How Tequila is made


Tequila is a product that blends cultures. The process that derives it is also representative of an interrelation of the diverse productive processes that characterize the indigenous Prehispanic culture of Jalisco, Mexico and the introduction of the Spanish distillation process. This blend is present in all the aspects of Tequila, from its production means to its final consumption. Even though it cannot be affirmed whether the prehispanic culture distillated or not their beverages, it can be affirmed that they applied the fermentation process. Historically the fermentation practiced by the prehispanic tribes derived a kind of wine or beer. These beverages were mainly utilized for ceremonial and ritualistic purposes. Even though the fermentation process did not achieve complete compatibility with the existing industrial process, it did achieve positive results in relation to the curado. (A stage of fermentation ) The distillation process was introduced by the Spaniards on the 17th century. The distillation process was widely utilized in the territorial boundaries of the New Spain, formerly Mexico. It can be affirmed with certainty that the agave plant and the boiling process are by historical precedent, vernacular elements of the prehispanic culture of Tiquila. The traditional procedure was only affected at its final stage by the Spanish distillation process. Referring to the distillation process, it can be affirmed that its existence was achieved through the intervention of the Moors in the territories of Andalucia, Espana. The Moors imported into Spain the Arabic process which would eventually reach the New Continent. By acknowledging the historical merge it can be stated that Tequila represents a beverage of mixed identities.

 The Tequila as a distillate product received more intervention from Spain than from the vernacular prehispanic tribes. The reason stands in the fact that Spain intervened in the commercialization and land control of the New Spain.

By this time it is extremely important to understand the historical process that derives the beverage we enjoy today. The Tequila is the product obtained from the distillation and fermentation of the mezcal plant scientifically known as Xerofica-Agave-Tequilana (Member of the lily family). The two main types are the Agave-Azul and Agave-Xinguin. These species are cultivated in the states of Jalisco and Nayarit in Mexico. However, other species include: Moraneno, Mano Larga, Chino Azul, Bermejo, Singuin, Chato, Sopilote, and Pie de Mula. It is precisely the type of plant which gives the Tequila its original designation. The Agave or Xerofica-Tequilana requires ten years of complete development and three additional years for its production and manufacture. In order for the beverage to become classified as Tequila it requires 51 percent of fermented sugars extracted from the Agave-Azul also known as the Weber-Azul. If such condition is not established, then the beverage obtained is referred to as mezcal. Among the Tequila lineage the following types are the most recognized: Tequila-Blanco(White) or Plata (Silver), tequila-Reposado, and Tequila Anejo. Other types include the Tequila-Dorado (Its color is obtained through the use of caramel and other flavorings) and the Chinaco which rests on oak barrels for two to three months. The Tequila Anejo extends its maturation up to a year or more until it acquires an amber color.

The number of agave plants varies from 2,500 to 2,800 per hectare. The number of plants in relation to the cultivating field yield to a proper growth. Information disclosed by the state of Jalisco in Mexico revealed that by 1980, the cultivated area amounted to 30 and 35 thousand hectares. The same year the Tequila Industry classified objectively the existence of 33 distilleries. These distilleries employed 5830 people of the region from which 1,230 were employed in the distillery and 4,600 were employed in the cultivating field. The state of Nayarit had at the time 3 distilleries; However, 95 percent of the production was developed in the State of Jalisco.

The ideal conditions for the cultivation of the Blue-Agave is found on arid areas characterized by the presence of reddish clays and (siliza). These conditions are properly met by the state of Jalisco and Nayarit. However Jalisco has been officially recognized as the producer and manufacturer of the Tequila Weber Azul. The agave Weber-Azul requires a maturation of eight to ten years. During that time the Quiote or agave-flower flourishes. It is necessary to eventually discard the (germane) of the flower in order to condense the (savia). The (savia) is responsible for the sweet content of Tequila. The maturation process is necessary to reach the Jima. The Jima is the process in which the (pencas) are pulled from the ground. The process requires an experienced ability which becomes mastered through experience. The Jima is a preliminary stage that will eventually guide to a boiling stage by means of industrial kilns better known as Autoclaves. The Autoclaves have been the result of a technological evolution. Prior to their existence, the boiling process was conducted through conical holes dug underground. The upper part of the holes was faced upwards.

During the last years of the 19th century, the conical holes were substituted by a more efficient generation which permitted a faster boiling. After hours of direct fire exposure, the plants were (trituradas) in a processor known as Tahona. The Tahona is a circular space built with cantera stone in which a heavy stone shaped in the form of a wheel rotated upon its own axis. The main purpose of the stone was to moler (mash) the agave's extract in order to derive a type of paste diluted with water. Once the paste was obtained, it was deposited in containers for its fermentation. Eventually, the fermentation would be proceeded by the distillation that occurred in the Alambiques. The end result also known as the Mosto evaporated its alcoholic content and was eventually placed in the bottom of a steel deposit that was located in the upper part of the pot. The deposit was cooled by means of circulating water around its upper part. From this process, the vapor condensed and would reach a liquid state. The liquid obtained is the Tequila.
The technological evolution has aided the Tequila Industry by improving an optimum process which now enables better boiling capacities through the use of more efficient kilns and autoclaves. Even though these improvements have aided in the production process, the tequila Industry stands for the tradition and quality acquired only through experience.


History of Tequila

In order to understand with precision the origin of the Tequila, it is necessary to acknowledge its prehispanic roots. During the prehispanic era, the Tiquila tribe from Amatitlan, learned its essential process. The process utilized by them consisted of boiling and fermenting the agave plant in order to obtain a ritualistic beverage only consumed by religious authorities.

The beverage and its origin were unknown to the European continent until the arrival of conquistador Hernan Cortez. When Cortez arrived to what he believed to be the Indies, he discovered an enchanted world of resources and wide commercial practices. In his first letter to King Carlos V, Cortez denotes special interest to the existence of the mezcal:

"..They sell honey emanated from corn that are as sweet as the sugar obtained from a plant they call maguey, from these plants they make wine and sugar which they also sell."
(Idem: 79).Luna Zamora P. 29)

With the influence of the religious world through the mission of spreading the word of God in the New Continent, the missionaries also discovered the presence of Indigenous products such as the maguey and the corn. Fray Francisco Ximenez, a Spanish monk, indicated the importance of the product diversity obtained from the maguey plant during the 16th century. In his observations he stated that the Mexcalmelt was one of the most utilized varieties of mezcal. However, the Tepemexcall was utilized more emphatically for religious practices. In the year 1651, Jeronimo Hernandez, a Spanish doctor indicates that the Tequila beverage was strictly utilized for medicinal purposes. Among the uses were rheumatic cures achieved by rubbing tequila on the affected body parts. (Encyclopedia de Mexico p. 66)

The prehispanic realm conceived the importance of the products and rituals derived from the maguey and mezcal. However the history that founded the origins of the Tequila as a product initiate in 1758. In 1758 Jose Cuervo, a Spanish entrepreneur was given full cultivating rights on the vast territorial extensions of Villoslada, Jalisco. One year later Jose Maria Guadalupe Cuervo, was given by the king of Spain the rights on the production of Tequila. During the 1850's Jose Maria Castaneda established La Antigua, a mezcal and wine distillery. La Antigua was then acquired by Cenobio Sauza on September first, 1873. During the same year Mr. Sauza exported eight barrels to the United States. In 1888 he changed the name to La Perseverancia.

La Perseverancia would eventually face changes in the development of the Industry. The political and socio-economic changes developing in Mexico affected the tequila industry in the 18th and 19th centuries. Tequila was became a taxed product The taxes were designated to the fund war against the remaining of emperor Maximilian. (Zamora p. 63)

Another significant change was the introduction of the Mexican rail system. The coming of the train as a means of transportation, enabled the tequila Industry to reach broader destinations.

The extra regional markets were conquered due to the solid development of Commercial systems. These commercial systems enabled the tequila market to participate internationally. From a national product, the tequila would become an international oriented market. The first exports were achieved by land into the United States by the second halve of the 19th century. The tequila industry achieved high commercial goals. Along with these achievements, technological improvements and optimum agricultural planning dictated the success of the Industry. The industrialism that marked the shift from a semi-rural industry to a more mechanized one would enable a more sophisticated and efficient production capacity.

The transition of technologies and production capacities were a clear sign of the 20th century. The same shift geared a more active consumption that required further changes and adaptations that would be evident by the Second World War. During the peace time, the demand for tequila would increase miraculously. The Second World War increased the market for the product. By 1950 the number of agave fields increased to 5697. An increase of 110 percent in relation to 1940. (Zamora)

The sixties are representative of a trend in the national and international levels of consumption. 1965 marks a new period in the history of tequila. The tequila industry passed from being a traditional oriented industry to a more developed market. The decade that marked the sixties represented a considerable increase of national and international tequila consumption. The capital city of the state of Jalisco, Guadalajara became then imperative and essential in the administrative endeavors that were required for the market reform.

The new shift in the maneuver of the Industry lead to new control classes in which a traditional industry became open to investors. The reform itself, reorganized the producers into diverse classifications:

"A). The societies in which international investment is involved. B). The societies in which smaller national and local investors participate. C). The societies formed by local families which best describe the traditional market."
(Rogelio Luna Zamora, La Historia del Tequila, de sus regiones y de sus hombres. P. 235)

With the existence of an international oriented market, the producers of tequila competed and reorganized their commercial strategies in order to capture the international client. The tequila industry invested considerable amounts of capital towards international advertisement. It is by the understanding of Tequila's past that we can now rejoice with one of the most popular drinks of our time and try a shot accompanied by all the historical richness that characterize it.

The only way to really learn tequila is to drink it, as many varieties as you can. One unique way to do this is at an organized tasting or tour. A good example for those in the San Diego area is the Annual Tequila Tour.  See Details.

It only takes saying..... Salud, Tequila !