As you approach the production area, it is quite impressive to see the endless views of the agave plantations. The José Cuervo company has some 42,000 acres in growth. The agave plant resembles the Yucatecan henequen or sisal plant. The leaves look like a spade and have a sharp needle at the tip that is quite dangerous. A plant takes seven to 10 years to mature. Once mature, the jimador goes to the plantation and with machete in hand first removes the needle-like tips. Then he removes all the leaves, leaving a ball that resembles a pineapple. It is this “pineapple,” that weighs about 70 pounds, that is the heart and soul of tequila. Its consistency is similar to a raw potato or a jícama and is pure starch.
These “pineapples” are taken to the distillery where they are steamed in room-sized ovens for 36 hours at 197° F. During this process the starchy “pineapple” is converted into a sugary “pineapple.” From here, the “pineapples” are ground up and squeezed removing all the liquid and leaving just the fiber. The liquid is called honey water or aguamiel.
This honey water is what gets fermented during 18 hours with a special yeast. It is during this step of the process that the sugars turn into alcohol. Afterward, there are two distillations where the grade and percentage of alcohol is controlled. If there is too much alcohol, they call it heads; too little alcohol is called tails. The perfect grade is 38° which can then be called tequila. This is white tequila.
This liquid is then stored in tubs or oak barrels depending on the type of tequila they wish to achieve. Tequila añejo is aged in French oak barrels for a minimum of one year to achieve the amber tones and smooth flavor it is so well known for. Tequila reposado rests in oak barrels for two months. It is said that pure tequila is white or transparent, while reposado has a slight taste of wood, and that añejo has the strongest flavor.
Tequila can be served in the famous Margarita cocktails, in punches or straight up in a shot glass with salt and lime. Be careful, drinking shots is when tequila hits hardest. Remember, tequila controls the quality of the drink, YOU control the quantity. Cheers!
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