Tequila is a drink with Appellation of Origin which is made from the fermentation and subsequent distillation of sugars from the Agave Tequilana Weber blue variety.
Both the Tequila production process and the Agave cultivation process must take place within the territory determined in the Declaration of Protection of the Appellation of Origin Tequila. For a product to bear the name Tequila, its production must be carried out in strict compliance with the Official Mexican Standard for Tequila (NOM-006-SCFI-2012).
There are two categories, Tequila and Tequila 100% Agave; Tequila is made from a mixture of sugars in which at least 51% must come from the Agave Tequilana Weber blue variety, while the remaining 49% can originate from other natural sources of sugar that are not from the agave. On the other hand Tequila 100% agave has to be made solely from sugars from the Agave Tequilana Weber blue variety.
Types of Tequila
Blanco o plata
Product obtained from distillation, it can be matured for less than two months in barrels.
Joven u oro
Mixture of silver Tequila with one that has been matured.
Subject to a maturation process of at least two months in contact with oak containers.
Matured for at least one year in oak or encino barrels.
Matured for at least three years in oak or encino barrels.
Planting and cultivation of the Agaves
The Tequila process begins when the sprouts also known as “hijuelos” (small Agave plants separated from a mother plant) are planted. Agaves are cultivated for at least 5 years. During this time various tasks are done to make sure that the plants grow healthily.
Once the Agave plants are considered suitable for the production of Tequila, the harvesting begins with separating the Agave’s core, also known as “piña”, from the ground. In the process, the leaves are cut with the help of an instrument called “coa”.
Boiling converts the complex carbohydrates of the “piñas” into simple sugars, suitable for fermentation. At the same time, it softens the core of the Agave making the subsequent sugar extraction process easier. This can be carried out in brick or masonry ovens through the injection of water vapor or can be developed in steel tanks known as “autoclaves”. The process can last between 8 and 72 hours.
At this stage, the objective is to obtain the sugars from the Agaves. The process is done in a traditional manner by a “Tahona”, a circular stone that is passed several times above the cooked “piñas”; nowadays, it is also carried out by multi-stage grinding trains. There is another alternative that is made through a diffuser, which by means of a systematic counter-current wash, dissolves the sugar contained in the Agave bagasse that was previously torn.
In this stage, the “mostos” (agave juices) are prepared to have adequate fermentation conditions for both categories, Tequila 100% Agave and Tequila.
Biological process where the sugars will be converted mainly into ethyl alcohol and where other compounds will be formed that will contribute to the final sensory characteristics of Tequila.
The product obtained from the fermentation must be distilled, a process that is carried out in stills or in continuous distillation towers. From the first distillation, called “shattering”, you obtain a liquid called “ordinary” (approx. 20% Alc. Vol.) is obtained, which is then subjected to “rectification” (second distillation), the resulting product (approx. 55% Alc. Vol.), is already considered silver Tequila.
In the aging process of Tequilas, it is possible to use large volume tanks also called “pipones” or oak barrels. For aged and extra-aged Tequilas, only barrels with a maximum capacity of 600 liters must be used.
According to the Official Mexican Standard (NOM-006-SCFI-2012), the alcohol content can range from 35 to 55% Alc. Vol. Tequila must be packaged in new containers that are made of materials permitted by the standard.
The Agave Tequilana Weber blue variety is the one that, according to regulations, must be used in the production of Tequila. These agaves must be planted within the territory protected by the Appellation of Origin, in addition to being included in a registry of plantations managed by the Tequila Regulatory Council.
There are many different kinds of Agave, more than two hundred have been identified in Mexico. However, none is as suitable for the production of Tequila as the plant that was classified, in 1905, by the German botanist Franz Weber, from whom this variety takes its name.
The agave requires between 5 and 8 years to reach its maximum sugar concentrations. During their growth period, the plants are subjected to barbeo tasks that is, cutting the tips of the leaves to encourage the growth of the core of the agave, also known as “piña”. All the cultivation and care of the agave is done by hand, with traditional methods that have been passed down from generation to generation.
Agave Landscape, a World Heritage Site
Since 2006, the “Agave Landscape and the Old Industrial Facilities of Tequila” is a site considered Cultural Heritage of Humanity by the United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture (UNESCO). This qualification was granted for being an exceptional testimony of harmonious and sustainable adaptation of land use in a natural environment and the meeting of the pre-Hispanic tradition of maguey fermentation with European distillation techniques.
The declaration includes an extension of 34,658 hectares that go from the Tequila Volcano to the deep Valley of the Río Grande de Santiago, an extensive landscape of blue agaves, worked by the agave culture and the urban places of the municipalities of Tequila, El Arenal, Amatitán and Magdalena. It also comprehends factories in which the “pineapples” of the plant used since the 16th century are fermented and distilled for the production of Tequila, and for at least two thousand years, for the manufacture of fermented beverages as well as to make clothes thanks to its textile fibers, which gives the region an identity and unique landscape characteristics.
APPELLATION OF ORIGIN TEQUILA
The Appellation of Origin for Tequila (DOT, by its acronym in spanish) was the first to be issued in Mexico. There are references since 1943 about efforts by industrialists in the region to protect the name “Tequila” and obtain the exclusivity of its use. On October 31, 1959, one year after Mexico signed the “Lisbon Agreement” regarding the protection of Appellations of Origin, the Mexican Chamber of the Tequila Industry (CNIT) was created due to the interest of Tequila companies to face the challenges of the sector together.
Since the sixties some countries manufactured spirits that they called “Tequila”, it was then that the request was submitted to the Ministry of Industry and Commerce (SIC) to issue the General Declaration of Protection of the Appellation of Origin Tequila, and on September 27, 1974 it granted protection and was published in the Official Gazette of the Federation.
The Appellation of Origin of Tequila offers the consumer the guarantee of authenticity of the products that bear this name and is supported by the Official Mexican Standard (NOM-006-SCFI-2012) that contains the specifications for producing, bottling and marketing Tequila.
Mexican Official Standard for Tequila
On December 13th, 2012, the new Official Mexican Standard for Tequila, known as Official Mexican Standard NOM-006-SCFI-2012 for Alcoholic Beverages Tequila Specifications, was published in the Official Gazette of the Federation, which, as of February 11th, 2013 establishes the provisions that must be observed in the production, packaging and marketing of Tequila. This standard known as NOM 006 Tequila, strengthens the supervision schemes for the production chain and allows the development of new product alternatives to offer the consumer.
The Tequila NOM is the mandatory technical regulation, issued by the Government of Mexico, to establish the requirements to which Tequila is subject in its production, packaging and marketing process SEE.
The indigenous inhabitants used the wonderful Agave plant in various ways:
Fiber was obtained from the leaves of the Agave for the manufacture of fabrics that provided them with shelter, and it was also used in the manufacture of tools.
Agave spines were used as needles.
From the fermentation of honey and juices, a mystical drink was obtained that allowed them to be in communion with their surroundings.
From the core or “pineapple” of the Agave they obtained juices and honey to feed themselves.
ENCOUNTER OF TWO WORLDS
With the arrival of the Spaniards in Mexico, the knowledge of distillation also arrived, which allows it to be incorporated as a stage after the fermentation of Agave honeys.
Tequila as a distilled beverage emerged in the 16th century, as a result of combining Agave, an authentically American raw material, with a European production process. For this reason, Tequila can be considered a symbol of the meeting of the two cultures.
The first productions of Tequila were known as “mezcal Tequila wine”, for being the product resulting from the distillation of the fermented juices (or wines) of the Agave and because it is made in the surroundings of the small town of Tequila, in the old region from Nueva Galicia, in western Mexico.
TEQUILA AND ITS CONSOLIDATION
Consolidated the Independence of Mexico, in 1821, some commercial links of our country with the old metropolis deteriorated and many domestic markets were left unattended, which generated a great growth opportunity for Tequila.
In 1910, with the Mexican Revolution, the search for a new idiosyncrasy of a nation with its own symbols was generated in the population. Tequila, identified with the revolutionary heroes of the time, is adopted by the people as a symbol of national pride. A few years later, international circumstances further favor the growth of Tequila.
In the 1930s, the United States’ ban on the importation of European alcoholic beverages into that country gave Tequila, which was being smuggled in, a competitive advantage that allowed it to increase its popularity in North American communities.
With World War II, the flow of consumer goods from Europe to the United States was hindered again, once again benefiting Tequila, whose presence in the US market was strengthened.
In the fifties, hand in hand with Mexican cinema and music, Tequila was consolidated thanks to the fact that the films of the time built a symbol of Mexicanness around three typically Jalisco elements: the charro, the mariachi and of course the tequila.
Today, Tequila and its industry is a pride of Mexico and an example of professionalism and modernity.
Currently, the companies responsible for 80% of the total production of Tequila are affiliated to the Mexican Chamber of the Tequila Industry. These companies produce millions of liters of Tequila with the highest quality, by wisely combining traditional production methods with the most modern technology available.