Is your tequila really authentic? To find out, start with the 3 ways that agave is commonly cooked and processed:
This is most authentic and artisanal method. True to tequila's history, it begins with a stone oven. Agave piñas are steam cooked for up to two days. Then, they have to cool for up to a day. The sugars in the piñas become caramelized, making for a complex and flavorful tequila. The process is long and done solely in the name of superior taste and history.
This method employs large, stainless steel machinery to cook the agave through intense steam pressure, in about an eighth of the time as an oven. This shortened cook time can come at a real cost: burning the sugars and producing a bitter and acrid finish.
This method uses giant machinery — some almost a hundred feet wide — that separates the sugars from the fiber before cooking the agave. Often, no cooking occurs at all and acid (sulfuric or hydrochloric) is used to chemically caramelize the sugars without heat. The end product of this methodology can yield a more neutral end product — like an agave vodka. Additives may be added later to reintroduce flavor into the spirit.
that's not all
The vast majority of both high end and low end tequilas are produced vis-a-vis autoclaves and diffusers. The modern methods make fiscal sense — yielding more product in less time. However, they make a more neutral tasting tequila, requiring additives to produce flavor and depth. This poses a larger question for tequila brands, act in the interest of the bottom line or taste?
Along with production methodology, there are a few more factors you should consider when buying a tequila:
Much like wine, tequila has the ability to take on characteristics of its environment, growing conditions, and the agave from which it was made. This is called terroir. Seek out single vintage, or single estate, tequilas next time you're at the store.
Was the agave used to produce your tequila from the highlands or lowlands? Or maybe, a hodge podge of the two? Unfortunately, producers source agave from all over — stripping away authenticity and richness away from the spirit and rendering terroir useless.
How long was your tequila aged? Reposados must rest over 2 months and less than a year. Añejos must age 1 year and less than 3 years. Extra añejos are aged more than 3 years.
Similarly, what kind of barrel was it aged in? French and American oak, bourbon, cognac, and wine barrels all yield a very specific taste.
Don't rely on brand names.
Do your own research and ask the
following questions as you shop:
- How was this tequila produced?
- Is this product authentic and artisanal?
- Was the agave oven-roasted?
- What kind of agave was used?
- Is this a single-estate spirit?
- In what kind of barrels was my tequila aged?
- Was an autoclave or diffuser used?
- Has it been processed with sulfuric or hydrochloric acid?
Check out one of our favorite authentic tequilas here: