Thursday, January 9, 2020

Tequila, Mexico, el ocho de Enero, 2020

I booked a tour to Tequila town and you know it’s going to be a great day when you get into the van at 10 am and this is what you see-

a cooler with a bag of ice, a bottle of tequila and Squirt!

In no time we were having fun!  I was with a family of four from Mexicali, close to Tijuana and nine others from various Mexican towns-

Our first stop was at an artisanal tequila factory called Tequila Selecto de Amatitan.  They’ve been making tequila since 1942.  I thought I’d toured a tequila distillery in Oaxaca a couple of years ago but learned that tequila can only be called tequila if it comes from Tequila town.  Makes sense to me!  It’s like Champagne comes from Champagne and Roquefort from Roquefort.  In the Oaxaca area, they make mezcal, not tequila from many types of agave and distill it using wood.  Tequila comes from only the blue agave plant using steam for distillation. 

These blue agave plants are three years old-

Females sprout little plants that are transplanted-

When the plant is between six and eleven years old, a Jimador, a piña harvester, cuts the leaves off manually using a scythe called a coa.  The piña, or heart of the agave, is the centre core and can weigh from eighty to three hundred pounds.  The most important thing is its sugar content.  The older the plant, the longer it has to accumulate starches that will convert into fermentable sugars.  It takes fifteen pounds of agave piña to make a litre of tequila.  Once cut and washed, steam is injected either in a stainless steel autoclave-

or a traditional brick oven for 36 hours.  Here, a chemical process inside the piña converts complex carbohydrates into simple fermentable sugars.  Cooking also softens the piña so the extraction of sugar will be easier-

Once cooked the piña are crushed to extract the juice that is then fermented-

During fermentation, the sugars are transformed into alcohol.  Yeast may be added to accelerate and control the fermentation.  Fermentation takes seven to twelve days depending on the method used.   Distillation takes place in stainless steel stills.  Ferments are separated by heat and steam pressure.  Some tequilas are distilled three times but most only twice.  The first distillation takes a couple hours and the liquid has an alcohol content of about 20%.  The second distillation takes three to four hours and produces an alcohol level of 55% which is too strong so it is reduced to 35-40% using water.  This makes a silver or blanco tequila and is the cheapest-

Most juice is placed in French, American or Canadian white oak barrels for anywhere from a few days to eleven years-

The barrels can only be used for twenty years and/or four times.  They are burned inside before each use.  The longer the tequila stays in the barrel, the darker it becomes and the more expensive-

Each distillery has it’s own laboratory for product control-

Each bottle is hand filled, corked and labelled-

Tequila Selecto produces 50,000 litres/month compared to many of the industrial factories that produce 50,000 litres/day.  80% of all tequila is exported to the United States.  Only 5% stays in Mexico.

Tasting was next-

We tried eleven different tequilas. They pretty much tasted all the same to me and most were very smooth.  There are more than 3000 brands and 135 distilleries in the Tequila region. Tequila is classed into five divisions:  Silver which is aged zero to two months, Gold which is silver mixed with Aged, Aged which is aged two to twelve months, Extra which is aged one to three years and Ultra Aged which is aged more than three years.

They have cool stools at the bar that were surprisingly comfortable-

The whole area is nothing but agave fields-

Our next stop was at the Cofradia Distillery which is built on volcanic land so the grounds are either red lava-

Or obsidian, huge chunks of obsidian.  I brought one home-

They rent rooms in cute tequila barrels that cost $280/night-

The restaurant is subterranean- whoop, whoop-

I ordered chile rellenos and it surprisingly came with shrimp. It was excellent - no greasy breaded chile here-

Their deal seems to be selling tequila in fancy bottles-

By this time, we had finished the bottle of tequila in the van and still had to visit the Pueblo Magico de Tequila!  The Parroquia Santiago Apostol was built in 1649 and anchors the square-

The sign-

One can’t go to Tequila without trying a cantarito - a combination of tequila, orange, grapefruit and lemon juices, salt and of course Squirt.  There are bars in the main square-

dried insect snacks-

and a monument to tequila production-

We had an hour to explore so I wandered the streets.  One of the many shops-

Back in the van, Jonathon our guia had restocked our bar!  That’s all we needed!  
The drive home was pleasant, past field after field of blue agave-

I had a good day - too much tequila though especially considering that I hate the stuff!  I had fun with the group and hope to visit Tlaquepaque tomorrow!

P.S. I’m really glad I’m here and not at home.  There was a big storm today with winds gusting to 60 km, very cold temperatures and a lot of snow-

Looking forward to tomorrow!

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