Tequila is a distilled beverage made from the blue agave plant, primarily in the area surrounding the city of Tequila, 40 miles northwest of Guadalajara, in the highlands of the central western Mexican state of Jalisco. Although many visitors know the area for the Pacific coast resort town of Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco also has mining, manufacturing, arts, crafts and jewelry industries. Although tequila is similar to mezcal, modern variations differs somewhat in the method of its production, in the use of only blue agave plants, as well as in its regional specificity.
Until the late 19th century, the agaves were roasted in stone-lined pits in the ground, heated by wood fires, as mezcal is made today, but as demand for tequila grew, producers found they were running out of both wood and agave. Jalisco’s hills were progressively deforested by the demand for wood, it cleared new land for agave planting and producers realized their method of production was no longer sustainable. The above-ground oven was developed to replace the traditional in-ground pits, which did not demand as much fuel as the traditional pits, and by the end of the 19th century, all manufacturers were using the above-ground alternatives.
After harvesting, the plants are transported to the ovens where they are slowly baked to break down their complex fructans. Then, they are either shredded or mashed under a large stone wheel called a “tahona”. Next, the extracted agave juice is then poured into either large wooden or stainless steel vats for several days to ferment. This is then distilled twice to form the tequila. From there, it is either bottled as silver tequila, or it is pumped into wooden barrels to age, where it develops a mellower flavor and amber color.
If you are unsure of what to do in Puerto Vallarta, or you are simply looking to experience the greatest of Mexican traditions, try heading to a nearby tequila distillery. Witness the process, taste the results, and finish off your day alongside some of the best traditional Mexican food. The perfect complement to the very best tequila the country has to offer.