On National Tequila Day I Reflect on a Visit to Tres Mujeres Tequila

On National Tequila Day, I celebrate this delicious spirit both enjoyed neat or dancing in a glass with other sugary and tasty ingredients. I have memories of shot glasses lined up on my Abuela’s bar in her home in Mexico City, a drink called La Bandera due to the shot glasses representing the three colors of the Mexican flag: red, white and green. The three distinct shots are sangrita, tequila and lime juice. My love for tequila took me to the distillery Tres Mujeres Tequila in Amatitán, Jalisco, Mexico a few years back to learn how the famous Mexican spirit is made.

On the way to Tequila, Jalisco, Mexico

During a stay in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico I took a day trip to Tequila, Jalisco to visit a few tequila distilleries. I grabbed a traveler from the hostel and we took a bus to Tequila, hopping off first in Amatitán, Jalisco, just outside of Tequila to visit the Tres Mujeres Tequila distillery. Tres Mujeres produces quality organic tequila and offers free tours of its distillery. After the visit, we hitched a ride to the town of Tequila with a sweet old Mexican man in his pickup truck. He dropped us off in the center of town.

How are Tequila and Mezcal Different?

Like wine, other spirits and even food, Tequila is delimited by the Mexican government. Though often assumed a cactus, Tequila is made from blue agave, part of the lily family. Specifically, to be called Tequila the spirit must de distilled with 51% blue agave within five designated states: all of Jalisco and parts of Michoacan, Guanajuato, Nayarit and Tamaulipas. The spirit may be labeled ‘Tequila 100% agave’ if it’s distilled with 100% agave as opposed to a portion from another sugar source. Mezcal is made with a number of different species of agave. Tequila is qualified by the blue agave so that all tequila is mezcal but not all mezcal is tequila. The other distinction between tequila and mezcal happens within the cooking process of the “piña,” the heart of the agave plant. The mezcal piñas are roasted in underground pits giving it its smoky flavor while the piñas of the blue agave are steamed.

How is Tequila Made?: From Blue Agave to Tequila

Harvesting: The blue agave plant can take 6-10 years to mature. The harvester or “jimador” removes the spiky succulent leaves from the piña, preparing it for cooking.

Cooking: The piñas are placed in a traditional brick or modern stainless-steel oven and exposed to steam to covert its complex carbohydrates into simple fermentable sugars.

Extraction: After piñas are cooked, they are shredded and crushed to release juice or “aguamiel.”

Fermentation: With the addition of yeast, found wild in the field or cultivated, the agave sugar (along with any other added sugar) is transformed into alcohol within wooden vats or stainless-steel tanks.

Distillation: Tequila must be distilled twice. Distillation is the process that separates alcohol from water increasing the alcohol proof. Every time a spirit goes through distillation, it becomes a purer and cleaner spirit. In the case of vodka this is imperative but for other types of spirits, the impurities add to the character and flavor of the spirit. Tequila may use either the pot or column distillation methods. Once tequila goes through the double distillation process it’s considered “blanco” or silver tequila.

Maturation / Aging: The Consejo Regulador del Tequilo, the Governing Body, Defines Five Classifications of Tequila.
  1. Blanco / Silver / White are the youngest tequilas. These are unaged tequilas.
  2. Joven / Oro / Gold tequilas are also unaged but some may rest for up to two months. These are generally destined for foreign markets.
  3. Reposado / Rested tequilas must be aged for a minimum of two months and no more than one year in wooden vessels, large or barrels.
  4. Añejo / Aged tequilas must be aged in oak barrels no larger than 600 liters for at least a year. These barrels are typically ex-Bourbon barrels but new oak barrels are also used. The wood imparts a vanilla and spicy character to the tequila balancing the agave character of the younger tequilas.
  5. Extra Añejo / Extra Aged are the most premium tequilas. These must be aged in oak barrels no larger than 600 liters for at least three years.

How will you celebrate National Tequila Day? What are your favorite tequila-based cocktails?