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Tequila, Where it's From and How it's Made

The Aztecs did not invent, Tequila, the one thing that held them back was the failure to discover the secret of
distillation. The Aztecs did, however, drink an alcoholic beverage, called "pulque" by the Spaniards. "Pulque" was made by cutting off the flower stalk of the Agave plant before it had a chance to bloom, then hollowing out the base of the plant and allowing the cavity to fill with sweet, milky plant sap. With no place to go, the juice would collect there and ferment into a somewhat murky, foul smelling wine.

The Spaniards tried bringing in grapes and grains to recreate alcoholic beverages popular in Europe but they wouldn't grow in the semi-arid areas where the Agave plant thrived. The Spaniards didn't like the taste of Pulque so they tried distilling it. After experimenting with different types of Agave, the finally produced a drinkable spirit, which they called "Mescal."

Tequila is not made from cactus. The confusion is common because Agave species are often confused with cacti. (Agave leaves are succulent, rather than the stems, as in cactus.) About 125 years ago, several distillers around the town of Tequila, in the central Mexican state of Jalisco, began making a superior form of Mescal; They used the whole heart of a specific variety of Agave indigenous to the region: the Blue Agave. Today only spirits made within the confines of this region can bear the name Tequila. If produced elsewhere, it must be called Mescal.


Blue Agave is no longer a wild plant but has become a carefully cultured species. On average, Agave plants are about ten years old before they can be harvested for production. The juicy core of the plant, which resembles a large pineapple, is harvested. Called the "pina" (Spanish for pineapple), the core, which sometimes weighs upward of 100 pounds, is trimmed, cut into chunks, then baked in huge steam ovens. A sweet juice (Aguamiel or honey juice) is extracted by steaming and compressing the pina. The juice is refermented for several days and then distilled at a low proof. It is then double distilled to a powerful 110 proof. Tequila is reduced to 80 proof with water before bottling. Some is aged in wood; Gold and "Anejo," and some is bottled clear; the White and Silver. The Gold Tequilas rests in large oak vats for about nine months to one year, where it acquires a pale gold color. By law, Tequila, designated "Anejo," must be aged a, minimum of one year in wood; however it is usually aged in smaller oak barrels for at least three years and sometimes up to seven. Some Mescal (produced outside the region), is produced with an Agave root worm in the bottle as a mark of authenticity.

From Tequila to Vodka

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