Tequila Cuervo La Rojeña S.A. de C.V, the largest agricultural company in Mexico, owning a staggering 38,500 hectares of agave fields with over 15 million agave plants. Cuervo employ 200 jimadors which still use the traditional tools and methods handed down through generations to each harvest up to 350 piñas a day.
Some of Cuervo’s fields are not accessible by road and so donkeys are still used to carry piñas to the main roads. Cuervo also helps sustain local farmers by purchasing a small percentage of piñas from them and the pick of the ripest piñas come to La Rojeña distillery where their sugar content are randomly checked and the entire batch will be sent back to the farmer if the piñas tested plants do not meet Curevo’s standards.
Prior to cooking the very largest agave are split to ensure an even bake. The distillery operates ten traditional masonry ovens, still used due to the flavour they impart. These reach temperatures of 92-96°C at a pressure below 4psi (in contrast to modern high pressure autoclaves). The piña are steam cooked for up to 48 hours, followed by one hour of resting without steam and then left to cool for another 14 hours.
The piña are then crushed in a modern roller mill to release the plants sugary juice. This is fermented using a cultured yeast in 50,000 litre stainless steel fermentation tanks. These are water cooled to keep within a range of 29-36°C. Fermentation lasts around 50 hours with air pumped into the tank for the first 10 hours as aerobic fermentation encourages yeast cells to multiply. This produces a mosto of 12-14% alc./vol. ready for distillation.
First distillation takes place in one of four copper pot stills, each with a capacity of 10,000 litres and produces an abordinario (distillate) of 30-34% alc./vol.. The second distillation is in one of another set of four stills, this time with a capacity of 6,400 litres producing a tequila at 55-60% alc./vol. (Reserve de Famila is distilled to just 45% alc./vol.)
The wooden casks used for ageing are predominantly ex-American whiskey casks but a proportion are French Limousin. Newly acquired first refill casks account for 50% of the oak used at the distillery.