How Tequila is Produced
According to the Official Mexican Norm (NOM), tequila is defined as “A regional alcoholic beverage obtained from the distillation of musts, * derived from the heads of the blue variety of Agave Tequilana Weber, *subjected to alcoholic fermentation with yeast, whether grown or not, the musts being susceptible to be fortified * at a rate not exceeding 49% sugar. *Tequila is a liquid which, according to class, is either colorless or colored when matured or when enhanced before maturing.”
According to the same (NOM) norm; the production of tequila starts with the cultivation of the blue variety of Agave Tequiliana Weber, within the zone protected by the Appellation of Origin. Ten years must pass for the plant to mature and to supply the best honey. This is the moment to proceed with the harvest (known as the “jima”): The leaves are cut flush with the base. The heart or mezcal of the agave is steam-cooked with water vapor during 12 or 48 hours, depending on the type of oven used.
Once cooked, the heart is cut into small pieces and the honey is extracted, then to be combined with other standard honeys made from sugar, brown sugar, glucose and fructose. The fermentation of these honeys with yeast transforms the sugar into ethyl alcohol in approximately 24 hours.
It’s important to mention that there are two categories of tequila. The first allows a mixture of up to 49% of non-agave honeys with 51% of honeys that
do come from the plant. The second category admits no mixtures and, logically, offers a superior quality. To obtain a “100% agave” label, the product must be bottled in an approved packaging plant where its authenticity is verified.
The fermented product is subjected to two distillation processes before obtaining a liquid known as “white tequila” or “silver tequila”. Its alcohol content by volume goes from 35° to 55°; its flavor is strong and hot.
At this point, it can be packaged for sale, or, be subjected to different time periods for its maturing in order to provide reposado (rested) or añejo (aged) tequilas.
Some “White” tequilas are left to rest for 2 months to mellow it, without thereby becoming a tequila reposado. Young or gold tequila is the result of mixtures of white tequila with reposado and/or aged tequilas. It can be enhanced or mellowed by adding caramel coloring, natural oak or live oak extract, glycerin and sugar-based syrup.
Tequila reposado remains between two months and a year in oak or white oak barrels, is mellower than white tequila and has a golden color. Aged (añejo) tequila goes through a maturation period in barrels for a minimum of three years. Its flavor is yet mild and has a touch of wood. Extra añejo tequilas have a mahogany hue and a more complex flavor.