Agave!

A little more about our favorite spirits…

Information provided by ExperienceTequila.com

Overview

Tequila, the first distilled spirit of the Americas, is made exclusively from the Weber Blue agave (agave tequilana, blue variety) under the supervision of the Tequila Regulatory Council (CRT), as authorized by the Mexican government. Tequila has internationally recognized denomination of origin, much like Champagne, Bourbon or Roquefort cheese, meaning it can by definition only be produced in a certain geographical region. Namely, the entire Mexican state of Jalisco, and several municipalities in the states of Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit and Tamaulipas. The vast majority is produced in Jalisco, principally in the Tequila Valley.

While 90% of Mezcal is made from the Espadin agave, the other 10% is usually made from 11 kids of indigenous agave in Oaxaca. Mezcal is native to the states of San Luis Potosi, Michoacan, Jalisco, Durango, Morelos, Nuevo Leon, Oaxaca, Tamaulipas and Zacatecas. Most distillers of Mezcal are small, as they have not enjoyed the notoriety and attention that tequila has.

The Blue Agave

The Blue agave is a fascinating organism, reproducing both asexually (via rhizome clones) and sexually (via quiote flower) and and being pollinated primarily by bats in a state of nature. Indigenous Mexicans cultivated agave for thousands of years before the Spanish Conquest for food, textiles, tools, and building materials. It is a succulent and relative of the lily family (not a cactus).Jimador 1

Cultivated agaves produce asexually creating miniature clones of themselves at their base, called hijuelos. A planted clone takes between 6 and 12 years to reach maturity, and will be regularly pruned and monitored during all those years. When agaves reach maturity, they are harvested by jimadores, skilled farm laborers who generally pass along their knowledge through family lines and use highly specialized tools. Within seconds, a good jimador can pare down a spiny, five-foot agave to the piña, so named for resembling a giant pineapple.

Distillation

The agave juice is then fermented for several days in vats – usually made of stainless steel, though sometimes of wood. The temperature of the juice rises as yeast convert the sugar into alcohol. At this point, the concoction has an alcohol content similar to beer or wine, and this much of the process had been carried out in some form for millenia years by indigenous Mexicans prior to the Conquest.

The Spanish arrived not just with the cross and the sword, however, but with the copper pot still, which they had inherited from their former occupiers, the Arab Moors. Missing their brandy and fed up with high liquor taxes imposed by the Crown, the settlers soon began distilling fermented agave juice into what was later called mezcal wine, Mexican brandy or Mexican whiskey. Today, fermented agave juice is distilled at least twice, and the result, cut with water to bring it to the appropriate alcohol percentage, is tequila.

Classifications

The first distinction to make amongst tequilas is the source of their sugar. By law, a 100% agave tequila is made from two principal ingredients: agave and water. This makes it a purer, more flavorful tequila. A 100% agave tequila is less likely to give you a hangover for that very reason.

Any tequila that is not labelled “100% agave” is a mixto, and most likely is almost half cane sugar, regardless of any other labeling (e.g., “all natural”). While being all-agave is not necessarily a guarantee of quality, and many people use mixtos in cocktails, most serious aficionados drink only 100% agave tequilas.

100 % Blue Agave is just that, all Agave, all the time. The tequila is distilled, then aged (not flavored) in wood (usually oak, ala bourbon and scotch and, well, most aged alcoholic substances). The amount of aging it does will dictate the category it is then placed into, which brings us to…

Types

A blanco or plata (“white” or “silver”) is generally a clear, un-aged tequila. It is bottled immediately or shortly after distillation, and is the purest form of tequila, usually featuring a strong presence of roast and/or raw agave flavors. By law, blancos may be “rested” in oak for up to 60 days. While some people find blancos overly aggressive, a well-made one can be quite subtly complex, with citrus, floral, vegetal and mineral flavor notes. Purists often prefer blancos because there is no way to hide any flaws in the raw distillate, as is possible with aging.

A reposado (“rested”) has been aged in oak containers for at least two months. The aging imparts color and flavor to the tequila, smoothing it out and often adding notes of vanilla, oak, chocolate, coffee, nuts and whiskey to the palate. Reposado is the best-selling type of tequila in Mexico.

An añejo (“aged”) tequila has been aged in oak barrels for at least one year. Añejos have usually traded in much of their agave essence for oaky characteristics after so much time in the barrel. Some argue that an añejo, while obviously tequila, more closely resembles a cognac or Scotch than it does a blanco. At the same time, they tend to be the most accessible to new tequila drinkers.

Extra añejos are aged in oak barrels for at least three years, and sometimes as many as five. In blind tastings, the best extra-añejos are often taken for whiskies or brandies.

Gold or joven (“young”) tequila is usually, though not necessarily, a mixto containing coloring and other additives. 100% agave golds are a blend of blanco and one or more other class of tequila.

Mezcal:(NOT Blue Agave) Is Mezcal a tequila or tequila a mezcal? The word Mezcal is currently used to describe liquor that is made from agave that is NOT tequila. However, tequila is technically a mezcal. In general, and when most people talk about agave spirits, the difference is that Tequila is made from Blue Agave, and mezcal is made from various kinds of the other agave plants that are NOT the Blue agave, each of the species of agave producing a different flavor of Mezcal, respectively. . It is also only distilled once, usually, which makes it more rugged in flavor profile.