TEQUILA: Pride of Mexico

Many of us tend to drink any and everything but have no idea what differentiates vodka from whiskey.  Or rum from tequila.  Believe it or not, there are specific requirements for a liquor to be considered what it is. So I thought it’d be good to break down each liquor so you’re more informed next time you order your favorite drink.  Today’s lesson: TEQUILA. But first, let’s discuss fermentation and distillation.

Fermentation happens when sugars are converted into cellular energy, producing ethanol (also referred to as grain alcohol) and carbon dioxide as waste products.

Distillation is a method of separating mixtures based on differences in volatility of components in a boiling liquid mixture.  

Alcohol is usually fermented and then distilled.  Tequila is a distilled spirit made from the Agave tequilana plant, primarily in the area surrounding the city of Tequila in the western Mexican state of Jalisco.  Mexican laws state that tequila can be produced only in the state of Jalisco.  Mexico is granted international right to the word “tequila.”

Once the plant is ready to be harvested, the leaves are cut away from the core of the plant.  After harvesting, the leaves are slowly baked in ovens to break down their complex starches into simple sugars. Then, the baked leaves are either shredded or mashed under a large stone wheel, after which the extracted agave juice is then poured into either large wooden or stainless steel vats for several days to ferment, resulting in a wort with low alcohol content.  This wort is then distilled once to produce what is called “ordinario,” and then a second time to produce clear “silver” tequila.  From there, the tequila is either bottled as silver tequila, or it is pumped into wooden barrels to age, where it develops a mellower flavor and amber color.

Tequila is usually bottled in one of five categories:

  • Blanco (“white”) or (“silver”): white spirit, unaged and bottled or stored immediately after distillation, or aged less than two months in stainless steel or neutral oak barrels
  • Joven (“young”) or (“gold”): unaged Blanco tequila that is colored and flavored with caramel
  • Reposado (“rested”): aged a minimum of two months, but less than a year in oak barrels of any size
  • Añejo (“aged” or “vintage”): aged a minimum of one year, but less than three years in small oak barrels
  • Extra Añejo (“extra aged” or “ultra aged”): aged a minimum of three years in oak barrels, this category was established in March 2006.

Who knew so much went into making tequila?  Sip with appreciation next time you take a shot!