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TEQUILA AND MEZCAL: THE SUBLIMATION OF AGAVE

23 June 2023

Do you know the terms on Tequila and Mezcal bottles?

Several important labeling terms indicate the type and style of Tequila or Mezcal contained in the bottle. Here is some information on the production techniques used to create the very distinct styles of these spirits.

Harvesting, Cooking & Crushing 

The raw material for making Tequila and Mezcal is agave, a native plant of Central America with hundreds of different species.

Tequila is made from a single variety of agave, Agave tequilana Weber, also known as Blue Agave. This agave is cultivated in only five Mexican states, the most important being Jalisco.

Unlike tequila, any species of agave can be used to make Mezcal, but the most commonly used is Agave angustifolia Haw, known as Agave Espadin. The Mezcal geographic indication covers nine states, with Oaxaca in southern Mexico being the most significant.

carte mexique tequila mezcal

Some of these species can take 15 to 20 years to mature. During the harvest, the agave is cut at the root, and the sharp leaves are removed to reveal the central heart of the plant, called the piña. This piña is then cut up and cooked. There are three methods of cooking agave. The choice of the type of oven is crucial and varies according to production volumes, quality, and the character intended for each Tequila or Mezcal.

feuille dagave

Harvesting and Cooking

La plus traditionnelle est la fosse à rôtir, recouverte de pierres volcaniques, utilisée dans la production des Mezcal ancestraux et artisanaux. Cette cuisson dure plusieurs jours et donne des saveurs fumées uniques.  

Les fours vapeur en brique, très appréciés pour leur cuisson lente, sont utilisés pour  élaborer la Tequila 100% agave et Mezcal artisanal. 

Enfin, les plus modernes sont les autoclaves de type industriel pour la production de Tequila et Mezcal  sans mention particulière. 

Une fois cuite, l’étape suivante est le broyage de l’agave pour libérer un liquide fermentescible. 

Il y a aussi différents modes d’extractions. Le matériel traditionnellement utilisé pour élaborer le Mezcal ancestral et artisanal est le Tahona, un moulin sur lequel tourne une lourde pierre à traction animale ou humaine.

Pour la Tequila et le Mezcal produit à grande échelle des broyeurs mécaniques sont utilisés. 

Crushing 

There are also different extraction methods. The traditional equipment used for making ancestral and artisanal Mezcal is the Tahona, a mill on which a heavy stone is turned by animal or human traction. Mechanical crushers are used for large-scale production of Tequila and Mezcal.

Fermentation

Preparing the sweet liquid for fermentation is called “formulation.” At this stage, tequila producers can add sugars from sources other than agave up to 49% of the total sugar amount. Adding other sugars dilutes the agave character. The label “100% agave” indicates that all fermentable sugars come from agave.

Distillation

Agave spirits can be distilled in either column stills or pot stills. Generally, high-end tequilas and mezcals undergo double distillation in pot stills to enhance their agave notes. For ancestral Mezcal, only clay stills with direct heating are allowed.

Some of these spirits are collected at a particularly low alcohol strength when they come out of the still, sometimes only 60% ABV, resulting in remarkably intense flavors.

Aging & Blending

After distillation, Tequilas and Mezcals can be stored in stainless steel tanks until commercialization or aged in wood. In both cases, the goal is to preserve the distinctive aromas of agave.

The Aromatic Profile of Agave

All agave species share earthy and vegetal aromas. Agave develops different aromatic characteristics depending on the terroir. At higher altitudes, it can produce more fruity and floral aromas, while in the plains, it reveals herbal, spicy, and mentholated aromas.

As mentioned above, the cooking method for ancestral and artisanal Mezcal strongly influences its style. These smoky notes are a good way to distinguish it from Tequila. Their intensity varies considerably.

Labeling terms for Mezcal & Tequila

termes detiquetage pour le mezcal termes detiquetage pour la tequila

Here are two examples:

tequila tiscaz

Tequila Tiscaz

The producer indicates on the label that Tequila means that 51% or more of the fermentable sugars must come from blue agave, and 49% or less can come from other sources.

  • This Tequila was made in the state of Jalisco
  • 100% agave (all fermentable sugars come from agave)
  • The Tahona (traditional equipment) was used to crush the agave
  • Añejo indicates a minimum aging of one year in oak barrels

 

mezcal artisanal

Artisanal Mezcal

  • This Mezcal comes from the town of Candelaria Yegolé (Oaxaca state)
  • The category is artisanal Mezcal, Joven
  • 100% Jabali agave
  • The Tahona (traditional wheel) was used to crush the agave
  • Double distilled in a copper still and production date
  • 48.4% ABV

Generally, high-quality mezcals do not contain worms in the bottle.

Unveil the Mysteries of Distillation by Training!

Mezcalement yours,

Hiltraut Schwarz

Hiltraut Schwarz

Hiltraut Schwarz

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