Arandas: Tequila Centinela Distillery Tour (Or: How to Make Really Good Tequila!)

Christine Visits Centinela Distillery -- Makers of incredibly tasty tequila.

On Friday (Oct 13, 2006) afternoon (after flying all night and 4.5L of tequila’s worth of bus ride to the hotel), we headed to Tequila Centinela for a tour of the distillery.

If you are in need of a good Tequila, you cannot go wrong with any Centinela product. They are all rock solid product that can be enjoyed as a sipping tequila or in a well made margarita (no mixes). Seriously good stuff. If you can find it, the three year añejo is an absolutely delicious sipping tequila that can usually be had for around $80/bottle. Rarer still is the seven year añejo. Right at the edge of useful aging span for a tequila and an absolutely sublime product.

Bbum Visits Centinela Distillery -- Makers of incredibly tasty tequila.

At left is Christine standing below the main tank/sign of the distillery. Of course, there is a photo of me in the same spot.

We then got a full tour of the operation and then partook of a rather awesome seemingly impromptu party in their parking lot.

The full story contains all of the details.

Field of Blue Agave (Agave tequilana)

A field of Blue Agave Weber (Agave tequilana). The plants are, perhaps, about 5 or 6 years old.

Depending on region and philosophy of the farmer and distiller, Agave will be grown for 8 to 12 years, prior to harvest.

At harvest, the jimador[e] wields a blade on a rake handle called a coa to chop the leaves off the agave plant.

Christine Next to Weber Blue Agave

The plants are not small. At left, Christine is standing next to a 3 or 4 year old Agave plant that the Centinela folks were kind enough to harvest for our education.

A harvest ready plant — 8 to 12 years old, again — will be larger than that, though not double in size. The leaves will be thicker and longer. The piña — the large core of the agave plant — will be considerably larger.

Note that plant size is greatly impacted by growing region. Arandas is at an altitude of a little over 6000 feet, leading to smaller plants.

Blue Agave Leaf Detail

It is rough job as the agave leaves are incredibly tough. Sword tough. The points are as sharp as needles and the edges of the leaves are lined with little barbs.

A jimador will often wear two layers of denim on their legs with the leg that is typically leaning into the plant covered in leather. Still, the leaves will tear it apart after not terribly many trips to the field.

Unloading Blue Agave Piña

Only the piña is used to make tequila. The leaves are generally composted and used to grow the next generation of Agave.

Truckloads of the agave piñas are brought to the distillery where they are split in half and loaded into giant ovens for roasting. Typically, Agave is roasted for 24 to 72 hours, depending on temperature, oven style, piña size, and the personal feelings of the master distiller.

Delicious Roasted Blue Agave Piña

During the tour, we were each given a chunk of roasted agave to taste. It was delicious. A sweet, slightly smoky, flavor. It is a sweet unlike honey or sugar which, during fermentation, imparts the unique flavor upon tequila.

Many folks claim that it is the uniqueness of the sugars in the agave and the resulting product that yield the unique “drunk” of Tequila. In particular, drinking way too much 100% blue agave tequila leaves one far more functional than other liquors and there is generally little or no hangover the next day (unless you drink just a ridiculously stupid amount).

I’m starting to believe it.

Very Active Yeast Fermenting Away

Once roasted, the agave is shredded and smushed such that all of the liquids can be extracted. Yeast is added to the resulting liquid and fermentation begins. The primary fermentation takes place in gigantic, 30 foot tall, metal tanks that are about 12 feet in diameter.

As can be seen in the picture, the fermentation is quite active. The top of the tank was roiling from the fermentation. No need to have any kind of stirring mechanism.

From fermentation, the next step is distillation.

The smells coming off those vats was quite pungent. Not at all unpleasant, either.

Pure 100% Blue Agave Tequila

There are three kinds of tequila in the world (four, really, but mixtos is just one of the others mixed with crappy rum or other alcohol) blanco, reposada, and añejo. Blanco is unaged tequila. It is typically clear.

Now, obviously, the fermentation process does not start with, nor produce, a clear liquid!

Tequila is double-distilled to produce a clear (or almost clear, in some cases) product that is subsequently aged.

The picture on the right is pure Tequila at a strength of 70% alcohol coming out of the second distillation step. From here, it will have water added and either be bottled or aged in large or small barrels.

Barrels of Tequila Resting

Tequilas to be aged are placed into either relatively large containers for reposadas (rested) and smaller containers for añejo (aged) product.

A reposada will be aged for anywhere from a couple of months to a year in large white oak vats or casks.

Añejo’s will be rested for more than a year in containers less than 160 gallons. Typically, an añejo will be aged in whiskey or bourbon barrels. As a result, there is actually a huge import trade in used liquor barrels from the United States and England.

On the left is a picture of one row of many in one of the handful of aging facilities used by Centinela. This particular room has nearly 12,000 barrels in it.

The rooms have a weird air about them. It is dead quiet, cool, and slightly damp (during aging, there is some evaporative action through the barrel walls). With all of that oak and fine tequila in one place, there is a distinctly delicious smell to the room.

The Master.

The tequila industry is incredibly tightly regulated. There are very strict rules surrounding the entire process.

In particular, for a liquor to be called a Tequila, the Agave plants must be grown in a very specific region of Mexico, the bottled liquor must be only up to 49% non-Tequila (though most good tequilas are 100% blue agave product), and the process must follow certain guidelines.

Once the liquid is distilled, there must be a CRT (Consejo Regulador del Tequila) representative present both at the time the distilled raw product is put into the barrel for aging and at the time the liquid is bottled. When barreled, the CRT agent places a sticker over the bung of the barrel and that sticker must be unbroken at the time of bottling.

If the sticker is broken or removed, that barrel’s contents cannot legally be called Tequila.

The CRT also approves labels and verifies product for export, all at different costs.

All in all, an incredibly interesting tour.

Centinela went all out for us and we all deeply appreciate it. Beyond a great tour and being able to sample their entire product line after the tour, Centinela pulled out the stops and threw us one hell of a great party in their parking lot. We enjoyed a Mariachi band, some awesome food, great company and, of course, lots and lots of excellent Centinela products.



8 Responses to “Arandas: Tequila Centinela Distillery Tour (Or: How to Make Really Good Tequila!)”

  1. Barry D. says:

    “(unless you drink just a ridiculously stupid amount).”

    Naw – THIS could NEVER happen.

    🙂

  2. ARANDA KAHAIALII says:

    AS CHILD I ATE AT A MEXICAN PLACE THAT HAD AN ARANDAS TEQUILA BOTTLE AT THE BAR AND AS YOU CAN GUESS THEY DID NOT WANT TO PART WITH IT.
    I AM INTERESTED IN GETTING A BOTTLE (EMPTY OR FULL)!!!!!!! PLEASE CONTACT ME AND LET ME KNOW HOW TO GET ONE!!!!!

    MAHALO NUI LOA FROM HAWAII
    ARANDA C KAHAIALII

  3. bbum says:

    (I think your caps lock key is stuck)

    Neat!

    I wasn’t aware of a brand called “Arandas Tequila”. A bit of a search reveals that one does, in fact, exist. But it isn’t common (nor does it seem to be a remarkable brand — but, given the namesake, I can fully understand that quality is not an issue!).

    A bit of search reveals that it is an older brand, with print ads going back to 1967 or so. Your best bet is to keep an eye on http://www.ebay.com and see if a bottle comes up. There was one for sale in early January of this year and, from the looks of it, Arandas Tequila is still being made!

    Good luck!

  4. Aranda Kahaialii says:

    thanx for your information

  5. M. Flood says:

    Dear Aranda Kahaialii,

    I recently found a bottle of Arandas white tequila hidden away in our liquor cabinet. It must be at least 30 or 35 years old. Pretty good stuff! It has moved all over the country with me all these years. I finally have developed a taste for tequila, but have bought Jose Cuervo for the last few years. The Arandas has a bit more bite. I’d be happy to send you the empty bottle for a donation. What would it be worth to you?

    Hola!

  6. Margie says:

    woah, wait. They gave us a tour?

  7. Ray Aranda says:

    I believe I may have an extra bottle of Aranda’s that is empty. I do have a bottle that is full that I’ve kept for over twenty five year’s now, it still has the law
    label stamp over the top that used to be required in the state of California. I used to have an adverisment for Aranda’s called the Ragging Bull that set along side of my Aranda’s bottle. I really liked Aranda’s and not just because it we have the same name.

    Ray Aranda

  8. aranda kahaialii says:

    Thanx to all who have responded! I was very lucky to get 2 bottles of gold and white for christmas 2008.
    mahalo Aranda Kahaialii

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