HOW TEQUILA IS MADE: Making tequila, from agave to glass, in photos


From fields of agave harvested by hand to the roasted hearts of this desert plant, fermented into a traditional Mexican spirit, making artisanal tequila is a beautiful thing. Here's a look at the process in pictures.


WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY CINDA CHAVICH

By law, tequila can only made in one of five authorized regions of Mexico, with the highlands of Jalisco considered some of the premium terroir for tequila and the largest area of agave production.

A large spiny relative of aloe vera, the blue agave is an impressive plant that grows an average 1.5 metres (five feet) tall.

Blue agave is harvested entirely by hand, by experienced jimadors using a sharp shovel-like blade called a coa.

Jimadors are paid by the piece — a difficult, physical job and a skill passed from father to son.

Indigenous people harvested and cooked the "piña", the heart of the agave plant, to concentrate its sugars, and it's that agave syrup that is fermented to make tequila.



Harvesting agave by hand in the desert climate of Jalisco is hot, difficult work.

Skilled jimadors chop their way through dozens of plants in fields of red volcanic soil, leaving behind the spiked leaves of the agave for cattle feed.

The heart of the agave or pina can weight more than 100 pounds.

Agave pinas are delivered by truck to local distilleries.

The agave hearts are loaded into ovens where they are cooked for several hours to caramelize and release the sugars.

Workers pile pinas into huge clay ovens, then unload them by hand after they’ve cooked for 24 hours.


Rows of large clay ovens are filled with roasting agave.

After 24 hours, the roasted pinas are caramelized and ready to release their sweet syrup for fermentation.

As the sweet, caramelized pinas emerge from the ovens, each is unloaded by hand.

The pure agave juice, released from the pulpy mass of cooked agave, is fermented with wild yeasts.




Even historic tequila makers now have modern distilleries filled with stainless steel tanks and stills. Many brands of tequila are imported in bulk and bottled in the U.S., but 100-per cent agave must be bottled in Mexico at the source.

After distillation is complete, the tequila is bottled as white (blanco) or aged in wooden tanks or small oak barrels from two months to three years, the oldest Añejo tequila an amber elixir reminiscent of fine Scotch whisky.

Any agave-based spirits distilled outside the specified growing regions are called "mezcal." Casa Herradura produces a complete line of blue agave tequilas, including blanco, reposado and aged anejo.

Casa Herradura's historic cellars have been preserved as a museum for visitors.

Copyright Cinda Chavich



EL DUELO: A SPECIAL TEQUILA COCKTAIL RECIPE


A specialty of Casa Herradura is the El Duelo margarita , with tangy tamarind juice and aged Reposado tequila, in a glass rimmed in spicy salty Tajin chili, another classic Mexican flavour combination.


Ingredients: 2 parts Tequila Herradura 1 part fresh lime juice ½-¾ parts agave nectar (to taste) ½ part Tamarind nectar

Preparation:

Rim half of coupe glass with Tajin Chili. Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake vigorously to chill. Strain into glass.