Tequila from the Ground Up - Part II
By the La Cata Team
This is a multi-part series about the process of making tequila. If you haven't had the opportunity to read Part I, click the link before moving on to Part II.
Part II - Hydrolysis aka Cooking
Harvested piñas are extremely dense and can weigh over 100 pounds. Before fermentation can be carried out, the lengthy carbohydrate chains in the agave hearts must be broken down into simple sugars. There are essentially three processes for doing this.
Cooking the agave is the most common way to accomplish this. In tequila, the most traditional method is steam-cooking the agave brick or stone ovens for two to four days.
Agave can also be steam-cooked in an autoclave. These are essentially stainless steel pressure cookers that can cook the agave in as few as 12 hours, though some producers use lower pressure and cook for as long as two days.
Finally, the most efficient and industrial process involve machines called diffusers. A “pure” diffuser process extracts complex carbohydrates from the raw agave using acids or enzymes -there is no actual cooking. Diffusers can also be used for a nearly perfectly efficient extraction of sugar from previously (oven- or autoclave-) cooked agave.
Each method has its pros and cons, and its defenders and detractors.
Now check out Part III!