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Mas tequila!

Updated: Jul 25, 2018

by Will Lacey

Oh. My. God. …it is National Tequila Day. I had no idea this was a thing, or maybe it is a social media “Hallmark Holiday”, but regardless I am one happy tequila lover. Twist my arm for a shot of tequila, everyone.

If you want this guy’s opinion, go straight to Coa Agaveria y Cocina for the best tequila in Columbia.

But before we get a responsible buzz and Uber everywhere, how about we learn a few things? Yes, I am one of those annoying people that enjoy learning some history of food and beverage favorites. Where was this in school?

What is tequila? Aside from liquid gold, it is a distilled spirit made from cooked (and fermented) juice of the agave. And what is agave? It is a spiky Mexican plant that resembles a cactus. The agave plant takes anywhere between five to twelve years to reach maturity, when it is then hand cut and harvested for tequila (and mezcal…which I’ll get to). The agave plant is native to Mexico, with a name that originates from a Greek word meaning “noble” or “admirable”. With variety being the spice of life in mind, there

are 166 different species of agave in the world, with 125 found in Mexico. But there is only one destined for tequila.

Beginning in 1964, the Agave Tequilana Weber Azul-better known as ‘Blue Agave’, is the only legally recognized plant that is used for tequila. [Quick side note: most other Mexican spirits are produced from other varieties of agave.] The Blue Agave ranges from 4-6 feet high, with spiked leaves (around 3 feet long), that surround a centric ball. My mother is a landscape architect, and I actually enjoy growing things for my kitchen in a garden, so here is a super nerd part…the best time to plant agave is June to September, or right before the rainy season, so that the plants do not experience water stress. This

allows them to absorb the water needed to maintain a healthy growth, and eventually bless us with tequila. January to May is the harvest season, as the fields begin to dry out and are easier to work.

While technology has certainly made the process of making tequila quicker and more efficient (and less labor intensive), it can still be a highly involved process. A Blue Agave will consist of 50% leaves and 50% pina (70% water, 5% fibre, and 25% carbohydrates). A mature agave plant, with a ripe pina will have more sugars and will give a higher yield and will produce a superior tequila. A ripe pina can range from 22 to over 200 pounds…yeah, that’s a large plant…but you will need around 15 poinds to make a litre of 100% agave tequila.

When cooking the pina, they will often be cut into halves or quarters to facilitate an even cooking. These pieces are placed in ovens and are steamed/baked in order to facilitate a chemical change that converts the starchy sap in the pina into a fermentable sugar. This process alone takes 24-48 hours, when the oven is cut off and the plants are allowed to cool up t0 48 hours to finish the cooking process.

Once this process is complete, the finished product must be shredded. This releases the fermentable sugar that is used to create the tequila. Traditionally speaking, this process is done using a Tahona, an ancient kind of mill that is driven around a circulate pit while the baked pinas are manually moved into the path of the rotating wheel.

Now the process moves to fermentation. The agave juice is ready to be turned to alcohol using yeast.

The formulation used for this is actually more based on experience rather than science. This is certainly impressive…practice makes perfect! The yeast used will be the determining factor for the flavor and characteristics of the finished tequila. The fermentation process can last up to almost 100 hours and can be done in open or closed wood or stainless vats.

[Making tequila is a hell of a process. I am just writing about it, and I need a damn drink]

Ok…finally we are on to the distilling process. Tequila needs to be distilled at least twice, using a combination of pot and column stills, or solely pot stills. It is essentially that the product has contact with copper somewhere in this process. After a single distilling process, the product is knowing as ordinario (20-25% alc/vol). After the second go-round, it can be called tequila(55-75%alc/vol). The tequila is clear (blanco) after the second distillation but can be rested/aged in oak casks that are charred to add both color and flavor…like the making of American whiskey.

So, there you have it. That is a condensed version of the tequila a making process. There are obviously a multitude of details that I did not cover…it would turn into a novel with the complexities. Which is a large reason why I find tequila to be so beautiful and delicious. That and my complete adoration for Mexican culture and history.

{Cliff notes on my favorite, mezcal: All tequilas are mezcals, but not all mezcals are tequilas. Mezcals can be made from up to 30 variations of agave, including blue, and are most often produced in my favorite place in the world, Oaxaca, while tequila is most well known for being from the Jalisco area. Mezcal is cooking inside pits dug into the earth and are lined with lava rocks, wood, and charcoal, before being distilled in clay pots. You get a smoky, and often sweeter product this way.}

Alright kids over 21, where are your favorite spots for tequila in Columbia? If you want this guy’s opinion, go straight to Coa Agaveria y Cocina. Aside from an extensive tequila, and of course mezcal, list and beautifully executed mixology, their food is incredible. They create their cocktails the right way, without diluting low quality tequila with loads of sugary sweeteners. They use quality all around and it makes the biggest difference.

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