When you think tequila, you think tequila shots and Margaritas. Both have been a durable staple in the quest for satisfying libatious rituals. Just like with any alcoholic beverage, there are a myriad of tequilas from your cough medicine taste variety to the silky warmth smoothness of the best of the best.
This is a story about a tequila distillery that makes darn good tequila. I know this because I spent some time investigating the tequila industry and several days getting to know this particular brand maker. Why this particular tequila maker? I will get to that shortly.
Tequila is a specific product of Mexico. More specifically, tequila comes almost exclusively from the central-Pacific region of the country; in the County of Jalisco whose capital city is Guadalajara. There are literally thousands of acres filled with agave plants that adorn the landscape. Everywhere you look, there are agave plants in varying stages of growth. It is the blue agave and only the blue agave plant that is allowed by the Mexican government to produce tequila. There are more legalities that surround the making of tequila than you would have imagined. Not only are there legalities, but there is a great deal of pride in making tequila that follows a tradition among Mexican distillers. Even the cheaper lines of tequila are made under noted guidelines.
There are numerous tequila distilleries in Jalisco; some nearing 300 years old. So, why did I choose Casa Herradura? This particular distillery did two things that made me curious over the others. First, they ferment the agave nectar naturally, using no added yeast whatsoever. The second is that are a green distillery; making their own energy with the use of the waste/by-products of the agave plant. Nothing goes to waste.
Tequila making is no different from any other distillation process. It is part science and part craft. It takes seven years for an agave plant to come to full maturity in order to start the process. Believe or not, the entire process is still very manual and takes a lot of time to produce. The single distilled and non-aged tequilas represent your medicinal tasting varieties. Then comes your double distilled that clean out all the impurities and offer a bold taste. Now take double distilled tequila and age it. These are the ones that are aged in North American oak barrels that get smoother and silkier the longer they stay in the barrel.
Therefore, this process is one that is in perpetual motion. Every day another sector of plants have grown to maturity and every day the “jimadores” harvest the agave. Each jimador cutting 100 to 120 plants a day. It is hot in those fields and it hard work. I know because I tried to it. I was exhausted after chopping one plant. It takes a lot of skill to cut down these plants with nothing more than a sharp mezzaluna blade on a long wooden stick.
After harvesting, tons of agave are tossed into huge ovens and pressure steamed to soften it so that they can be pressed to obtain the rich nectar and the juice in all their dark brown sweetness.
Casa Herradura is a true working “hacienda” that dates back to 1870. Until recently, it was family owned. In 2007, the hacienda was sold to Brown-Forman Corporation of Louisville, Kentucky. Brown-Forman is a diversified producer of fine spirit products, including Jack Daniel’s, Southern Comfort, Finlandia Vodka, Canadian Mist, Fetzer Wines and Korbel California Champagnes.
The interesting thing about Casa Herradura is that there are fruit trees that surround the entire distillery. Well you would say that must be a very beautiful sight, but the trees are not there for the aesthetics. Back in 1870 they knew that these trees gave off the yeast they needed to ferment the agave nectar. This is why Casa Herradura does not have to add any yeast to ferment its nectar.
The nectar is poured into huge stainless steel vats that are open at the top. Like huge caldrons that stand two stories high and hold nearly 20,000 gallons, these vats sit in a building that is fully opened to the outside on one side. The yeast that is circulating in the air lands in the vats and starts eating the sugar in the nectar. You can see the yeast at work as the bubbles continually float to the top. In about three days the fermentation is complete and the nectar is ready for the distillation process.
The highlight of my tour was the green process they use. I was impressed on how essentially there was no waste. Every part of the agave plant is used or recycled to provide energy to the run the distillery. Although this company seems to be the first “to go green;” it will not be long before other tequila distilleries will join them. It is the way of the future.
The moral to this story is that I have a newfound respect for tequila. I am no longer the snobbish vodka drinker, but a person that can switch things up. And as a foodie, I can surely find new and exciting ways to use this golden liquid.
Straight up or in a mix drink, tequila is a great alternative to your usual drink. So, when National Tequila Day comes around on July 24th, get to your favorite watering hole or liquor store and get yourself a taste of the good stuff. And, as always, drink responsibly.