The process of producing tequila is based on a technique that ancient indigenous cultures practiced thousands of years ago. Tequila is a more modern upgrade from its mescal and pulque ancestors, however one can still find authenticity and tradition among the many distilleries that call the state of Jalisco, Mexico home.
Tucked away in the heart of Mexico lies a quaint little town with cobble-stone streets, neighborly residents, and a beautiful town square crowned with a breath-taking cathedral. The town is Tequila, Jalisco; the birthplace of our beloved beverage. Our story begins here in 1856 with the original founder of Sauza Tequila, Don Cenobio Sauza. A few short years after his arrival, Don Cenobio became the first person to export tequila to the United States. By the 1870’s he was producing his own brand. Sauza Tequila is the number one producing tequila today. However, it no longer belongs to the Sauza family.
Don Cenobio passed the tradtion on to his son, Don Eladio Sauza. Don Eladio continued the tradition and passed the family business on down to his son , Don Javier. Unfortunately, after the death of Don Eladio Sauza, the family business was sold off in 1976, along with two of the three distilleries. What was left to the family was their land, and the smallest of the three distilleries, Distilleria de Fortaleza.
Eight years before that, La Fortaleza (translating to fortitude) had been turned into a museum. Modern advancements in the production process deemed the old methods inefficient, but still cool to look at! The small, old-fashioned distillery functioned wonderfully as a museum until 1999, when Don Guillermo Sauza appeared on the scene.
Don Guillermo decided to restore La Fortaleza back into a functioning distillery. In 2002, he produced the first liter of true artisan tequila. In order to honor his distinguished grandfathers who pioneered the art of tequila, Don Guillermo called his product Tequila Los Abuelos (The Grandfathers). However, due to a copyright issue, the brand in the United States is known as Tequila Fortaleza.
Tequila Fortaleza is made with 100% blue agaves that are harvested from the Sauza plantation in the town of Tequila. The agaves are harvested at about seven to eight years old. Harvesting requires husking the sharp leaves from around the heart of the plant, known as the pina. The pina itself can weigh between 80 and 200lbs, but the experienced jimador can have the pina prepared in as little as three minuets!
After they’re harvested, the pinas are cooked. Many companies today use high-pressure autoclaves that steam the pinas in as little as eighteen hours. Tequila Fortaleza slowly roasts their agaves in an authentic brick oven, or horno. The traditional process usually takes between 50 and 72 hours to slowly steam the pinas to perfection. The end result is a flavor comparable to that of a baked potato cooking in the oven, as opposed to the microwave.
After they are cooked, the agave pinas must be crushed to separate the fibers from the juices. The most common method today, is to use a machine that is very similar to a wood-chipper. Tequila Fortaleza prefers the artisan method. They use what’s called a Tahona to crush the agave plants. La Tahona is a large stone wheel that is pulled around a pit in a circle, thus crushing the agaves below. Originally, it was pulled by an ox, or donkey. Tequila Fortaleza is not entirely behind the times here – they have upgraded to tractor!
Once separated from the fibers, the juices can be fermented and distilled into tequila. Again, Fortaleza chooses authenticity over efficiency. Small copper stills are used instead large vats. Smaller batches are easier to control. One clear advantage here, is the amount of methane that finds its way into the stills. If you happen to be looking for a tequila that won’t give you a hang-over, you have found it!
Tequila is classified into five categories: mixto, blanco, reposado, anejo, and extra anejo. Mixtos consist of added elements, such as sugar. Fortaleza is 100% agave, so is never classified as a mixto. They produce blanco, reposado, and anejo (also, it is rumored that an extra anejo may be on the rise!).
Blanco Fortaleza is fresh from the stills. As it has the strongest agave flavor of the three, the blanco tends to be the easiest to take and is popular amongst vodka drinkers. Although it is delicious by itself, this blanco will take a margarita from good to untouchable!
Reposado translates to rested. This type of tequila rests in oak barrels for six to nine months. The barrels used to age tequila must be stored in a cool, dark place. Carrying on the artisan methodology, Fortaleza’s aging barrels are stored the most ideal environment: a phenomenal series of underground caves. Reposado tequila takes on the oaky flavor of the barrels, as well as a golden color. The reposado tends to have a bit more of a kick to it than the blanco, and is most typically enjoyed by big tequila drinkers.
Anejo translates to aged. Fortaleza ages their anejo for up to three years in the oak barrels. The end product is enchantingly rich and full-bodied. Along with tequila connoisseurs, Fortaleza’s anejo is enjoyed widely among fine whiskey and bourbon drinkers. In fact, this particular anejo is said to be the finest tasting sipping tequila in the world!
Which of the three is best depends entirely on the pallet of the consumer. All echo their unique heritage, their authentic production process, and their artisan methodologies. Whichever you choose, one taste of Tequila Fortaleza, and you will know beyond a shadow of doubt that you have truly found something special.