Like breadmaking, there are seven steps to the making of Agave Spirit, of which Tequila is perhaps the most well-known. Tequila, like Port, Sherry and Champagne is assigned a protected Appellation of Origin and its production is limited to five Mexican States, Guanajuato, Jalisco, Michoacán, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas. The state of Jalisco is very proud to be the centre of Tequila production. Agave spirits are made in other parts of Mexico and called Mezcal. The major species used is Agave Americana, which is extensively planted in the Karoo.
The care of the agave plant and its harvesting is a big manual effort. The plants which are planted in neat rows take anything from 6 to ten years until they are ripe and ready for harvesting. The older, the greater the starch content. The harvester takes off all the extraneous leaves above the ground and then takes the heart out of the ground and trims that down. The next process is the cooking, this is done in ovens with wood fires which add extra smokey flavours to the final spirit in which the ‘piña’ or heart undergoes a complex process of converting the starches into fermentable sugar. About 6 kgs of plant will fill a 750ml bottle. The nest step is the extraction during which the agave heads are crushed by a stone wheel to separate the fibre from the valuable sugar laden juices. These juices are taken to stainless steel tanks for fermentation which could take anything from 7 to 12 days.
Distilling takes place in copper stills and the process is done twice, after which the liquor is called ‘Blanco’. The distiller then makes the decision whether to age in French or American White oak barrels. The ‘Reposados’ have up to a year of ageing, the Añejos for up to three years and then the ‘Extra Añejos’ are matured for over three years. The longer the maturation process, the greater the tannins and colour will be introduced into the final spirit. Much as in winemaking, the barrels are at times toasted to various degrees and the number of previous fills also makes a difference. The spirit is then ready for the seventh stage and that is the bottling.
From a flat round clear glass bottle, closed with what the Portuguese cork makers call a T Cork. The label is a classy Mexican design Lion head. In the glass it is crystal clear, gem bright. The aromas are clean and mildly smokey. On the palate, the Leonista Blanco is clean, warming, with an undertow of the smoke which is used to cook the Agave hearts. Can be used as a simple sipping spirit on ice, or you can do the whole lemon and salt shot thing or in many modern cocktails which you will find on the website.
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