I tend to travel a lot. No matter where I am, I try the local beer. If I like it, I often seek out the local brewer. You’d be amazed at how often you can get a brewery tour—at pretty much any hour of the day—any day of the week. If the owner or head brewer is proud of what he’s producing, he’s going to want to show it off and then share plenty of it with you afterwards.
Apparently, the same rules apply with Tequila and my new friend Guillermo Erickson Sauza, from Fortaleza Tequila was more than willing to share. The Sauza family has been producing tequila for 5 generations and it shows. However, I wasn’t interested in exploring the eponymous industrial scale production facility which was sold by the Sauza family in 1976. Instead, I wanted to see the artisanal Fortaleza facility, where tequila is still made in the traditional way.
With that in mind, here’s a crash course in Tequila making;
You start by harvesting the agave from the fields. Note the town of Tequila in the distance.
The leaves of the agave plant are removed so that all that remains is the fleshy stem (pina) that has the maximum quantity of sugar.
Then, processing starts. The pina is slowly baked in an oven to break down the complex sugars into simpler fructose. The pinas are then mashed (see the millstone in the back of the collection tank). Using water, the fructose is washed out of the fibrous plant material through hard work resulting in an agave juice. (Notice how small the facility is).
After the fiber has been thoroughly washed of sugars, it is left on a rack to allow all the agave juice to drip back into the collection tank. Machines can accomplish the same task in much less time, but you end up with overwashed material and unwanted flavors.
The extracted agave juice is then fermented into a wort or mosto with low alcohol content.
The foam on top means it’s working!!
After it has been fermented, it is distilled.
At this stage, silver tequila can be bottled directly and tequila destined to become reposado or anejo is pumped into casks to age.
Here is the finished product. Having drunk my way westwards across Mexico for nearly three weeks, I can say that this is the finest tequila I’ve had. Clearly, others agree as it continues to win all the tequila awards. Unfortunately, all the stores in Miami are sold out–trust me, I’ve been calling around.
Let’s just say that Guillermo has it all figured out and it sounds like his annual sales growth is off the charts. This is the sort of business that I would be interested in owning part of–too bad he doesn’t need any capital for his growth. He already has it all; a few dozen hectares of agave fields, a massive estate on a hill overlooking his fields, his own tequila production facility and a tequila cave bar for escaping the heat of a Mexican afternoon.
Guillermo sitting to the right, watching the preparations for our afternoon drinks.
Premium tequila has minimal penetration into the US and sales are growing nearly 50% a year. Clearly there’s an opportunity for me here. Unfortunately, the hunt for the right opportunity goes on…