E L A B O R A T I O N
The distillation companies strive to maintain high and strict standards in the process, trying to get premium products, but in the "jima" is where the production process begins, as well as when the agaves are selected and harvested.
When the raw material arrives, quality control begins by taking a sample heart of every lot; that sample is analyzed, and the sugar levels and the cooking times are set.
The hearts are cut in two or four parts, according to their size, in order to achieve perfect cooking and optimum use.
The agaves are placed manually inside the ovens. Once this is done, the cooking process starts, and it lasts an average of 48 hours, injecting water vapor into the oven.
The purpose of cooking the "piña" is to hydrolyze the sugars and make them soluble, since the insulin is not very soluble in water and it can't be fermented in a direct way.
In the traditional cooking process, masonry ovens are used; however some modern tequila producers use autoclaves.
After cooking, the hearts of agave will let the sugars flow and therefore the musts will be ready for fermentation.
After perfect cooking, the agave hearts are moved to the milling area.
5The milling is divided into several stages. The purpose is to extract the sugars that are in the agave's fiber. This is performed in mills, whose structure goes from stone to crushers and stainless steel mills, according to the maker.
The stages of the milling begin with the ripping of the "piñas", which consists of processing the cooked agave by a machine that crumbles it. Later on it's taken to a section where cane-type presses will squeeze the juices.
Once squeezed, this fibrous material goes by a section where water is added for the maximum extraction of sugars. As a result of this process, an agave juice is obtained, and it contains 12% of sugars. With this raw material the must is formulated for the fermentation.
Once the must is prepared for fermentation, it is inoculated with a microbial, 6which can be a pure yeast wax "saccaromyces cerevisiae" or some other species.
When the must is ready, the fermentation begins. That is one of the most important stages but not too studied because the alcohol is produced as well as other organoleptic components that compose the tequila. This fermentation is carried out in open stainless steel tanks of variable volume. The temperature is always under control and oscillates between 30 and 42 degrees Celsius.
This fermentative process can last between 12 and 72 hours, depending on the desired amount of alcohol 7which can be 6% for mixed tequila and 4.5% for "Tequila 100%". Once the fermentation is over, the must rests so the important aromatic components can be generated.
There are two2 different ways to perform the distillation: using alembics or columns; the first way is more common. In the first case (alembics) a tandem of copper alembics is used, which helps to eliminate the unwanted sulfuric elements.
EIn the first alembic, the dead must is heated with steam, and it distills until reaching an ordinary intermediate product, with an alcohol concentration between 25% and 30%; the solid particles, some water, and the heads and tails have been removed from it. The first batch contains the volatile components that distill before ethanol under 80º C, like methanol, isopropanol, and ethyl acetate. The second batch has less volatile alcohols such as amyl and some esters.
In the second alembic, the ordinary product is distilled again to enrich its alcoholic content up to 55%, besides refining the product considerably. This 55% alcohol tequila is considered an end product, and that's the one that's sold in bulk. Before being bottled, this distillate is diluted with deionized water, to achieve finished products between 38 to 43%.
When using columns they are used up to three in tandem. In this case the must enters the column from the upside, to contra flow with vapor, while the volatile compounds that condense in the different plates evaporate; usually when columns are used instead of alembics, the product is more neutral due to the selective distillation.
Once distilled, the end product is concentrated in tubs where it is diluted to pass it to the "pipones" or casks, where it will be matured depending on the kind of tequila desired. In the maturation process, the last stage is carried out in the white oak or encina casks 3or "pipones", wood that confers to the end product a very peculiar taste, color, and aroma. Those qualities depend on factors like the age, the thickness of the stave, the alcohol content, and the resting and aging conditions. The humidity and ventilation are important because in the aging process there are oxidative reactions.
At last, before bottling the product, it's necessary to remove some solids which come from the staves through filtration with cellulose or activated charcoal.
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