of alcohol in the final spirit.
Premium tequila, on the other hand, is made using 100 percent Weber azul agave. Tequilas with lower percentages may contain additives such as molasses, corn syrup, or other sugars in place of agave nectar. It is essential to note that all tequilas are mezcals, but not all mezcals are tequilas. Mezcal is any spirit distilled from agave, but tequila is made particularly from Weber azul.
Today, the terms tequila and mezcal can refer to two entirely different spirits. The heart of the agave plant is steamed and pressed to make tequila, while its preparation for what we typically refer to as mezcal involves a roasting and fermentation process that gives it a distinctively smoky flavor profile. This process is usually carried out in underground pits lined with hot rocks, which impart the smoky flavor to the agave. After roasting, the agave is crushed and distilled to produce mezcal, a spirit that has a unique flavor that sets it apart from tequila.
Types of tequila
Blanco tequila is the category for tequila in its purest form. According to Gonzales, it is clear and unaged, and typically bottled right after distillation. This category is the most popular in the United States, where it is often used in margaritas and other light, acidic drinks.
Joven tequila, on the other hand, is young and unadulterated. This term is used to describe a mix of blanco and more aged tequilas. According to Gonzales, it is increasingly being used to describe a blend of 100 percent agave tequilas. For example, a 100 percent agave blanco can be blended and bottled with a 100 percent agave reposado to create a joven tequila.
Reposado tequila is the most popular category in Mexico. It means “rested” because it is rested in an oak container for a minimum of two months. Most reposados are aged for an average of six months in used bourbon barrels. Gonzales notes that this type of tequila is more flavorful than a blanco or joven and is comparable to bourbon or whiskey. It can be used similarly in cocktails.
Añejo and extra añejo tequilas are translated to “old” or “vintage” and are matured for the longest duration. According to Gonzales, these tequilas must be aged in an oak container no larger than 600 liters, with añejos aged for a minimum of one year and extra añejos aged for a minimum of three years. These tequilas are darker in color and have a more intense and complex flavor profile, making them typically considered “sipping” tequilas.
How is it made?
The process of making tequila begins in the field, where agave farmers, known as jimadores, cultivate and prune the plants until they are ready for harvesting. The plant is harvested between 7 and 14 years old, and the leaves are stripped until only the heart, or piña, remains.
The piñas are then transported to an oven, where they are steamed for up to 56 hours to soften their cores. After cooling, the piñas are crushed, and the resulting juice is fermented in steel or wooden vats, where any sugars in the juice are converted to alcohol. Once the alcohol content reaches around four to nine percent ABV, it is ready for distillation and is transferred to a still.
Mexican regulations require at least two rounds of distillation to remove impurities and increase the alcohol concentration to at least 35 percent ABV. After distillation, the tequila is then ready to be aged in oak barrels, blended, or bottled for consumption.
The aging process can significantly impact the flavor profile of tequila, and it is common for tequilas to be aged for varying lengths of time. Blanco tequila is typically unaged, while reposado tequila is aged for a minimum of two months, and añejo tequila is aged for a minimum of one year. Extra añejo tequila, on the other hand, is aged for a minimum of three years.
The type of barrel used for aging can also impact the flavor profile of the tequila. For example, barrels that were previously used to age bourbon will impart flavors of vanilla, caramel, and oak to the tequila. In contrast, barrels that were previously used to age wine may impart fruity or floral notes to the tequila.
How does tequila differ from other types of liquor?
According to Gonzales, “Tequila is vastly different from any other spirit in the world because it is the only one that requires the killing of the plant to produce its liquor. Grapes for brandy, corn for whiskey, sugar cane for rum, all grow back, but the agave plant used to make tequila does not.”
This unique aspect of tequila production makes the cultivation and harvest of agave, as well as the subsequent distillation and aging process, a remarkable and time-consuming endeavor that requires a significant amount of land and resources.
Despite this, tequila has gained popularity in recent years, with many people considering it a “healthier” choice of alcohol due to its relatively low sugar and calorie content. In fact, tequila is often touted as a paleo-friendly spirit since it is minimally processed and derived from plants.
However, it is essential to note that not all tequilas are created equal, and there can be significant differences in the quality and nutritional content of different tequilas. For example, premium tequilas made with 100 percent agave tend to have a higher nutritional value and fewer additives than their lower-quality counterparts, which may contain added sugars or other ingredients.
Tequila is a distinctively Mexican spirit made from Weber azul agave, a native succulent plant. Maintained and harvested by hand, the heart of the agave plant is cooked, pressed, and distilled, and ready to be aged, blended, or bottled. Minimally processed and easy to mix into cocktails or enjoy on its own, it’s no wonder tequila is one of the hottest spirits in the drinks business.
Conclusion for What Is Tequila Made From
In conclusion, tequila is a unique and beloved spirit that has become a national treasure of Mexico. Made primarily from the Weber azul agave plant, tequila has been mass-produced since the 1600s and has rapidly grown in popularity around the world due to its versatility, enjoyable taste, and health-conscious reputation.
Tequila comes in a range of styles and varieties, from the unaged purity of blanco tequila to the rich and complex flavors of añejo and extra añejo tequilas. The production process of tequila is remarkable and time-consuming, requiring a significant amount of land and resources.
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