Patrón may be one of the largest tequila brands yet it remains one of the most artisanal with 1,600 people working in its distillery. Although volumes are massive, the brick ovens, wooden fermenters and copper stills are all tiny – there are just a lot of them. Instead of building bigger ovens, fermenters and stills, or increasing the batch size, Patrón has increased production capacity by exactingly replicating its original small batch process designed by Master Distiller, Francisco Alcaraz. Hacienda Patrón now houses 12 small distilleries on one site with another, again a clone distillery, in the centre of the small town of Atotonilco El Alto nearby. And construction of more small clone distilleries continues.
Production of Patrón starts with Weber Blue Agave, sourced locally from the Highlands of Jalisco. The distillery was sited here to ensure plentiful freshly harvested agave. The Jalisco Highlands are preferred to agave grown in Tequila Valley due the region’s higher annual rainfall, soil rich in iron oxide, high altitude and cooler temperatures, which all contribute to agave with a higher sugar content - a major contributor to the quality of the finished tequila.
Unlike many tequilas which add sugar to stretch production (mixto tequilas), all Patrón tequilas are made with all the fermentable sugars coming exclusively from agave. Hence, they are termed “100% agave tequila” with every bottle certified as such with the Mexican government’s CRT certification symbol. The labels also have the four digit NOM number 1492, a guarantee that all Patrón tequila comes from Hacienda Patrón.
The piña is the heart of the agave plant and in the case of Patrón, and other 100% agave tequilas, is the source of all the sugars used in the fermentation that, along with water and yeast, makes the beer-like mosto that is distilled to make tequila.
Patrón ensure a continuous supply of high quality piña by having long-term contracts with their suppliers, mostly families.
Importantly, Patrón have strict quality requirements for the piña they buy. Those not meeting these requirements are rejected.
Prior to being hand-staked in the ovens, the piña are cut into four segments to ensure a thorough uniform bake. This steam baking process converts starches in the piña into fermentable sugars. A slow roast and prolonged cooling period is key to attaining the desired flavour profile.
Patrón slow roast in small traditional brick ovens with alternate periods of steam and rest.
Sweet agave syrup is collected from a channel in the bottom of the brick ovens and Patrón only collects the purest agave syrup from the last 6-7 hours of cooking. The roasted piña are unloaded from the ovens by hand and then sent to the next stage of production, the two different crushing processes at Patrón.
Patrón is one of only six tequila producers we know of to use tradition Tahona Mills to crush piña. The distillery also uses more modern five-step roller-mills and the two types of mill produce two distinct styles of tequila.
The roller-mill machines crush and squeeze cooked agave from the brick ovens to release its sugary juice. As the agave fibres move through the mill, they are sprayed with water to wash more of the precious juice from the fibre and this sweet mosto is sent to a holding tank ready to be sent onto the fermentation tanks.
Meanwhile, quite separately, cooked piña from one oven is evenly split between two Tahona pits to be crushed using the traditional Tahona stone mill method. In this process agave fibre is pressed between a two-ton Tahona volcanic rock mill stone and the river bed stone floor of a floor circular pit with the stone being propelled slowly around the pit by a mechanised arm. This slow, three-hour process releases juices which are then reabsorbed by agave fibres. The juice saturated fibres are loaded onto a conveyor by hand and sent to the fermentation tanks.
The Tahona mill crushed agave and roller-mill crushed agave go through different fermentation processes, both open topped pinewood fermentation vessels but with two differences:
- The Tahona milled juice is fermented in small vessels while the roller-mill juice ferments in lager vessels (but still tiny compared to most other large tequila distillers).
- Unlike the roller-mill fermenters which only hold mosto (agave juice), the Tahona crushed agave fermentation includes both mosto and bagasse (juice saturated fibre). The fibre floats on top of the fermentation vessel to create a partial seal and the inclusion of the fibre produces a richer tequila with an earthy, herbacious, baked agave flavour. The roller-mill crushed agave fermentation produces a more citrusy tequila while the Tahona mill has an earthier agave character.
It’s worth noting that the pinewood of the fermentation vessels impart no flavour, although the wood does harbour microbes and importantly helps insulate against temperature extremes. These traditional wooden fermenters need replacing every five years so are expensive to maintain and labour-intensive to clean between fermentations.
The acidity of the water and its mineral content are all critical to the fermentation process and so the flavour of the tequila. Patrón’s water is drawn from a deep aquifer located below the distillery site – one of the factors that influenced the distillery location. The water is naturally soft and has a consistent mineral balance perfect for tequila production, although there is a subtle difference between the water supplying the main distillery and that supplying nearby Casa Patrón, hence both roller-mill tequilas are blended along with the Tahona tequila in the finished product.
Patrón is made from just three ingredients, agave, water and yeast – all three greatly influencing the flavour of the final tequila. While most tequila distilleries buy their yeast from third-party suppliers or take the chance on naturally occurring air-bone and surface yeasts, Patrón are in full control of their yeast, saying that yeast contributes as much as 70% of the tequila’s flavour. Hence, Patrón propagate their own proprietary yeast strain, found naturally on agave plants.
As with other aspects of the production process at Patrón, the pot stills are tiny compared to most tequila producers and are constructed from copper rather than the cheaper, longer lasting stainless-steel stills used by many others. The benefit of copper being that it reacts with alcohol vapours in the still to sacrificially remove bad tasting sulphur from the distillate.
All the stills are heated by steam serpentines, but as with the proceeding processes, the small batch distillation process at Patrón differ slightly between the Tahono and roller-mill sides of the distillery.
In the Tahona distillation, the first primario distillation Is with both mosto (agave juice) and bagasse (juice saturated fibre). Patrón is one of only a handful of distilleries to use fibre in the distillation process. The second Tahona distillation is in an even smaller capacity still.
The roller-mill copper pot stills are larger, the size and shape of all the stills is according to the original exacting specifications demanded by Master Distiller, Francisco Alcaraz.
As the mosto, which is around 4% alc./vol. heats up and boils, different alcohols and compounds flow from the condenser, firstly the ‘head’ consisting of unpleasant highly volatile alcohols and lastly the ‘tails’, consisting of oils and other less volatile compounds. Between the heads and tails flows the all-important ‘heart’ and it down to the distiller operating the still to judge when to make the cuts to send the unwanted alcohols to one tank for recycling and the heart to another tank to go onto second distillation.
The heart of the first distillation produces a distillate of around 25% alc./vol. and during the second distillation this is rectified to 55% alc./vol., again only selecting the middle ‘heart’ of the run. Heads and tails from both first and second distillations are recycled and mixed with the mosto to charge the next first distillation.
The distillers at Patrón do not use computers to decide when to cut from heads to hearts and hearts to tails, instead they rely on the tradition method - experience along with thermometers and hydrometers. Consequently, these are the most experienced people who graduate to their position after working for years in other parts of the distillery.
Like most other tequilas, Patrón tequilas are double distilled, with the exception of both Gran Patrón Burdeos and Gran Patrón Platinum which are triple-distilled.
After roller-mill and Tahona distillations have been filtered they are blended together make Patrón Silver and reduced from 55% alc./vol. to bottling strength with distilled water. Or, alternatively, the blended tequila goes into cask to become one of Patrón’s rage of aged tequilas.
Remember, Patrón’s Piedra and Roca tequilas are made only using Tahona distillate but even these require careful blending between casks.
Patrón tequila’s (with the obvious exception of their unaged Silver tequilas) are aged anywhere between a minimum of three months for Patrón Reposado to seven years for Añejo 7 Años and are aged at high proof - 55% alc./vol.. A bewildering range of different cask types are used, all of which are toasted:
Patrón’s core range Reposado and Añejo tequilas are aged in five distinct cask types:
•French Limousin oak
•French Allier oak
•American oak ex bourbon barrels
•New American oak barrels
Patrón Silver - unaged
Roca Patrón Silver - unaged
Gran Patrón Platinum - rested 30 days in oak tanks
Patrón Reposado - aged 3-5 months in combination of 5 cask types above
Roca Patrón Reposado - aged 4-6 months exclusively in ex-bourbon barrels
Patrón Añejo - aged 12-15 months in combination of 5 cask types above
Roca Patrón Anejo - aged 14-16 months exclusively in ex-bourbon barrels
Patrón Gran Burdeos - aged 2 two years (1 year in ex-bourbon barrels, 10 months in French oak barrels, 2 months finishing in first-growth Bordeaux wines barrels)
Patrón Extra Anejo - 3 years in combination of 5 cask types above
Gran Patrón Piedra - aged 3 years in French and American oak
The size and type of cask, type of wood (American oak, European oak or Hungarian oak), type and number of previous fills, location, temperature and humidity all influence the flavour of the aging tequila. Hence, blending the contents of different cask types is essential to attain the desired consistent character of the finished tequilas.
After blending Patrón tequilas are reduced to bottling strength with distilled water. Everything at the distillery is hand crafted and unusually, this continues through to the bottling line where the filling machine, necessary to ensure every bottle has the correct volume, is the only mechanised part of the process. Every bottle is hand-corked, hand-labelled and hand-wrapped. Patrón say that at least 60 hands touch each bottle before it leaves the distillery.