Tequila, Mexico's national drink, is produced in accordance with strict laws passed by the Mexican government using only the hearts of a special type of agave, the blue agave "tequilana weber". The name of the liliaceous plant, which is related to the aloe vera plant, goes back to Agave the Greek goddess of grandeur and the daughter of Harmonia. In the mythology of the Mesoamerican civilizations, the creator god Quetzalcoatl fell in love with the beautiful goddess Mayahuel and carried her off to his realm. From there she was returned to Mesoamerica and paid for her love affair with her life. Quetzalcoatl's grief over the loss of Mayahuel gave human beings the ability to love. Watered by his tears, the agave grew from her buried body.
The "Consejo Regulador del Tequila"
To ensure the best guarantee and to distinguish Tequila from other spirits, the Mexican government decided to protect the country's national drink against poor quality and counterfeiting, and founded a separate authority to monitor compliance with these regulations: the CRT (Consejo Regulador del Tequila). The CRT was founded in 1933 – at that time still under a different name. Since the 1970s, laws have been implemented to the effect that Tequila may only come from protected regions in Mexico. Since 1994, the CRT has been operating under this name and it monitors and controls Tequila production throughout the world.
Only distilleries that fulfil the strict quality and origin regulations are awarded their individual inspection numbers – the Norma Oficial Mexicana (NOM) and the Denominación de Orígen Tequila (D.O.T.). The regions specified by the CRT for cultivating the "tequilana weber azul" are: Jalisco, Nayarit, Guanajuato, Michoacán and Tamaulipas. Around 90 per cent come from the Jalisco region – the Tequila capital.
The "tequilana weber azul" that is used for making Tequila grows at altitudes of 800 to 2500 metres around the city of Guadalajara, the capital of Jalisco province - and therefore also the world's Tequila capital. A distinction is made here between two different locations of the agave fields: The highlands are famous for their intensive, mineral-rich red soil and an optimum mix of intensive sunlight and constant precipitation during the rainy season. The agaves from the lowlands around the state of Tequila grow somewhat more quickly in darker, volcanic soil. The mountains around the das Tequila Valley are exactly where the fertile and high-quality black soil, combined with the higher elevation of the fields, ensures bountiful growth.
Only 8 to 12 years after planting are the high-quality agave plants of Mexico's Sierra Tequila fields ripe and ready for harvesting. The hearts can be distilled twice in the typical copper pot stills (alambiques) using traditional methods. This process is particularly gentle, and the distillate has a particularly intensive flavour. Following distillation it goes into storage, the duration of which depends on the category of Tequila. But besides the storage period, other factors also influence the maturity of the Tequila: Firstly, the wood of which the cask was made can play a decisive role, and secondly the size of the cask can influence the intensity of the maturity.
Sierra Tequila is governed by the strict regulations that apply to Tequila production. Since there can nevertheless be many differences with regard to the production process, Sierra Tequila sets itself apart from other Tequilas by virtue of important special characteristics.
Sierra agaves come exclusively from the uplands of Jalisco. Here they are planted by hand in the traditional way in both the mineral-rich highland fields of Los Altos and on the mountains around the city of Tequila. In Spanish, Sierra also means "mountain range". The highlands in which the Sierra agaves are planted are famous for their intensive, mineral-rich red soil and an optimum mix of intensive sunlight and constant precipitation during the rainy season. The blue agaves for Sierra Tequila grow in the highlands around Tequila and in Los Altos at altitudes of 1,200 to 2,600 metres.
In the Sierra fields
Since the tequilana weber azul agave is a very scarce and valuable commodity – besides its limited cultivation, the time from planting to harvest is very long - it is important to work only with specialists. Professionals who proudly pass on their knowledge of the sensitive agave from generation to generation work in the Sierra agave fields. Our field workers and agave harvesters (= Jimadores) put their many years of experience into the process that can take up to 12 years from planting to harvesting.
Offshoots, known as "baby agaves" (hijuelos) are obtained from the riper agave plants. These are selected by hand. Even at this early stage the Jimadores perform quality control, and only the best baby agaves are planted by hand. This means that our agaves don't come from artificial greenhouses but directly from the field.
So that the plants are left in peace and benefit from the purity of nature, no mechanical aids are used in the Sierra fields. A space of about 3 metres is left between the rows of agaves. This is absolutely essential, since the agaves grow very large and the tips of the leaves become so sharp that they could injure the Jimadores. However, it's also so that the spaces can be kept clean. To keep the soil of the Sierra fields nutritious and fertile on a sustained basis, we introduced a culture of mixing at an early stage (as one of the few Tequila producers to do so). This made Sierra Tequila one of the first Tequilas in the world not to use artificial fertilizer in its fields.
Due to the long time that the agaves need to grow, each year has its own field for Sierra Tequila. Consequently, the pre-planning takes almost a decade for each of our bottlings. The Sierra agaves are at their most splendid after four to five years. That's when they're at their most attractive to the human eye, in a bright and vibrant blue.
The Jimador waits for the moment at which the inner leaves are longer than the outer ones. He then decides when the optimum time for harvesting is. The Sierra agaves are harvested by hand. The tool that our Jimadores use is known as the Coa. This involves first pushing over the agave, after which the leaves (hojas) are removed so that only the piña (the heart) remains. After transport, the piñas - which weigh between 40 and 60 kilos - are processed in the Destilerías Sierra in the heart of Guadalajara within a few hours, in order to preserve the freshness of the Sierra agaves.
In Sierra Tequila production
Every morning, the agaves are driven from the fields to the Destilerías Sierra so that they can be processed there while still fresh. Here, the agaves are split with an axe (hand-picked selection control) before they are put into large stainless steel fermenting tubes (autoclaves) to ferment gently.
The agaves are fermented under high pressure for 12 hours and then simmered at low temperature for a further 12 hours. After 24 hours, the steamed agaves are removed from the "saucepans". The bound fructose is converted into sugar.
The next stage after fermentation is pressing the now soft, mildly fruity fruits and the associated step-by-step juice extraction. The fruit juice of the fermented agave is the basis of every Tequila. The fibres that remain after pressing are used by Sierra Tequila to produce insulation material or natural materials.
The distillery grows its own yeast strains in the Destilerías Sierra Unidas laboratories. The open systems allow sufficient oxygen to be taken up, which is advantageous for this process in particular. At the end of the fermentation process, a type of "agave wine" called "Pulque" is obtained with an alcohol content of 8 – 11 %, which is then distilled.
Sierra Tequila is made in the traditional way in copper pot stills with double distillation. Sierra is one of the few large Tequila distilleries to deliberately shun column distillation. Pot still distillation is more gentle for the Tequila and has the advantage that the complex fruit notes are preserved. With Tequila it's not just about the purity of the spirit, but above all it's about preserving the fruity aroma of the agaves that make Sierra Tequila so unique.
After the first distillation, Tequila has an alcohol content of around 24 % (Ordinario), and after the second the alcohol content is just under 55 % (Tequila). We use a third distillation process in the case of Sierra Milenario Blanco and Sierra Milenario Reposado, in order to obtain an especially fruity individual flavour.
Sierra Tequila production is completed and rounded off by storage to suit the particular product. Read more about the storage of Sierra Tequila qualities in the texts that deal with the individual products.