2.- The production of distilled agave beverages
Agave represents an important economic, historical and cultural heritage in Mexico. The wide distribution of agave species throughout the arid zones of Mexican territory, their permanence in the plant landscape and the variety of uses in force in rural communities make agave and sotol plants, fundamental resources for indigenous and mestizo peoples. One of the most important cultural bases of pre-Hispanic peoples is the fermentation process of fruit juices and other plants for food preparation. The juices of agaves or sotoles, cooked or baked, were used in the preparation of fermented beverages with alcoholic content because they enhance the nutritional value of food, produce mind-altering effects and function as disinfectants and analgesics.
The tradition present in the elaboration process of Mexican distilled spirituous makes use of different species of agaves and sotoles as raw material. In the past, the agave distilling factories were located in places far from urban centers, in ravines near watercourses and streams. The rugged terrain and geographic isolation favored access to water and greater availability of wild agave plants.
Even today, distilled agave or sotol beverages are traditionally made from five basic stages that include:
- selection and cutting of mature agave stems
- baking or cooking of the agave and/or sotol stems
- crushing of the cooked agave stems
- natural and spontaneous fermentation of the agave juices and musts
- double distillation process.
The techniques, tools and materials used during the production process are similar in all agave distilled beverage factories. However, there are subtleties that highlight and give distinctive personality to each resulting distilled beverage and are related to local or regional differences in historical taste, type of still, species of agave used as raw material.