Farm To Bar
- Article Author: Master Mixologist Patricia Richards
Farm To Bar
During a recent vacation, I found myself in the agave fields of Mexico, thinking about the popular Farm-to-Table concept. There I was, observing the very same process, but from the tequila perspective, as I pondered a “farm-to-bar” concept, with respect to tequila! How facinating!
Farm-to-table' (or farm-to-fork) refers to the stages of the production of food: harvesting, storage, processing, packaging, sales, and consumption. The goal of farm-to-table, is to shorten the journey from the farm to your table, so you might even know the farmer, who raised the chicken, who laid the eggs, you just ate for breakfast. Food just tastes better than the mass-produced stuff and it is often better for you, with higher nutritive value, fewer pesticides, herbicides and growth hormones, grown and processed with love, by the farmer down the street.
My farm-to-bar concept, starts with a group called the Tequila Interchange Project www.tequilainterchangeproject.com as I was nominated by a colleague in the industry, to participate in this program. It's basically a small group of passionate industry professionals, such as myself, who act as a bridge between the U.S. and Mexico, exchanging knowledge and ideas with regard to the tequila industry as a whole. Our first stop on this journey, was to the CRT, a tequila regulatory board who tests soil samples and tequila samples, among other things; acting as a quality assurance agency for the tequila industry.
Our next stop, was to the Highlands of Jalisco, where we stayed overnight in the small town of Atotonilco. While there, we were taken to the agave fields, as they were being toiled by the professional Jimadors. Jimadors are agave farmers, and we even "attempted" their job, using a coa knife to peel off the leaves of the Casa Weber Blue Agaves, where the pineapple or piña is then revealed. It is this ripe piña, taking anywhere from 6-12 years to mature, that is used in the production of tequila.
Later, we toured the Siete Leguas tequila distillery and observed the piñas cooked in traditional stone ovens and even tasted some cooked piña, which had a sinewy, sweet-barbeque taste to it. Next to these ovens, was a yellow piña shredder and the Tahona (stone wheel), which is the artisanal way of crushing the piña to extract it’s juice and pulp for fermentation, using mules to pull the Tahona. Later, we observed the “musto” (agave juice & agave fiber), naturally fermenting in large stainless steel vats, which takes several days, to convert the agave sugars into alcohol
(2-3 days in the summer and 5 days in the winter). Each company keeps its own strain of yeast a closely guarded secret, but Siete Leguas uses only the naturally occurring yeasts found in the air of their distillery.
After fermentation, this product is then distilled in copper stills once, to produce what is called "ordinario", a slightly cloudy or milky liquid, and then distilled for a second time to produce a clear, silver tequila with a much higher proof. Some distilleries distill this spirit again to produce a triple distilled tequila. However, some tequila experts consider triple distilling of tequila flawed, and believe that it removes too many flavor elements or organoleptic qualities from the spirit. From here, the Tequila is diluted and bottled as a "silver or blanco Tequila", or it is pumped into barrels to begin the aging process, becoming either a reposado, anejo or muy anejo tequila.
The following day, another shuttle ride, took us to the Lowlands region of Jalisco, to the actual town called Tequila where we toured a much more factory-like infrastructure, the distillery of Sauza. Later on that day, the Casa Noble distillery, with its USDA organic tequila certification, graciously invited us to a tequila tasting on their beautiful grounds, where we sat enjoying one delicious single barrel anejo after another. Let's just say that this experience made me a very happy girl!!! J
Yes, this to me was the meaning of farm-to-bar, if there ever was one. Having that first-hand distillery experience and building a personal relationship with the distiller, while obtaining first-hand knowledge of how the producer makes the tequila that I drink. Farm-to-bar does not include such concepts as: genetically modified, diffused, flavor-enhanced, or mass-produced, but from the hands, earth and heart where it was originally conceived and ultimately founded. This farm-to-bar concept encapsulates the very truth and authenticity of how tequila came to be, and where I hope more of it will return.