Tequila – A Drink Once Only for Bandidos and Rancheros

When I tell people that my family owns a 1,000-acre ranchero with an agave farm, I get tons of questions about the tequila making process. The fascination, I guess, is that tequila is surrounded by so many stories, myths, and legends.

Here, I will try to answer a few of the questions I have gotten over the years.

AgaveHarvesting the Plants

Tequila means “the place of harvesting plants” and is made from “agave tequilana azul” (blue agave tequila plant in English), or simply “agave” for short.

The local people also often call agave, “maguey.” Maguey stems from “gusanos del maguey,” which are the caterpillars that infest agave plants. (This is where the worm in the Tequila bottle comes from.) In Mexico, you can also buy these worms at local markets. They taste great deep-fried with hot sauce in a tortilla – this snack is called “Chinicuiles.” Add a Chapuline (grasshopper) for an extra burst of pepper extract… mmmmmmm… so good. Anyway, back to the tequila plants…

JimadorAgave takes 7-10 years to grow. Once the Agave is matured, a “Jimador” is called to inspect the agave to see if it’s ripe for cutting. The sugar levels have to be just perfect. Once the “Jimador” decides that the plants are ready, he chops them down to the core. At the core of the agave plants are the piñas (pineapples).

Turning Water into Wine

The piñas are then taken to a distillery and loaded into an oven. Here they are roasted in “hornos” which, loosely translated, means furnaces.

HornosThe roasted piñas are then squeezed for the juice that will eventually make tequila. Once the juices are extracted from the piñas, special yeast recipes are added, and the juices are left for fermenting. During fermenting, the yeast and sugars of the agave plant convert into alcohol. This is when the distillation begins. All tequila, at this point, is clear colorless. The type of aging is how tequila gets its taste and color.

Here are some common types of tequilas:

Blanco or White
Not aged, bottled immediately after the distillation process.

Reposado or Rested
Aged a minimum of 2 months, but less than a year, in oak barrels.

Añejo or Aged
Aged minimum 1 year, but less than 3 years, in oak barrels.

Extra Añejo or Extra Aged
Aged minimum 3 year in oak barrels. This is a new type that started in late 2005.

Oro or Gold
Unaged tequila that has added caramel, fructose, glycerin and/or wood flavoring to resemble aged tequila, like Jose Cuervo.

A special Añejo that keeps in oak barrels for up to 8 years. Reserva is the best tasting, hardest to find and most expensive tequila on the market.

When buying Tequila you want to look for a seal that says “Hecho en Mexico.” This means that it was made with 100% agave and bottled in Mexico. Famous Tequilas, like Jose Cuervo, is only 51% agave and exported to be bottled in other countries. Many don’t consider Jose Cuervo real tequila.

The Birth of Tequila

My family’s farm is in Zacatecas, Mexico which borders Jalisco, Mexico. Jalisco is known for being the birthplace of both Tequila and Mariachi music. Both Jalisco and Zacatecas are known for “Blanco Mexicans” (White Mexicans), as large communities of light skinned Mexicans of European decent, many who are French and German, populate these regions.

A little town in the western part of Jalisco, northwest of Guadalajara, is the “Town of Tequila.” Here, the district’s first tequila factory was established in 1600.

Harvesting Agave

Until 1996, Jalisco was the only state in the union to farm agave. Then, in 1996, the high demand for tequila, along with 12-inches of snow that killed the agave harvest, caused prices to soar. But this also brought ease on restriction. My family’s bordering state of Zacatecas, was finally allowed to grow agave.

Unfortunately, because of the lengthy time to farm agave (7-10 years), along with the distillation process, tequila lovers are still feeling the hefty prices at the checkout counter.

Estoy apesadumbrado, mi amigos!

– Quitano
Mow Your Own Lawn

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