Start of day 3… brushing teeth with Tequila again. Mmm… Pura Sangre Blanco. I really need toothpaste. After rolling out of bed, grabbing breakfast and checking out of the hotel, we strapped all of our stuff to the van and headed to Tequila Espolon. Good-bye to the Hotel Santa Barbera — if you ever go to Arandas, it is an awesome place to stay.
Tequila Espolon is located on the outskirts of the town of Arandas in the middle of huge fields of Agave, mostly their own. Espolon is a delicious highlands tequila, with the aged product carrying through hints of mocha/caramel and an excellent spice. Excellent, solid product. Beautiful bottles, too, with embossed metalized labels.
Definitely a worthy addition to any bar.
Read on for a photo tour of Espolon’s tequila making process…
Tequila Espolon is a fairly large facility, for such an artisan quality tequila. Espolon also has one of the most modern laboratories in the industry. From the genetics of the yeast(s) used for fermentation through to regulation of methyl alcohol content through to the subtleties associated with the aging process, many distilleries have some impressive lab equipment.
Espolon is surrounded by beautiful fields of Agave (that I completely neglected to photograph). Some of the neatest, best kept, fields we saw on the trip.
Once harvested, the agave penas are brought to the patio. Basically, the patio is the area where the penas are offloaded from the truck and prepped for loading into the ovens, be they traditional stone ovens or autoclaves.
Tequila Espolon uses a unique device to split particular large agave penas into quarters for loading into the ovens.
It is called a guillotine and it is basically a big hydraulic press loaded with blades that splits the agave into quarters quite cleanly.
Frankly, I’m not sure if lifting and wrestling a pena into the guillotine is any easier than simply splitting them with an axe (which I did later in the week).
Once the penas are split, they are loaded into one of the five autoclaves at Tequila Espolon.
The autoclaves are huge. Each one holds thousands and thousands of pounds of agave penas.
The agave is cooked with steam. The liquid that pools in the bottom of the autoclave is drained off and tossed as it contains whatever bugs and dirt were on the agave.
Being autoclaves, the ovens will build up a small bit of pressure. The doors are bolted shut, but they are not tightly sealed. Less pressure than your average kitchen pressure cooker.
Once the Agave is cooked, the ovens are allowed to cool off a bit before the ovens are opened.
The ovens are opened and the roasted agave is offloaded into a conveyer built that carries it to the next phase of processing.
The oven is only about half full as January is an off month for production after the holiday rush.
We were able to taste the fresh roasted agave. It is delicious. Very very sweet and leaves your hands quite sticky.
The roasted agave is carried along to what is, effedctively, a wood chipper. It breaks the agave down into relatively small chunks that are then fed into a series of roller mills.
The roller mills are basically big metal wheels that have interlocking grooves. Water is sprayed on the agave as it passes through the roller mill, with the goal being to squeeze out all of the sugars that have been roasted out of the agave.
There are lots of theories regarding the use of roller mills versus the traditional tahona (big stone wheel). There are also conflicting theories regarding the number of roller mills should be used.
All of this revolves around maximizing the amount of extracted sugars that ferment into Ethyl Alcohol (good stuff) vs. extracting stuff that ferments into Methyl Alcohol (bad stuff).
The distilleries are typically fairly old or old looking buildings. They often tout the tradition of Mexico, of Tequila and of the area or town around the distillery.
But don’t let the “antique” look fool you. Distilleries often have very modern labs. This is just the genetics lab of Tequila Espolon. In this lab, the company keeps a close eye on the quality and health of the yeast used to ferment the agave mash.
Tequila Espolon has another, much larger, lab that includes a mass spectrometer and other equipment that can be used to very accurately quantify every step of the tequila making process.
While tradition dictates the methodology used, science ensures a consistent and high quality product!
The goop that is mashed out of the roast agave is sent to big fermentation tanks. It is typically inoculated with anywhere from 5% to 20% volume of yeast cultures.
The yeast eats the sugars and produces alcohol and carbon dioxide as waste. Obviously, fermenting in a well ventilated space is a requirement.
In the picture is actually one of Espolon’s stills. In particular, it is a rather large column still that stuck out the already very tall roof of the building.
Stills work by boiling off the alcohol from the water in the musto — the fermented agave goop. This raises the ABV — alcohol by volume — from around 20% or so to somewhere north of 40% ABV, depending on process employed.
Tequila is a double distilled spirit. That is, the liquid coming off the pictured still is distilled again to up the purity and ABV.
We tasted the raw tequila coming off the first distillation and it was actually quite delicious. Very very strong stuff, but had a great vegetal flavor that tasted distinctly of the agave.
Once distilled, the raw tequila is moved to large stainless steel tanks for at least a couple of weeks of aging. This allows the tequila to “settle down” a bit prior to either being bottled as a blanco — a silver — tequila or placed into barrels for aging.
Tequila Espolon, pictured, new white oak barrels to age their tequila for anywhere from a few months for the reposado to a couple of years+ for their anejo.
The barrels aren’t typically moved. Most companies will pump tequila into and out of the barrels in place.
The master distillery (whose name I forgot! Gah!) was kind enough to give us the tour. Once finished, we sat down to some snacks and, of course, a sampling of Tequila Espolon’s very fine products. Personally, I really enjoyed the blanco as it carried through so much of the high quality highlands agave they grow and use. However, their anejo and reposado are both extremely delicious.