Five different distillates are made at Destilería Colonial de Jalisco.
Distillate No.1 - a mixto (51% agave) made from agave cooked in a combination of autoclave and traditional ovens and crushed in a modern roller mill. This is only used to make tequilas such as Viuda de Romero for the domestic market.
Distillate No.2 - a mixto (51% agave) made from agave cooked traditional ovens, crushed in a modern roller mill and distilled to different specifications than Distillate No.1. This is used to make ‘standard’ Olmeca Tequilas.
Distillate No.3 - a 100% agave made using traditional masonry ovens, a tahona wheel and fermentation as well as distillation with plant fibres. This is used to make Olmeca Teźon Tequila and a proportion is also blended distillate No.4 to make Olmeca Altos Tequila.
Distillate No.4 - a 100% agave made using traditional masonry ovens, crushed using a modern roller mill and hence distilled without plant fibres. This is blended with distillate No.3 to make Olmeca Altos Tequila.
Distillate No.5 - a 100% agave made using traditional masonry ovens, crushed using a modern roller mill but using different distillation conditions to make a tequila with a lighter profile.
All the agave used at Destilería Colonial de Jalisco come from the Highlands with 60% coming from Pernod Ricard’s own estates and 40% from third party sources. Even the agave harvested from other farmer’s fields tend to be cut by Pernod Ricard’s own skilled jimadores to help ensure the leaves are cut close to the piña and the quiote are removed. If left these can give the piña a bitter flavour. The jimadores also discard plants they consider under or over matured.
Olmeca operate three 55 tone traditional ‘Mampostería’ brick ovens. The piña are first cut in half and then hand loaded into the ovens. They must be carefully stacked to allow the steam to penetrate during the cooking process. The piña are slow steam-roasted for 36 hours at 93°C (200°F). The steam is then stopped and the piña rested for 8 hours before the doors are opened and the piña are left for a further 8 hours to cool. Syrup collected from drains in the floor of the ovens during cooking has an 18°brix and this is hydrolysed and used later in the process for yeast propagation. Typically one of the three ovens is cooking while another is cooling and the third is being loaded.
The one autoclave at the distillery was installed to help boast capacity and is only used to make Viuda de Romero, a ‘value’ tequila sold exclusively to the domestic market. The autoclave works at a temperature of 43°C (100°F) and 15lb/inch pressure and reduces steaming time from 36 hours to just 11 hours. It also cools more quickly than the brick ovens due to its steel sides. Comparing the piña from both types of oven, piña from the autoclave is noticeably darker brown in colour with more of a pronounced caramel smoky flavour.
Unusually, Olmeca operate a modern roller mill and a traditional tahona millstone. Roller mills crush the piñas, saturate the exposed fibres with water to wash sugars from the fibres and then squeeze any remaining sugars from the fibres using a mangle-like action. The sugary water then passes through a Pachaquil screen which allows solids below a certain size to pass through but screens out larger partials. The size of partials allowed onto fermentation and distillation has an influence on the tequila’s final flavour.
The tahona millstone weighs two tonnes and is carved from one piece of volcanic rock. It takes four months to make one wheel so a spare is kept just in case a crack should develop. Thankfully the original wheel has now been in use for 12 years with no sign of any cracks. In times gone by the tahona wheel would have been pulled around the pit by mule but in this most modern of distilleries the tohona is driven mechanically. A worker follows the wheel around the pit racking the piña fibres back into its path. While the modern roller crushers literally was the just and sugars from the plant’s fibres, the idea of the tahona wheel is to break up the plant fibres so they absorb the sugary liquid. It takes two hours for the tahona wheel to process 1 1/2 tonnes of piña. The resulting fibrous pulp and juice are then fermented together using cultured yeast originally isolated from an agave plant. Fermentation of the roller mill musto takes 36-40 hours but the fibrous musto from the tohona takes longer as the yeast has to work around the fibres to access sugars.
Distillate No.2 is made in small 750 litre copper pot stills using the fermented musto from the tahona wheel with the agave fibres which are collected from the fermentation tank and loaded into the still with large stainless steel buckets which hang from ceiling hoists. This first distillation lasts 1 1/2 - 2 hours and produces a distillate of 23% alcohol by volume. The distillate from three first distillations is used to charge two stills for the second distillation, also in 750 litre copper pot stills but without agave fibres being added. This second slow distillation lasts 4-5 hours with around 50% of the run discarded as heads and tails to produce Distillate No.2 at 58-59% alcohol by volume.
Distillate No.1 and distillate No.3 are made in larger copper pot stills. Distillate No.1 from musto fermented from 51% agave sugars (Mampostería oven/autoclave baked and rolled milled) with 49% cane sugars.
Distillate No.3 is made from 100% Mampostería oven baked roller milled agave sugars. Remember ‘standard’ Olmeca tequilas are made from Distillate No.1., Olmeca Teźon Tequilas are made from Distillate No.2 and Olmeca Altos Tequilas are made from a blend of Distillates No.2 and No.3.
The barrels used at Olmeca are ex-bourbon casks with Wild Turkey, Jim Beam and Four Roses being main source of supply. The tequila-f