In just a few months I’ve gotten immersed in the Tequila culture here at Tres Agaves and things I hadn’t even thought about are part of my everyday “lingo”. Yeah. I’ve now acquired Tequila “lingo”.
One such term that is now part of my daily parlance is “Mixto”. “Mixto” now trips off the tongue quite easily. As if I’ve always known that Mixto was a term indicating a class of Tequilas that are blended with at least 51% Blue Weber Agave and at most 49% of other products (which typically are high fructose corn syrup and/or other sugars). 100% agave Tequilas, like Tres Agaves, are just that- 100% agave. No sugar, or anything else, added. One taste will tell ya. Not all Tequilas are the same.
On our recent trip to Tequila we made the pilgrimage to La Capilla, a small corner bar that could be easily over looked except for it’s the birthplace of one of Mexico’s favorite drinks: The Batanga. Truth is the “streetside” view of the bar doesn’t display a lot of curb appeal.
But what happens inside is completely charming.
The Batanga was created in 1961 by Don Javier Delgado Corona, now the octogenerian bar keeper at La Capilla. The Batanga is basically Mexico’s version of the Cuba Libre – substitute Tequila for Rum. Here’s a clip of Don Javier making his famous drink. And on our late Friday night excursion the master, while not tending bar, was the fixture of the establishment. While his family carries on tradition of mixing up Batangas, Don Javier sat quietly in corner chair, overseeing all and quietly accepting the well wishes of those who stopped by.
“NOM” is short for Norma Oficial Mexicana (Official Mexican Standard) which are the official standards and regulations dictated by the Mexican Government.
The Tequila Regulatory Council (CRT) regulates production of NOMs for the industry and it specifically identifies that the spirit meets government standards to be classified as Tequila (much like a bottle of Champagne must meet certain standards in France.)
Since 1990 all 100% agave Tequila must have a NOM identifier on the bottle. The NOM number on the bottle indicates the distillery. In general the lower the NOM number (starting around 1100) the older the distillery.
Hijuelos are the baby agave shoots or “pups” that grow up around the main plant when the plant has matured to about the 3 years of age.
In the wild agaves reproduce with the help of bats who pollinate the large yellow flower that emerges at five to seven years. As a practical matter this method of reharvesting has been widely abandoned because it takes too long and importantly the stock and flower rob the plant of vital starches required for making quality Tequila.
As such, most farms cultivate the hijuelos and replant them as a means of replenishing the crop. To find out more about Tequila harvesting check out this site.
Agave harvesting is tricky business. First of all, they take at least 8 years to mature. Second, if you harvest them too early you’re gonna wind up with a bitter batch. Harvest them too late then the Tequila will be too sweet. Perfecting the process is the job of the jimador (HE-mah-door).
The jimador is the master farmer who tends, picks and harvests the Agave plants to ensure that they are of the highest quality and harvested at precisely the right time. They tend the fields, select which plants are mature, slice off the leaves to expose the piña – which is then cooked, fermented and distilled to produce Tequila.
While visiting El Centenario distillery in the highlands region I got to see a Tahona working in action. The distillery produces Siete Lequas which is named after Pancho Villa’s horse.
A Tahona is basically a 1-2 thousand pound wheel that is moved by mules in a circular fashion to crush the cooked agave to extract the pulp and get it ready for fermentation. Here’s a pic of a Tahona at El Centenario. It’s both nostalgic and impressive to see:
At El Centenario they work the mules in two shifts, at 6am and 11:30am, for an hour and a half each time. The pulp and fiber are then removed by hand to be fermented – labor intensive for sure.
Want to learn more about the Tahona? I suggest starting at TequilaSource.com which has nice alternative definition.