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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Finally made it to Tequila

It’s been a week since I posted – We were in Ajijic for one week without any Internet. Now we are back in Guadalajara for a while. We’ve been gone from home for 111 days! But to back track and catch up. I will probably post two or three different subjects today so read on.
Left Guadalajara around 10:15 Wednesday. Took the Periferico across the city then the road to Chapala. Shorter and easier than going through Jojotepec. Took a little over an hour to get to Hugo’s campground. There is one big rig (40')here – cannot figure out how they got in and/or how they will get it out. Want to watch that. This year there is supposedly 30amp electric in a solid post with breakers instead of wires coming up out of the ground like three years ago. For an account of that adventure click here - http://www.movingon1.com/jalisco.php#hugosthere might be pictures of the campground in the pictures too.
This is an Huichol we met in Tequila - check out his hat. It has lots and lots of feathers on the brim.

But back to Tequila. The first tour we took was to a small family owned distillery. Don’t even remember the name. Then later we took the Jose Cuervo tour. Both were very interesting and I will kind of combine them as I could take more pictures at the first tour. Cuervo restricted the use of cameras. So
Tequila is made only from the blue agave. It takes seven to ten years for a plant to mature. The only part used is the bulb or pineapple. The leaves are left in the fields to break down and act as natural nutrients. The plant is dug up with a special round sharp shovel type thing and then the leaves are sliced off using same tool. Then the bulbs are loaded into trucks and taken to the distillery. Now there are electronic scales to weigh each load. But they used to be paid for by the weight of the bulbs – a selection of the biggest and smallest were weighed then an average taken. That would determine the price of the load.
The biggest bulbs are split by hand by a certain group of workers. They all wear gloves and red bandanas on their heads. All they do is split the bulbs and load them into the ovens.
At JC the ovens are lined up behind the agave pineapples. The steam from the heat in the ovens comes out through the doors.

The agave cooks for many hours to bring the sugar out. (I can’t read my notes to tell you how many hours – I have written down “12 hrs first – 22 hrs flavor” and Bill says he remembers 72 hours.) So if you’re really curious look it up. During cooking the agave softens and turns a caramel color. It tastes pretty good if you don't mind ending up with a mouth full of fiber.

The oven doors are then opened from the rear and the cooked bubls are allowed to cool down.

Then another group of workers wearing boots and hard hats unload the cooked bulbs. Again by hand
They are put onto a conveyor belt that takes it through a crusher.
(This is the one at first factory - one at JC is in first picture.)
This extracts the sugar liquid from the fiber. The fibers can go through the crushers up to five times. The finer the tequila the fewer times it has been crushed. Next the liquid goes into big vats to ferment for four to seven days.
When the fermentation process is completed the liquid is 60-75% alcohol! Then the liquid is distilled. The first distillation leaves a murky, oily, debris filled liquid. The second distillation clears the liquid. The alcohol content is still pretty high – in fact it smells like what I imagine White Lightening smells like – very strong.
After the distillation is complete water is added to cut the alcohol content then the liquid is put in oak barrels to age. The oak barrels can be refilled many, many times and can be used for as many as 35 years.
The longer the tequila stays in the barrel the darker it gets. Clear tequila is bottled right away, never put in a barrel. Aging process is never more than seven years – after that the tequila starts to destroy the barrel. This is the golden colored tequila añejo.
It is aged in temperature controlled rooms called Caves
With time the barrels tend to warp some.

– the barrels have tags on them with the dates they were filled. And the fill hole has a seal over it that is put on by the government.
Fill date on this tag.

If the seal is broken it has to be destroyed - both the barrel and the tequila inside it.
They were both interesting tours – big difference in equipment between the smaller distillery and the large Jose Cuervo one. But it all does the same thing.
The fiber left from the plant after the sugar is extracted is used for lots of things. It is used as fertilizer mainly. It can be pounded down and made into paper. Filling a truck with the fiber.
But none of it goes to waste.
So any way the story is we finally made it to a Tequila Distillery only took 32 years. I'm glad we went.

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