If you think all tequila is created equal, think again.
In fact, not all tequila can even be called Tequila… Just like the french trademark on the name Champagne, referring to a sparkling wine, a simple trademark from Mexican State of Jalisco, prevents distillers from other regions of Mexico from even using the name.
However, whats in a name? Isn’t the real answer more about the quality of what’s contained within the bottle? Indeed.
With its incredibly fertile soil, the arid hills of Mexico’s Sinaloa State are producing award winning Agave Liquors, produced by distilleries using centuries old “know how,” handed down through generations of tradition and artistry.
Los Osunas Blue Agave Distillery has been just such a family operated tradition since its inauguration in 1876. Producing incredibly smooth Agave liquor, the celebrated spirit was awarded Double Gold at the 2012 World Spirit Competition in San Francisco, making this particular distillery a prime example of craftsmanship and a fabulous destination to learn about the creation of their fine spirits while visiting Mazatlán, Mexico.
The bougainvilleas lined property, about 30 minutes outside the resort city of Mazatlán, creates a picturesque environment to spend the day. Encircled in the Agave plantation itself, colorful buildings erected in a hacienda style, reflect the warmth of the climate. The manicured landscaping accented with native flowers and plants is truly a sight to behold.
Although there are various species of Agave plant, Los Osunas only uses the blue varietal. A spiny succulent plant which thrives in arid climates, Blue Agave is the principle verdure for producing fine Agave Liquors. Reaching maturity within six to ten years, the fields are tended to with a meticulous eye, keeping the neatly planted rows in pristine condition.
When mature, the spiny plant is harvested at a time called the “Jima,” a laborious task that must be accomplished by hand. The men responsible for these harvests are dubbed “Jimadors”, cutting away the plant’s long barbed fronds using an old fashioned curved tool, referred to as a Coa. Often weighing up to 300 pounds, this heart of the Agave is where the magic of tequila begins. Once the leaves or quiotes are removed, the center of the plant called a Pineapple, or Piña (because this is how it looks) is completely exposed.
Cut from the ground, these Piñas are then taken to the distillery where first they are cut into halves or quarters, placed into traditional brick ovens buried deep within the ground and slowly cooked. This process transforms the plants complex carbohydrates into ferment-able sugars and softens the fibrous pulpy bodies.
Carefully removed, the baked Piñas are then placed into a Tahona. The Tahona is a traditional stone wheel, operated by a pair of mules or donkeys, which rotates the device around its circular orbit. A modern, mechanized version with gears and pulleys is also in use today, with Los Osunas often utilizing them both.
From the Tahona, the extracted liquid is poured into fermentation tanks made of either wood or steel. Here, a little yeast is added and the wort (the liquid result of fermentation prior to distillation) is fermented for a number of days, prior to being distilled.
After fermentation is complete, the wort is processed through a still. Blue Agave that is distilled once is considered Ordinario, often placed into oak barrels for aging, later becoming Añejo or Repasado Liquors. Agave that is distilled a second time, becomes Silver, yielding a crisper, clear product and a stark flavor contrast to its aged com-padres.
Bottling is the final step in the process, allowing the artisans to put their final touches on the presentation of their product. Information is provided on the label and a certain finesse is completed through the label design and closure.
Just like true wine connoisseurs, appreciation for Blue Agave Liquors can come in many different flavors and varieties. Attributing characteristics from soil, growing location and climate can all play a part in the final product’s flavors and finish, dazzling even the most advanced palates.