Bad tequila causes headaches, but the good kind makes you smile. If you learn nothing else from this post, that’s enough.
For many people, drinking tequila congers up images of salt, shots and crazy nights. And certainly there’s that. But, there’s also a whole other side of tequila….hand-crafted, meticulously aged, smooth and celebration worthy.
Last year, I had the privilege of visiting the beautiful highlands of Jalisco – the home of Patrón – and it completely changed the way I think about, drink and enjoy tequila. The Patrón Hacienda is nothing short of spectacular. From the grand entry to the lush gardens the compound embodies old world elegance, as did the hospitality of each and every person I encountered while visiting.
Just like champagne is only champagne if it comes from the Champagne region of France; tequila is only tequila if it comes from the hills of Jalisco in Mexico. Jalisco is home to endless fields of agave, the heart and soul of tequila.
All Patrón tequilas are made from 100% Weber Blue Agave – and that makes all the difference. Technically tequila only needs to include 51% agave to be called tequila, and the other 49% can be sugar, water, fillers, worms (just kidding) but that’s what can get you into trouble. Stick with a 100% tequila and unless you go too crazy, you’re in for a good time sans hangover. (Did you know tequila is the only liquor that is not a depressant?)
Tequila is made from the juice of the agave plant. After 7-8 years growing in the mineral-rich red soil, ‘jimadors’ harvest the agave using a coa to chip away the tough outer leaves, revealing the heart of the plant sometimes referred to as the pineapple or piña.
The piñas are then hand chopped and roasted in small batch ovens for 72+ hours. Fresh from the ovens, the piñas are macerated (similar to how grapes are macerated to make wine) using a 2-ton volcanic Tahona wheel (as opposed to using a machine for maceration) and distilled in small batch copper stills.
Once it’s distilled and finished, the tequila is ready to enjoy. As is, the tequila is bottled as Patrón Silver. It’s their most popular brand and the base for all the others. The only difference between Silver, Reposado and Añejo is how long its aged, and in what type of wooden barrel.
Just like wine and whiskey, the color and flavor of tequila is determined by how long the juice is aged and what type of wood barrels are used. New French Oak, Used American Oak and New Hungarian Oak all play a role in the smooth, mellow flavor of Patron. One isn’t ‘better’ than the other – it’s all about your flavor preference.
- Silver is ready after the distillery process, and isn’t aged
- Reposado is aged for at least 2 months, but less than 11 months
- Añejo is aged for a minimum of 12 months
The Patrón bottle is about as iconic as they come, and amazingly no two are the same. The same family who made the first bottle still makes them today. Each bottles is checked for quality at every stage in the process. Any imperfection, and it’s smashed.
Two other quick thoughts on what I think makes Patrón special, besides the quality of the tequila. First, they’ve grown by not getting bigger and more commercial, but by multiplying what they do. They didn’t build bigger brink ovens and copper stills; they built more of them. Clearly Patrón is a big global brand, but I’ve seen first hand their commitment to creating a high quality product, the old fashion way.
And second, their commitment to the world they inhabit – it’s not the sexist part of tequila making but there is almost no waste at Patrón. Everything is refreshed and recycled, using state of the art technology. For example, every bottle is made from recycled glass and 100% of the tequila waste water is reused, either in their vast compost facility or within the factory.
So on this Cinco de Mayo, let’s raise a glass to our neighbors to the south and thank them for the gift of hand-crafted tequila.
¡Arriba, abajo, al centro, pa’ dentro, mis amigos!
PS – thank you to the talented Miker Stovall and Candy Peterson for the awesome pictures!
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