Definition and production

Summary :

Strongly associated with Mexican national identity, tequila is subject to numerous stringent regulations. A Mexican eau de vie, tequila is made from the fermentation and then distillation of agave juice; it can only be produced in five Mexican states, from a particular variety of agave: Tequilana Weber Azul, commonly known as blue agave.

  • Champ d
  • Cuisson de l
  • Alambic de distillation © José Cuervo
  • Dégustation de téquila accompagnée de citron vert © José Curvo

Definition

A Mexican eau de vie made from the fermentation and then distillation of agave juice (at least 51%), tequila can only be produced in five Mexican states, from one variety of agave, Tequila Weber Azul. While tequila can be bottled in the United States, 100% agave tequila must be bottled in Mexico.

Tequila production

Step 1 - From agave fruit to agave juice

The production of tequila starts with the harvesting of the agave hearts, or piñas. A 70 kg piña will produce about 10 litres of alcohol.
After they have been removed the agave plants, the piñas are transported to an oven (usually steam operated) to be cooked. Cut into halves or quarters, they are then traditionally baked for 50 to 72 hours. This can be reduced to 12 to 48 hours for industrially produced tequila. The cooking phase enables the inulin in the agave to be transformed into fermentable sugar. Once cooked the piñas are ground by a traditional or modern mill to separate the fibres from the juice. Three or four changes of water are needed to extract all of the sugar and obtain agave juice, or ‘honey’.



Stage 2 - Fermentation and distillation

Fermentation can take 2 to 5 five days in an industrial distillery, or up to 12 days in a traditional distillery. At the end of this step, the ‘beer’ will have an alcohol content of between 4% and 7% and is filtered before being distilled. While both types of still (pot and column) can be used, preference is usually given to traditional copper stills since they enable a double distillation, as required by law.



Step 3 – Ageing & bottling

Two types of container are used to age tequila: oak barrels and oak vats. The barrels can be new or used. They usually come from the United States (after having being used for bourbon), or from France, and have a capacity of 180 to 200 litres. In certain cases, the law permits the use of a maximum-sized barrel of 600 litres. Whatever their capacity, all of the barrels must be sealed by the CRT (Tequila Regulatory Council).
The vats, which generally have a capacity of 20,000 litres, can hold more alcohol. The tequila is diluted and then filtered before bottling.