Blue agave fields in Jalisco, one hour outside of Guadalajara.

I’m ashamed to say that I had no idea how tequila was made before our trip to Mexico. Something about agave, and how it has to be blue agave? Something about that being a cactus? That’s about all I could tell you. Considering how many margaritas I’ve had in my lifetime, (I mean, I DO live in San Diego), I probably should have learned about this a long time ago. Needless to say, our trip to the Jose Cuervo distillery was an educational one! I walked away shocked with how similar the process is to that of wine-making.

It all begins, of course, in the field. Blue agave is a slow-growing cactus that takes several years to mature.

I was surprised how much obsidian was in the fields. It was everywhere: in fact, I wouldn’t recommend wearing sandals in an agave field of Jalisco. I picked up a tiny piece of obsidian as a souvenir, ’cause I’m weird like that.


Blue agave.

In addition the ground being dangerous, navigating around these ridiculously spiky agave “leaves” is quite the feat as well. They are incredibly sharp.

Agave harvest Sedimentality

Harvesting the agave. Workers are paid per piña they harvest.

A worker from Cuervo demonstrated how the plants are harvested. Using an incredibly sharp tool (again, what’s with all the danger that goes into tequila making?) he cut off all of the leaves. What is left is only the center of the plant. It looks like a pineapple and is aptly called a piña, which means “pineapple” in Spanish.

Piñas after steaming.

Piñas after steaming.

The piñas are brought back to the factory where they are steamed in large vats. The steam turns the piñas dark brown, almost like they have been caramelized. When we went inside, we were served a sample of the agave to see how it tastes at this point in the process.

Steamed agave

A sample of the agave after steaming.

This was a shocker to me: it was SO sweet! Recipes with agave nectar have been all the rage lately, but I still didn’t expect it to be so incredibly sugary. It tasted as if it had been soaked in a sugar syrup, and it reminded me of the sugar cane we bought when my parents took me to Hawaii as a child.

After this, much like wine, the pinas are pressed. The juice is fermented in large vats (I didn’t have time to take a photo of this: we were rushed through this part of the tour as it is a working factory).

The aging room at Mundo Cuervo.

The aging room at Mundo Cuervo.

After fermentation, the juice is placed in barrels to mature. Again, just like wine!

Much like with wine, the longer it is in the barrel, the more mellow and complex the flavors become, and the darker the color is.

The final step? Enjoy!

Sedimentality Amanda Jones

For all the years I’ve seen people turn their noses up at blended margaritas . . . it’s how they do it at Cuervo! Does that count for something?