Tequila has changed a lot since the early days. Most producers have switched from time consuming, old-school methods to high-efficiency production. But has this trend helped or harmed the overall quality of tequila?
We decided to find out in the most honest way possible — a blind taste test. We wanted to know which method produced the most enjoyable tequila: the use of a traditional brick oven, the super modern diffuser machine, or somewhere in between? First, here’s a review of the production methods used to convert the starches (or, more accurately, “inulin”) in an agave into fermentable sugars:
Old School Method: Stone/Brick Oven
In a traditional brick oven, the process of steam cooking can take a long time — usually around 36 hours — and then another day or so longer for the agaves to cool down. But it is still done by some because it caramelizes the sugars in a way that has a desirable affect on the flavor.
More Efficient: Autoclave
These are giant steel tubes that can cook agaves under intense steam pressure in about 8 hours. They can cook more agaves at a time, too.
Super Modern: The Diffuser
The diffuser is a machine about the size of a basketball court that inverses the traditional tequila-making processes in the name of efficiency. Instead of cooking first, and then separating the sugars from the fibers, a diffuser extracts the starches (inulin) first, using blasts of high-pressure water as agaves pass by on a conveyer belt. The cooking process happens later, if at all.
In some cases there is no cooking at all, and the agaves are soaked in a bath of hydrochloric acid, which chemically converts the inulin into sugars instead of using heat. This is the way that most agave nectars are made.
Instead of using acid, some diffuser-made products use high pressure vertical autoclaves to cook/boil the slurry coming out of the diffuser, which is then converted into sugars.
Using a diffuser is the fastest and cheapest way to produce tequila. Most of the big tequila brands have switched to this method because, well, it looks great on the bottom line.
We chose 2 tequilas to represent each method and gave blind samples to 32 members of the Tequila Matchmaker tasting panel. All samples were produced in the Tequila Valley region of Jalisco.
1 – Purasangre Blanco (Modified autoclave*)
2 – Tres Generaciones Plata (Diffuser)
3 – Siembra Valles Blanco (Stone/Brick Oven)
4 – Casa Dragones Blanco (Diffuser)
5 – Fortaleza Blanco (Stone/Brick Oven)
6 – Partida Blanco (Autoclave)
*Technically Purasangre is made in an autoclave, but it’s an autoclave with the atmospheric pressure turned all the way down so that it’s basically an oven. (Thanks to Travis Baker for supplying this technical detail!)
So, which production method produced the highest blind tasting scores? Here’s a quick breakdown, based on the results of this blind tasting:
- Diffuser-made products are less complex than traditionally-made tequilas. They tend to produce a very neutral end product, and therefore often require the use of additives to try to make it taste like tequila.
- Diffuser-made products can often be identified by the presence of “medicinal,” “chemical,” “fake fruit,” or “candy-like” aromas and flavors, usually derived from the use of additives
- The traditionally-made tequilas in our lineup contained more of the cooked agave aromas and flavors that tequila aficionados are looking for
- The more traditional the process, the higher the scores were
- Diffuser-made tequilas saw the lowest overall scores in flavor, followed by aroma
- When tasted blind, people are less likely to recommend diffuser-made products to others
- You cannot use the price of a tequila to accurately judge its quality
- Use the Tequila Matchmaker app to help identify a diffuser-made product before you buy or drink it
Watch the video (above) for more in-depth information.
If you want to dig deeper into the world of diffuser-made tequila, you can start with these eye-opening resources: