Amigos y Amigas,
For a long time now i have lost the faith a little bit in the world of agave. for some reason I had a feeling that everything was working against my beliefs and that the industry was turning evil. For that reason I have been particularly active on this blog. The inspiration have been on a record low and all my energy I have spent at The Barking Dog. Which is fair enough, I expected it to be a lot of work opening a bar, but not to drown in it, but luckily I escaped just as my nose was going under the surface. I felt that I got stuck again, not sure where this leads me, what my role in all of this was, it even got to the point where I could spend a whole day without having a little Mezcal. Mental I know. I felt it was time to leave. Last time I was on holidays was in Mexico two and a half years ago and with all the hard work this industry brings with it, newly acquired knowledge taught me that it is needed more often than that. So the last three weeks I have spent on the beach with my girlfriend and a lot of Mezcal. Drinking Mezcal on the beach many days in a row made it much easier for me to put things in to perspective, and I came back a more relaxed man than before.
Upon my arrival back home a little bird had told me there was a surprise or two waiting for me in the bar and for the first time in a long while I was actually truly excited about trying a new product, butterflies in the belly kind of feeling, you know what I mean. The main attraction was the latest addition to the Ocho portfolio, but there was also a new Mezcal on the Danish market, Illegal. I have heard and read a lot about this, but never gotten around to try it sober, which is the first thing I will do after finishing this post. The basic range of Don Fulano is now available and Herencia Mexicana is if not right now in the basement of Juuls, it will be very soon. So much more about this later. The thing I have missed in Tequila lately is the power of the agave when it is un diluted. My favourite Tequilas have always been from the more traditional distilleries, and now I know why. They do not dilute the Tequila after distillation. It gives the Tequila a completely different character and power in flavour. Almost like the alcohol disappears and what is exposed is purely the flavour of the Tequila. However after drinking a lot of Mezcal which is usually at a higher abv, it is a little bit hard to go back to the 40% Tequilas. The become almost too delicate. Then I found Don Fulano 50% which has much more power in its flavour, richer notes of cooked agave, wild green plants and dusty roads. Before that the only one I knew was Herradura Blanco 46% which was far better that the export strength. And now the christmas present of the year, Ocho Anejo Cask Strength. Aged 18 months and 24 days and served at 54.4% abv this goddess of Anejo Tequilas explodes in your mouth and gives you the full expression of the agaves. This time from Rancho Los Corrales. This fills me with new hope and belief that the true agave industry will survive. The Tequila boom will most likely explode at some point and sales and promotion will go down. But we will see more and more aficionados within the category of agave.
This blog post was sponsored by a decent sized Del Maguey Minero. Salud!
What better day to get a bottle of Ocho (spanish for eight) than on June 8th? Actually I got a sneak peek at the Ocho 2010 Los Mangos Blanco last night but from today Ocho will be available via my dear friends at Juuls Vinhandel. But let us get down to business, what is Ocho and what makes it special? Well, Ocho is a joint venture between Tomas Estes, the ambassador of Tequila in Europe and the Camarena family, who also produces Tapatio, El Tesoro and recently Excellia. What makes Tequila Ocho special is that they only harvest agaves from one field (rancho) at a time. Every field is different and have different characteristics, the french term for this as I am sure most of you know is Terroir. Terroir is used to describe the natural elements that have an effect on agriculture, notably grapes grown for wine production. These elements include, soil composition, altitude, temperatures day and night through the year, rain fall, humidity and exposition to sun and winds.
It is becoming more and more agreed upon that the concept of terroir also exists with the growing of agave and the Tequila made from it. In Jalisco, the largest Tequila producing state of Mexico there are two large regions of agave and Tequila production, the Tequila Valley and Los Altos (The Highlands). As a general guideline, it is said that Tequilas made from agaves from Tequila Valley are masculine, forward in flavour with an earthy, peppery, herbal taste profile. The Tequilas made from agaves grown in Los Altos are feminine, softer, rounder, more fruity and floral. Remember that this is a guideline, as in not always correct, and never a statement of quality. Tequila Ocho takes the exploration of ‘terroir’ in tequila one giant step beyond by producing batches of Tequila from single fields (ranchos) much the way fine Burgundy wine is produced.
The process of making Ocho is somewhat more similar to the concept of making Mezcal, in the sense that the process it not stressed in any way. There is simply no shortcuts to get the full flavor of the agave. This said there are quite a few Tequila producers out there doing the real deal. When I went to La Altena, the distillery of Tapatio and El Tesoro, we also took a tour down to what was to become La Esmeralda, the distillery of Ocho. When I was there it was pretty mych an empty shell, the holes were digged out for the two tahonas (stone mills). There is something very powerful about a distillery that is not functioning. I have only seen two, La Providencia in Arenal and La Esmeralda in Arandas, somehow it is very easy to imagine the history of what has been and what is to come when you stand there. Big gaps between walls, sand blowing around, the empty echoes and completely surrounded by agaves. Very peaceful.
The funny thing about the Tequila industry is that no matter what people tell you, there is always another story. La Esmeralda never started making Ocho, but was instead the phantom distillery for Ocho. Why? La Altena was on a contract not to make another Tequila that could compete with El Tesoro in the states. Ones the contract finished, the official story could slowly, very slowly make it out into the world. I have met many people in the Tequila industry involved with Ocho one way or another, and not many people seem to know that La Altena is the distillery producing Ocho. Theese are words from Tomas Estes himself, so let us put that in the pile or reliable sources. “I think La Esmeralda was the phantom distillery you were shown. It is now in operation making some of the best ever juice to come out of los altos. -Tomas”
I will make a short introduction to what Rancho Los Mangos is and why it gives such a special flavour. Rancho “Los Mangos” is close to Michoacan along the Rio Lerma. It is dry and very hot in summer and has brown soil similar to that in the Tequila Valley. The ranch is surrounded by mountains. The Camarena Family used to go from Arandas to Rancho Los Mangos for week-end holidays and Sunday lunches. The one and a half hour drive is beautiful going through mountains , quaint villages and agave fields planted on the hillsides. Just before arriving at “Los Mangos” the soil is absolutely black in colour. Before being planted in agave (for the first time with this harvest) this land grew mangos and cherries. Some of these trees are left but not many. The rancho belonged to Carlos and Felipe’s great grandfather, Refucio Curiel. Carlos planted agave on his uncle’s land in 2000 making the age of the agaves 9 years old at harvest. Average weight of the pinas was 47-48kilos with some being over 85kilos with an average sugar content of 29-30%, industry average being 26%. Altitude is 1600 meters and this ranch is the furthest away from Arandas of all of the Camarena’s ranches being in Ayotlan County which is part of the Los Altos de Jalisco.
To those of you who still are interested and want to know more about the production of Ocho, do not worrie, just keep on reading. If not, then you should have a very good base to stand on.
Piñas are cut in half on the ‘patio’ after arriving to distillery directly from the fields. The cogollos (center) are removed from the male plants as they will add a bitterness. The halved piñas are cooked at low heat (around 80-85 degress Celsius) for 48 hours and sit in the oven for an additional 24 hours (total 72 hours in oven). By cooking slowly at such low heat, the Camarena’s are insuring that the sugars do not get burned and thus caramelized. The juice that results from the first 12 hours cooking is called ‘bitter honey’ and is discarded (it contains dirt from the agaves’ exterior surfaces as well as some of the agaves waxy green coating, which would impart bitterness to the final product).
The cooked agaves are then passed through a mill and sprayed with spring water to extract the remaining juices. The mill effectively mills or shreds the agave fiber and strips it of most remaining juice.
The resulting juice or nectar from the above two processes is known as ‘agua miel’.
Before going to the fermentation tanks, the agua miel will have spring water added to it in order to reduce the brix level so the yeast will be able to ferment properly. The ideal brix level for the agua miel to be reduced to for fermentation is about 9%.
Fermentation takes place in small (around 3,000 liters capacity) wooden vats (most distilleries have large, stainless steel). Fermentation lasts between 4-5 days (96-120 hours), depending on the season. Fermentation is all natural, using no added accelerators, chemicals, enzymes, or even yeast. Fermentation is ‘wild’ using natural yeast in the air. The mosto is kept at a temperature of about 35° C, a good temperature for the yeast. At the end of fermentation the mosto muerto will be pumped into the still for the first distillation.
The first distillation takes place in a 3,300 liter stainless steel still. The still is heated very slowly (using steam running through a coil). The first distillation will be relatively quick (1-2 hours maybe), and the alcohol coming out of it will be about 25% abv. and is known as ordinario. To be called tequila it must be (at least) twice distilled (and be between 35-55% abv). The distillers cut the heads and tails from the distillate, which ends up being about 5% of the ordinario. The heads will be re-used for the second distillation, because they contain superior alcohols (very high abv. Content) and will thus evaporate and pass through the still first, acting as a cleaning for the still since the last thing to pass through would have been the tails of the last distillation, which contain harmful elements (ie. Methanol).
The second distillation takes place in a very small copper still (300 liters) and will take about 4 hours to complete. The still is quickly heated to 65°C and then the steam is nearly shut off, only being allowed to very slowly heat the still. The tequila will start coming out of the still when the still reaches the temp. of about 78°C and will contain a high level of alcohol (about 76%) AND FLAVOR. The first 5 liters (about) are removed (heads). Once the still’s heat gets up to 91-92°C, the liquid coming out of the still is barely alcoholic and has a somewhat unpleasant taste. At this point the liquid coming out the still is deemed to be tails and is cut.
By distilling Ocho so slowly, the Camarenas are insuring that no harmful elements end up in their tequila.
After the second distillation (at which point the tequila is about 48% abv.) the tequila will be brought down to proof (40% abv.) using demineralized spring water. Most other tequila brands distill to 55% abv. Tequila Ocho (blanco) is then stored in stainless steel vats until bottling.
The Ocho destined to become Reposado will put in barrels (ex-bourbon; either Jack Daniel’s, Jim Beam, or Wild Turkey) to age for 8 weeks 8 days (just four days over the minimum (60 days) by Mexican law).
The Añejo is aged for one year exactly (El Vergel Añejo was one year one day, because the CRT could not make it on the right day!).
So now you know. Salud Amigos!