A jimador, working in the fields, to gather the agave plants that will be used to make tequila at Casa Herradura. — Photo courtesy of Darin Jones
Tequila, the unofficial beverage of Mexico, is known as a drink that you down quickly, as a shot. And, to disguise the unpleasant flavor, you incorporate salt and a slice of lime into the shot-drinking process. Well, it seems that we have all been sadly misinformed about tequila. All this time, we were led to believe that tequila was supposed to be mixed in cocktails, like margaritas, or drunk as a shot. That's not the case at all. As it turns out, there are many fine tequilas out there and they are actually meant to be sipped, like a fine cognac, and not chugged by a frat boy on Spring Break.
Made from blue agave plants, tequila, that delicious nectar of the gods, was named after the small town of Tequila, Mexico, in the state of Jalisco. Like champagne, which comes only from the Champagne region of France, tequila can only be produced in certain parts of Mexico. There are currently only five Mexican states where tequila can be produced; Jalisco, Nayarit, Guanajuato, Michoacan, and Tamaulipas.
Tequila is very special to Mexico. So special, in fact, that there is a Tequila Regulatory Council (the Consejo Regulador del Tequila, also known as the CRT) that monitors the quality of the soil and water at each tequila distillery and also measures the quantity of blue agave that is used in the making of the tequila. If a distillery meets all of the council's high standards, the beverage can officially be called "tequila" and the distillery is allowed to put the "CRT" government certification on their labels. Without the CRT certification on the label, the beverage will have to be called "agave liquor" or some other name because it cannot legally be called tequila.
One of Mexico's oldest and most well-known tequila distilleries is that of Herradura Tequila. The distillery is often referred to as Casa Herradura, which literally means Herradura House. Hacienda San Jose del Refugio is the name of the estate where Herradura tequilas are produced. In fact, Herradura has been making their tequilas at this location, since 1870.
The Tequila-Making Process
There are many types of agave plants in the world, but only blue agave plants can be used to produce a true tequila. The process begins with workers, called jimadors, going out into the field to harvest the agave plants. The big ball that they harvest resembles a pineapple and that is exactly what the harvested agave plants are called. The "pineapples" are placed into an oven and steamed for up to 26 hours. After they are sufficiently steamed, the pineapples are crushed, in order to extract all of the agave juices.
This device, called a tahona, was once used to smash the cooked "pineapples", in order to remove all of the juice that would eventually be made into tequila. — Photo courtesy of Darin Jones
Once that step has been completed, the fermentation process begins. The fermentation stage can take up to one week.
Tanks that were once used during the tequila-making process, at Casa Herradura. — Photo courtesy of Darin Jones
After fermentation, the tequila is distilled. At Casa Herradura, the tequila is distilled twice, before it is placed in oak barrels, to age. The oak barrels are used because they give the tequila a caramel color, as well as a unique flavor.
Oak barrels, in which tequila is aged, at Casa Herradura. — Photo courtesy of Darin Jones
There are different types of tequila and Casa Herradura produces silver, reposado (rested), anejo (aged), and extra anejo (extra aged) tequilas. Each type of tequila is aged for a different length of time. Silver (clear in color) tequila is aged the least amount of time, therefore it does not have time to take on the rich color, or flavor, of the oak barrels. The longer the tequila is aged, the darker the color will be in the finished product. The age of a tequila also determines the quality and price of the liquor. Extra anejo (extra aged) tequilas are considered to be the finest and most flavorful of all tequilas. They are normally the most expensive, as well. Tequila aficionados will tell you that it's money well spent, however.
Casa Herradura produces several brands of tequila, as well as a "line of ready-to-drink tequila cocktails". — Photo courtesy of Casa Herradura
Casa Herradura & The Tequila Express
At Casa Herradura, tours are offered to people that arrive independently or as a group. A fun way to get to the distillery is by taking a ride on the Tequila Express, a train that runs between Guadalajara and the town of Amatitan, where Casa Herradura is located. The train operates every Saturday and Sunday, year-round. The excursion includes a tour of Casa Herradura, tequila tastings, a lunch buffet of local cuisine, as well as a Mexican show, featuring folkloric dancers, singing, Mariachi music, and even a charreria (roping) demonstration. There are many other tequila distilleries in the region but they do not all offer tours of their facilities. Casa Herradura is incredibly proud of their rich history and love to share their story, as well as their delicious products, with the world.
For more information on Casa Herradura and its products, or for information on many other tequila distilleries, visit http://www.tequila.net, a fantastic website run by tequila aficionados. To make a reservation on the Tequila Express train, you may visit their website, at http://www.tequilaexpress.com.mx, but please note that the site is entirely in Spanish.