The process of tequila making is a craft that requires plenty of knowledge and expertise in the matter, and only a few of us are able to master such a craft. However, learning about this process is an essential part of enjoying this delicious Mexican spirit. This allows us to truly understand the hard work that goes into making just one bottle of our favorite tequila.
There are many steps involved in the process of tequila making, and it all starts with carefully harvesting the blue agave. Cooking the piña and extracting the juice comes next. Fermenting the sugars and distilling the tequila are the last steps for making blanco tequila. Aging the spirit is the last step when we are making añejo or reposado tequila, before bottling up the drink.
Harvesting the Agave
One of the most important parts in the process of tequila making is harvesting the agave. Planting, tending, and growing the agave that is used to make the spirit relies on knowledge that one generation has passed the next one for centuries. This means that the harvesting process is still a manual labor that the jimadores, or harvesters, perform with extreme care and expertise. Agave plants grow for periods of 6 to 10 years before they are ready for harvesting.
Cooking the Piña
Once the agave plants are harvested, the jimadores remove the leaves from the plant in order to get the heart of the plant, also known as piña. This is the only part of the agave that is used to make tequila. Whether they use traditional brick ovens or stainless steels autoclaves, tequila producers must cook the piña. This is because the heat activates a chemical within the plant that turns the carbohydrates into fermentable sugars.
Extracting the Juice
After cooking the piña, the agave is taken to the distilleries, where they crush the agave hearts. This is where the plant releases the juice or aguamiel that producers will later ferment. Many producers used to use a giant grinding wheel operated by mules or oxen. However, most of them now use mechanical crushers. After grinding the piña, producers wash them and remove the juice.
Fermenting the Sugar
Fermentation of the sugars is another essential step in the process of tequila making. This is where the sugars turn into alcohol. This process is done using large wooden vats or stainless-steel tanks and adding yeast to accelerate the process. Fermentation usually takes around seven to twelve days, depending on technique and equipment preference.