The Tequila Story

Since the name of our B&B is Tequila Sunrise, it seems fitting to provide a page of information on Tequila, its origins, and how it is produced.

The Okanagan Valley, in summer, bears a striking resemblance to the interior highlands of Mexico where Tequila originates, in both geography & climate. Hence the name of this B&B. The area, although lacking in large lakes like ours (other than lake Chapala), is a semi-arid region with an agricultural base. The tequila growing region encompasses the states of Nayarit, Jalisco and Guanajuato. The actual town of Tequila is located in Jalisco, about 75 km west of Guadalajara, Mexico's second largest City.

Tequila is made from the Weber Blue Agave plant, which is a ground level plant with spiked leaves, closely resembling the Yucca. Only Tequila made at least 51% from this plant, grown in the 3 aforementioned states, can be classified as true tequila. The finest Tequilas are 100%. There are 5 sub-categories of Tequilla: Blanco (Silver), Joven (Gold), Resposado (Aged), Añejo (Extra aged) and Extra Añejo (Ultra-aged). The plant must be grown at altitude of between 800 & 2000 meters. The actual liquor is produced from the semi-covered root ball which resembles a white basketball. This is known as the heart. The leaves are discarded. It takes about 10 years for an Agave plant to be ready from seeding to harvesting. This has made the plant, in recent years an attractive poaching target. The quality of Tequila varies greatly. It is dependant on its aging, how it is distilled, and how careful the manufacturer is in ensuring only the correct parts of the root ball are included.  A very good Tequila can be sipped like Scotch, lower quality Tequilas are good only in Margarita's.

The distillery pictured in this article is the Herradura (Horseshoe) Distillery also known as Hacienda San José del Refugio, located in the town of Amatitan, about 15 km east of Tequila. It is the oldest operation in the area, and has preserved much of the equipment which originated when it was run by monks back in the early 1800's. This equipment, like the crushing wheel pictured below, is preserved as a museum. It is an environmentally friendly operation. It even has its own water treatment plant. They do daily 2 hour tours and are located at the east end of town, just on the north side of the highway, at the base of the hill. It is possible to tour  them out of Guadalajara on the daily "Tequila Express".

Tequila originates in Mexico, it evolved from a liquor being brewed by the Indians a the time of the Spanish arrival, that is still know today as Metzcal. The Spanish simply took it one step further and created a full bodied liquor out of what was effectively a strong wine.

One Agave heart weighs about 45 kilos and can produce about 4 litres of Tequila. They are still skinned by hand using a specialized tool that resembles a  circular flat shovel. Tequila workers are known as Los Jimadores. The central core should be removed, although some distilleries don't bother to do this, however it degrades the final quality.

After all the leaves have been trimmed from the heart, it is sectioned and placed in ovens like those pictured below. They are steamed for 26 hours then allowed to cool for another 24. The result, if sectioned, are like the brown strips pictured below which taste a lot like sugar cane. They are then milled to extract the juice.

The juice is allowed to ferment for 7-8 days. Herradura is the only distillery in the world which does not utilize brewers years. They rely on a natural fungus for fermentation, Many say this is why Tequila from this particular distillery is the world finest.

Once fermentation is complete, the juice is distilled. In the early days this was done in copper tanks as pictured below, but today stainless steel tanks are used. The first distillation produces a cloudy milky liquid called "ordinario". It is then distilled  a second time to produce  a clear liquid.

Distillation produces 3 levels:

The Head: The first part of the distillation, has the most volatile, strongest alcohol content.

The Body: The middle part of the distillation, has the most flavors, a reasonable alcohol content. The best part of the process.

The Tail: The final part of the distillation. It's the heaviest, "bottom of the barrel," so to speak. The grungy, dirty remnants of the distillation, and most water vapor.

Most producers include all 3 in the final product which produces a very strong alcohol which is then watered down. Herradura and some others only include the body. The temperature at which Tequila is distilled can also make a difference, 70-90 C is ideal, however to save time and produce more, some distillers use higher temperatures. Once again you get what you pay for.

After distillation, Tequila can be aged in Oak Barrels for up to 3 years. Un-aged tequila is clear, aged Tequila has an amber color. Some distillers will add coloring or caramel to give Tequila an aged appearance.