Have you ever stopped to wonder what makes your Tequila Sunrise taste so good? You need a good tequila! The process is long and quite tedious, but well worth it. The source of sugar that is used to concoct a fine bottle of tequila begins with the harvesting of the agave plant. This plant only grows in hot and arid climates, typically places like Mexico and Southwest portions of the United States.1There are only a total of five states in the country of Mexico that are allowed to produce tequila: Jalisco (being the biggest producer), Michoacan, Guanajuato, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas.1
The agave plant is allowed to grow for roughly five to ten years.2 The longer it is allowed to grow, the higher the content of starch will be. The type of agave that is used varies, but generally it is the blue agave. Once the plant is ripe for harvesting, it is up rooted and the leaves are manually removed to expose the “piña” or the heart of the agave.3The heart is the only part of the plant used. The piña are allowed to cook in large stainless steel ovens that allow for the conversion of starch to fermentable sugar.1
Once removed, the sugar is extracted by way of milling.1 The extracted sugars are then allowed to sit and ferment in large vats, either made of steel or wood. The chemical equation for fermentation is as follows: C6H12O6 -> 2CO2 + 2C2H5OH.4 Simply put, glucose, C6H12O6, breaks down into carbon dioxide, CO2, and ethanol, C2H5OH (what we need!). Depending on the brand of tequila, the time that is required for fermentation varies. Sometimes the addition of yeast is incorporated to speed up the rate of fermentation, but the cycle lasts from as little as six to twelve days.1 The type of yeast used varies by maker and by the quality of the tequila. One of the better know yeast is the SafTeq yeast, which is used in many recipes.
From here, the fermented vats are distilled in large containers. The temperature is essential for yielding a quality product. Generally, the temperature must stay with in the range of 140 to 185 °F.1The number of times that the particular batch is filtered determines the amount of alcohol yield. The first time the product is distilled, the alcohol content is about 20-30%.1The second time the product is distilled, the alcohol content allows for a yield of 35-50% percent.1The final time that the product is distilled, the alcohol content of 100%.1 The distillation process is not the only way of determining percent yield. We must remember that the type of agave used plays a role.
Following the distillation, the product is placed in wooden barrels to allow for aging. Barrels are often burned on the inside for the retention of flavor.1 The tequila barrels are placed in temperature-controlled storage until it is time for bottling.1 The longer the barrels sit, the more the flavor from the barrel sets in. Also, the color of the tequila will vary with time.
Bottling is the last step and, oddly enough, the most time consuming due to legalities.1As discussed earlier, only five states in Mexico are allowed to produce tequila.2 This means that the label must indicate in which state the agave plant was grown and produced, and the bottle must have “made in Mexico.”1 The label must also state the sale of final product is ok for sale and distribution where deemed appropriate.
After all that, you simple just need a good recipe for a mixed drink. The Tequila sunrise just so happens to be one of my favorites. The drink consists of 1 and ½ ounce of Tequila, ¾ cup of orange juice, ¾ ounce of grenadine syrup, and if you happen to like your drinks garnished, an orange slice for the rim.5 So, the next time you’re looking for a nice and crisp drink, try a tequila sunrise!