Getting to know a distilled spirit is like getting to know a foreign relation. You have to go to the source and you have to be patient and listen to the stories.
On a recent trip to Tequila, Mexico our group explored three different approaches taken to get the same end result. And just like the various tactics we learned that all tequila is just not the same.
Reminiscent of large beer or wine production houses in the U.S. Sauza has impressively large capacity distilling vats and spotlessly clean facilities. Its pockets are also deep enough to load up tourists into a bus for a short ride down the highway for a piña harvesting demonstration done by a jimadore. This is the best part of the tour, as the full production plantations are located a couple of hours outside Tequila. The skill of the jimadore stripping the 7 to 8 year old piñas of its leaves with a razor sharp tool on the end of a wooden handle is impressive. One slight slip and he could lose part of his foot. Sample tequila sips are available at stations along the production tour and a “adios” margarita concludes the afternoon.
Mid-sized Casa Noble adds a bit more finesse in both presentation and product. Located outside of town, transportation is provided to the outpost. The vats of distilling crushed piñas are not as impressive, but far more approachable. Sampling is done seated at a large hacienda-style dining table, with extra sips and special selections poured at the guide’s discretion. Our guide produced a scent kit to help us decipher tequila aromatics and understand the variances between Blanco (white); Reposado (rested 2 months to 1 year in oak casks); and Añejo (aged or vintage 1-3 years). We even had a sneak peek at the 5 year aged Extra Añejo.
Hopefully the small scale production and attention to detail will remain. Casa Noble, which is partially owned by singer/songwriter Carlos Santana, was recently purchased by international producer Constellation Brands.
It was the craft distillery at Tequila Fortaleza that brought the production of tequila all together, since there are no barriers to the roasting, crushing, distilling and bottling of this heritage spirit. You can reach out and touch the process from pulling piña fiber out of the mash to polishing bottle stoppers. This is authentic, artisanal and handmade production of Mexican Tequila.
Below a hillside of piñas sits the Fortaleza distillery owned by Guillermo Erickson Sausa and his family, descendants from the famed Sausa tequila line.
Within the confines of the distillery stripped piñas are cooked in brick ovens 30 hours, heated by a steam boiler, mashed by huge stones, and then put into wood fermentation vats for 3 to 5 days. The mash is double distilled in small copper pots, and in the case of Reposado or Añejo, aged in whisky barrels.
It’s an old and inefficient process, but the result is outstanding – handmade tequila produced in the time honored tradition of Tequila.