Sunday, February 2, 2014


The plant distilled to make tequila is called "Weber's Blue Agave", named by a German botanist, Franz Weber, who classified the plant in the early 1900's. Our name is Weber, so our boat, Agave Azul is Weber's Blue Agave! We know it's a stretch, but we enjoy tequila and coming up with a good boat name isn't easy.

Blue Agave plants - Tequila, Jalisco, Mexico

The town of Tequila is just a few hours from where we were anchored in Banderas Bay, so we rented a car, made a hotel reservation and drove to the mountains to learn about tequila.

We turned off the main road outside Tequila hoping to watch the harvesting process. Although we didn't see the jimadores harvesting the plant in the field, we did see the end result, a tractor bringing dozens of 10 - 12 year old harvested plants to a waiting truck. The harvested plants are called piñas for their resemblance to pineapple, piña in Spanish.

Delivering harvested piñas

Up close and personal with the Blue Agave - yes, the pointy ends are very sharp!

At the Herradura Hacienda we watched a traditionally dressed jimador removing the leaves using an ultra sharp flat blade called a coa de jima. The jimador's job involves a lot of hard work in the field, but it's a well paid, highly respected job.

Jimador at work - Herradura Hacienda

Below is a photo of the piñas being readied for the next step in the process, a 48-hour steam in a stone oven. Each oven holds 52 tons of piñas, enough to make about 7,500 liters of tequila.

Cutting the larger piñas down to size for the oven - La Cofradia distillery

Oven loaded with uncooked piñas

The piñas after steaming

The steaming process converts natural carbohydrates and starches into fermentable sugars making the fibrous piñas very sweet - a tequila lover's candy bar.

Sampling the steamed agave - Herradura

To extract the juice the fibrous plants are mechanically shredded and water is added.

The modern way to mill the piñas - La Cofradia

One distillery on our must-stop list was Los Abuelos ("the grandfathers"), also called La Fortaleza. It is the only remaining tequila distillery that mills the piñas the old way, using a heavy stone wheel called a tahona. The stone used to be moved by men, then animals and now a small tractor.

The old fashioned way to extract the juice

The distillery, Los Abuelos, was closed in 1968 because the traditional process was too inefficient. In 1999 the fifth-generation owner decided to restore the old distillery to produce artisan tequilas.  

"Where tequila is made as my great great grandfather did."

Fermentation is next, where the sugars are turned into alcohol. The liquid from the shredded piñas is called "mosto", which is the color of mud.  

Mosto liquid from the piña milling process

A 3-10 day fermentation turns the mosto into a 5% alcohol solution

The next step is distillation. The liquid is distilled two or three times to remove impurities and to increase alcohol level.

Stills at La Cofradia

The first distillation converts the mosto into "ordinario" which still contains undesirable toxins. The second distillation turns the ordinario into tequila with a 55 to 60% alcohol level. Distilled water is added to the tequila to bring it down to a 40% alcohol level.

At this point the "Blanco" tequila is ready for bottling. "Reposado" tequila will be rested for 2 months to a year in used American oak whisky barrels. "Añejo" is aged in oak barrels for 1 to 3 years.

Mosto   >   Ordinario   >   Tequila

One of our visits was to Herradura, the 3rd largest tequila producer. The stills in this ultra modern facility are capable of producing 60,000 liters of tequila per day.

Stills at Herradura

By contrast, the stills at Los Abuelos produce about the same amount of tequila in a year that Herradura produces in one day.

Stills at Los Abuelo

When we were at Herradura we asked our guide if there were any small distillers nearby that made good tequila. She said there was one, Miravalle, that made excellent tequila and charged very low prices. We told her we'd looked for Miravalle but didn't see the sign. She said there was no sign - we just had to keep taking right turns off the highway until we found it, which we finally did. 

The guard unlocked the gate and gave us a puzzled look. We asked if we could buy some tequila, so he let us in to the guard shack. Then we asked if we could taste their tequila. Out came the plastic beer cups, he pulled an open bottle off the shelf and we tasted some amazingly good tequila. We bought a few bottles and halfway home we realized we'd made a big mistake - we should have bought a case!

Herradura Gran Imperio Reposado / Fortaleza (Los Abuelos) Reposado & Añejo / Miravalle Reposado & Añejo

Los Abuelos Autentico Artesanal Elaborado en Tahona

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