|One of the symbols of Mexico is certainly the tequila. This is an alcohol made from the heart of the blue agave, made in the region of the valley of Tequila, west of Guadalajara in central Mexico. I visited a farm that produces an organic tequila to learn more about this beverage. This farm is located just outside Tequila city, a small city of about 30 000 where you can find 32 tequelerias.|
The blue agave is typical of the area
and its use goes back about two thousands years for various purposes,
including producing beverages. The agave plan is very widespread in
Mexico and there are about 166 different species of agave, many of
which are used to produce alcohol. In many Mexican states, they
produce an agave alcohol. Depending on the species used and the
state, it could take different names. For example, in Chihuahua
state the name of their alcohol is sotol. But tequila is done
exclusively with blue agave.
The blue agave (or tequila agave)
originates from the state of Jalisco, and is present throughout the
state, not only in the Tequila area. The plant grows up to 2 meters
high in 12 years before it is harvested. It is then individually
selected and cut out by a specialist, who strips the huge bulb
(called 'piņa' because it does look like a giant pineapple) of all
the leaves and splits it in half because what is used to make the
tequila is the heart of the plan which is very rich in sugar.
The tequila process begins by cooking
the bulb. In traditional factories, they use only water steam to
cook the plant for about 2 days. In large plants, it is cooked with
gas for about 10 hours, to reduce production time. After the plant
has been cooked, the heart is extracted and that cooked heart is
called mesquite, it can be eaten and has a very sweet taste.
The mesquite is then pressed to extract
its juices, which are then left to rest and let the distillation
process do its job with the help of fruit flies. The liquid is then
filtered and distilled to remove the methanol and keep only the
ethanol. The tequila is then born. There are four varieties of
tequilas, all with the same quality, just a different taste:
Blanco (white): this tequila is the
immediate result of the production and doesn't spend any time in the
Reposado (rested): this is the original
white tequila which has spent 2 to 11 months in barrels.
Aņejo (aged): the white tequila has
spent 1 to 3 years in barrels
Extra aņejo (very aged): the white
tequila has spent 3 to 5 years in barrels.
The more time the tequila spends in the
barrel, the more colourful it becomes... up to a dark shade of wood,
reflecting the intensity of the taste. Of course, the older the
tequila, the more expensive it is... not only because of production
costs of the time in barrel, but also because tequila evaporates a
lot... and can lose up to 10% per year.
The tequila once produced has about 80%
alcohol in it... and it watered down to 38% for Mexican market and to
40% to 42% for other countries.
There are 3 levels of quality for
100% Agave: using only 100% agave-based
alcohol, usually produced by traditional methods (with steam).
Commercial: which can also be 100%
agave but produced in larger batches, with gas burning and usually
the addition of various chemicals to accelerate the process to
respond to the current high demand worldwide for the beverage.
Mixto (mixed): which means at least 51%
of the alcohol use comes from the agave, and the rest could come from
other sources like sugar cane.
How to drink tequila? There's a ritual
on how to drink a shot of tequila. You first place some lime on the
side of your hand... then place some grains of salt over it (the lime
juice will help keep the salt in place) and you suck it up... leave
the salt in your mouth for a few seconds to generate saliva. Then
you take your tequila shooter and let the alcohol fumes develop for
about 1 or 2 seconds before you swallow. Then you take a bite on the
lime to stop the mouth burning... and get ready for your next shot.
Repeat at will. :-)
The tequila is used to produce liquors
with different tastes... from traditional to coffee, to chocolate and
walnut. There is also a production of agave honey which is sold on
the streets of Tequila and at some farms.
I don't drink much alcohol and I never
had a shot of hard liquor before... but for the needs of this
article, I sacrificed myself and took a few samples. Not only in the
production sites, but in every shop of Tequila city you can get free
samples of the different varieties of tequila and of the liquors. I
had a total of 5 shooters... and on that day I drank more alcohol
than in the last two years combined! But I thought what better place
to have a first shot of tequila than in Tequila, Mexico?