The Real Agave

Agave’s Honey Water produces beautifully complex Mezcal Wines including the best known variety, Tequila.

Tequila: A beautifully crafted, artisanal spirit to be revered, sipped and savored? Absolutely!

Tequila Defined

Tequila is one of six “Mezcal Wines,” the generic name given to all distillates of the agave plant. It is made by first fermenting then distilling the “aquamiel,” or honey water, from one Agave plant (which is actually a “succulent,” not to be confused with a cactus!). Only the particular species, Agave Tequilana Weber var. azul, is sanctioned for tequila production, and it can only be produced in Mexico in the state of Jalisco and certain other designated municipalities within 4 other states. This detail sets tequila apart as the only spirit of the seven major spirit types that has an appellation of origin as well as being specific to one country.

From Planting to Production Lines

The manufacturing of tequila begins in the fields with long term planning. The Agave Tequilana Weber var. azul has a maturation period of six to eight years, so precise preparation is essential to ensure continuous yields. Once the agave reaches maturity, the harvesters, or “jimadores,” harvest the mature agave with a specialized long-handled, round axe called a “coa,” skillfully removing the long stems until all that’s left is the “piña,” or the heart, of the agave. After the harvest, or “jima,” the piñas are delivered to the distillery and they are cooked in “hornos,” traditional stone ovens heated by steam or large metal autoclaves. This process lasts for as long as 36 to 48 hours, after which they are left to cool for an additional 24 to 36 hours. The cooled down piñas are shredded and crushed separating the fibrous pulp of the agave from its aquamiel. It is then combined with water and either a particular yeast cultured to distillery specifications or, in some cases, wild yeast. It is then allowed to ferment for one to four days until all the sugars are converted to alcohol producing a “mosto,” or fermented must. The “mosto” is then distilled for the first time in a pot, alembic or column still producing “ordinario,” or regular alcohol. As with other batch distillation processes, the master distiller known as the “tequilero,” separates off the “cabeza,” (head) and “cola,” (tail) collecting only the “corazon,” (heart) of the distillation, which is then distilled again. It is the corazon extracted from this secondary distillation that is called “Mezcal Wine,” known also as blanco or plata tequila, from which all other styles of tequila are made.

As with any artisanal spirit, there are several factors during production that diversify the flavor profile of tequilas. Factors such as:

  • Soil Type
  • Altitude
  • Climate
  • Age of the Agave
  • Time of Harvest
  • Cooking Methods
  • Percentage of Agave
  • Type of Yeast
  • Fermentation Period
  • Distillation Type & Frequency
  • Type of Water
  • Maturation Methods

Not All Tequilas are Created Equal

There are two basic types of tequila:

  • “100% Agave” Tequila
  • “Mixto” Tequila

With “100% Agave” Tequila, the aquamiel must consist of only sugar derived from Agave Tequilana Weber var. azul. With “Mixto,” or mixed tequila, the aquamiel must consist of only 51% sugar derived from Agave Tequilana Weber var. azul. The remaining 49% of the aquamiel is typically derived from cane sugar, corn sugar, or molasses as well as even caramel color and oak extract flavoring.

While shopping, look for the following phrases to identify a higher quality, “100% Agave” Tequila:

  • “100% de Agave”
  • “100% Puro de Agave”

Because the term “Mixto” will never appear on a label, be aware of more vague phrases such as “Made with Agave.” These are a sure sign you are dealing with a Mixto Tequila.

Both types of tequila are available in several different styles, each having its own unique flavor profile. These include:

100% Agave Tequila

Blanco / Plato “Silver or Platinum”

Clear in appearance, this spirit is either bottled immediately after distillation or allowed to rest in stainless steel or neutral oak for no longer than 60 days before bottling.

Reposado “Rested”

Matured between 2 to 12 months in French or American oak, usually Bourbon or Tennessee whiskey barrels, producing a pale golden appearance.

Añejo “Aged”

Matured for at least a year in French or American oak, usually Bourbon or Tennessee whiskey barrels, producing a deep golden appearance.

Extra Anejo

The newest category, matured for at least 3 years in French or American oak, producing a dark golden appearance.

Mixto Tequila

Mixto tequilas share the same styles & guidelines as the 4 types mentioned above, with one additional category.

Joven / Oro “Gold”

This is Blanco tequila treated with caramel color and even oak extract flavoring producing a golden appearance.
Note: This style can include a 100% Agave tequila that has had flavoring (such as oak extract) added to it, however it is this process that excludes it from being considered a “100% Agave” tequila.

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For more on tequila, wine and other spirits, contact Adam Pate at Vintage Wine Market in Ridgeland, Mississippi at (601) 605-9199. One of Mississippi’s newest, best, unkept secrets, Vintage Wine Market (www.vintagewinemarket.com), is located in the Renaissance Center next to The Fresh Market and provides choices as well as expertise when it comes to their ever expanding selection of tequila.

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