Lexicology

A glossary of tequila terms and concepts.

A

Abocantes

(pl. n.)

Mellowing agents used in the Tequila blending process that can affect the flavor, texture, or color of the finished Tequila with the possible effect of simulating age. Approved additives include glycerin, oak flavor, sweeteners, and caramel coloring, and are allowed in reposado and añejo Tequilas in levels of up to 1% of the total volume. However, certain producers may interpret regulations to also allow the inclusion of abocantes in blanco Tequilas, especially since this inclusion does not have to be disclosed on the bottle’s label.

Agave

(n.)

A genus of flowering succulents indigenous to Central and South America, distinguished by their spiny, clustered leaves (pencas) and tall flowering stalks (quiotes). They have long been cultivated as a source of nourishment, for beverage production, and for their fibers used in a broad range of applications including rope, clothing, paper, and building materials.


Agave tequilana

(n.)

Also referred to as the Blue Weber agave, it is the only species of agave plant approved for Tequila production, favored for its relatively quicker maturation time, high concentration of sugar, and prolific asexual reproduction.

Aging

(v.)

The slow transformation of a distilled spirit—frequently, but not always, in oak—that allows it to acquire additional sensorial characteristics obtained through physical and chemical processes. It is also referred to as ‘maturation’. It should be noted that according to the CRT, aging of tequila must take place in oak.

Aguamiel

(n.)

The unrefined sap from the agave plant. The term translates directly to “honey water,” and aguamiel has historically been fermented to make pulque.

Alembic

(n.)

See Batch Distillation.

Añejo

(adj.)

A class of Tequila that is aged for at least 12 months and not more than three years in a barrel with a maximum capacity of 600L (around 160 gallons).

Angel’s Share

(n.)

The amount of spirit lost during aging/maturation over time as a result of evaporation through a porous, wooden container (frequently represented by a percentage of volume per year).

Appellation of Origin

(n.)

Name of a geographic region that serves to designate a product that originates from that area; the quality and characteristics of the product are attributed to a particular geographical area, including the natural and human factors.

Asexual Reproduction in Agave

(v.)

In agave plants, this is the process by which small genetic clones of the mother agave, known as pups or hijuelos, sprout from the mother agave’s root system. Severing and transplanting hijuelos is one of the most efficient ways to cultivate agave for Tequila production.


Autoclave

(n.)

A machine that is used to rapidly cook either agave piñas or the juice of raw, shredded agave, by simultaneously exposing them to heat and pressure. They drastically reduce both the cooking time of the piñas in comparison to traditional hornos, as well as the costs of production associated.

Award T Program

(n.)

A program by the CRT to educate people from restaurants, bars, hotels and industry in general about the rules that govern Tequila.

B

Bacanora

(n.)

A type of distilled spirit from agave from Sonora, protected by its own DO.

Bagasse (Bagaso)

(n.)

The stringy, fibrous residue and dry pulp left after crushing and processing agave piñas, frequently referred to as “bagaso” as it’s translated in Spanish. Depending on the distiller and quality of the bagasse, some portion of it may also be retained during the fermentation and/or distillation process(es). Bagasse, if properly processed, can be utilized as fertilizer.

Batch Distillation

(v.)

Occuring in a pot style of still (Alembic) which may be made of copper, stainless steel, wood, clay, etc. Distillation is completed in batches, and as such is by definition a less efficient process than continuous distillation.

Blanco

(adj.)

A class of Tequila that directly translates to “white” and refers to the Tequila received off the still after the second distillation (in the case of batch distillation), which can be aged for no more than 2 months in oak containers. However, these Tequilas are generally unaged and are also variously referred to as ‘silver’ or ‘plata.

Blue Weber Agave

(adj.)

A class of Tequila that directly translates to “white” and refers to the Tequila received off the still after the second distillation (in the case of batch distillation), which can be aged for no more than 2 months in oak containers. However, these Tequilas are generally unaged and are also variously referred to as ‘silver’ or ‘plata.

Blue Weber Agave

(n.)

See Agave tequilana.

C

Caballito

(n.)

Another word for a small shot glass that translates to “little horse” and is typically used for drinking Tequila neat.

Cabezas

(n.)

Literally “heads”, this refers either to the piña of the agave plant used to produce Tequila or mezcal, or to the first condensate collected during the distillation process that is frequently discarded (see Heads).

Categories of Tequila

(pl. n.)

Tequila 100% de Agave and Tequila (see Mixto).

Classes of Tequila

(n.)

Blanco, Joven, Reposado, Añejo, and Extra Añejo.

Coa

(n.)

A sharp, flat metal tool attached to a long handle used by jimadores to shear the leaves of the agave from the piña when harvesting the plant for Tequila production.

Cogollo

(n.)

The woody core formed at the base of a dense cluster of leaves at the top and center of an agave novillo (an agave that does not produce a quiote). It is often cut out and removed when breaking down piñas, as it’s believed to impart bitter, tannic notes to Tequila.

Colas

(pl. n.)

Literally “tails”, this is the last distillate to be collected during Tequila’s distillation after the hearts. They consist of less volatile compounds, including various fusel oils and congeners that are largely separated from the final spirit during the distillation process. However, a nominal portion of them is inevitably retained.

Column Still

(n.)

See Continuous Distillation.

Continuous Distillation

(v.)

An efficient distillation process that occurs in a column still, which can run continuously under equilibrium conditions; continuous distillation generally allows for more cost-effective Tequila production than batch distillation.

Corazónes

(pl.n.)

Literally “hearts”, they make up the middle section of a distillation run, which is typically the part kept for redistillation (in the case of batch distillation), and ultimately consumption.


CRT

(n.)

Consejo Regulador del Tequila, an organization founded in 1994 responsible for the oversight of Tequila production to ensure adherence to strict, legalized quality standards, including the legitimizing of individual Tequila distilleries and their products by assigning a specific NOM to each facility.

D

Diffuser

(n.)

A modern, highly efficient piece of equipment that both shreds and cooks agave piñas rapidly. Many diffusers use a hot, acidic solution to quickly convert freshly shredded piñas into a liquid rich in fermentable sugars through the process of hydrolysis.

DO

(n.)

Denominación de Origen, the term used to refer to products that are culturally associated with specific regions of Mexico. It is a legal certification that recognizes geographical boundaries within which these products must be made in order to be labeled as such, to protect their integrity. Tequila, Mezcal, Bacanora, Raicilla, and Sotol all carry DOs; other DOs in Mexico govern products as wide ranging as vanilla, chiles, coffee and mangos.

E

Estiba

(n.)

A time-honored method of stacking barrels in large pyramids for aging Tequila.

Extra Añejo

(adj.)

A class of Tequila where the spirit is aged for at least three (3) years in a barrel with a maximum capacity of 600L (158 gal). There is currently no upward limit on how long this type of Tequila can be aged.

G

Gold

(adj.)

See Oro.

H

Hacienda

(n.)

A large estate on a sizable plot of rural/agricultural land, typically seen in former colonies of the Spanish empire, that often operate as business enterprises such as mines, plantations, factories, and distilleries.

Heads

(pl. n.)

Also known as “cabezas”, these are the first compounds created during Tequila’s distillation run. They largely consist of volatile substances not meant for consumption, and are generally separated from the final spirit during the distillation process. However, a small portion of them may be retained, and are noted for their strong fruity, floral or solvent-like aromas.

Hearts

(pl. n.)

See Corazónes.

Hijuelos

(pl. n.)

Small offshoots of the mother agave plant, sometimes referred to as ‘pups’ or ‘baby agaves’. Hijuelos are harvested and replanted in new fields, the typical method of agave propagation in modern Tequila production.

Horno

(n.)

Literally “oven,” used to slowly cook agave piñas over multiple days. Hornos are usually built from brick and heated by steam, but may also be made from dirt and heated by coals and rocks.They are the traditional precursors to modern autoclaves.

Hydrolysis

(v.)

An essential step in Tequila production wherein the long chain carbohydrates present in agave are broken down into simple sugars that the yeast can consume and ferment. As evidenced by the word’s root (hydro-), the breaking down of these chains relies on the presence of water molecules.

I

Inulin

(n.)

Perhaps the most common long chain carbohydrate stored within the agave plant as a primary source of chemical energy and food. Inulin is converted into fermentable simple sugars by the process of hydrolysis.

J

Jima

(n.)

The process by which agave piñas are harvested that involves severing them from the ground and slicing off the leaves, or pencas.

Jimadores

(pl. n.)

Field workers who harvest agave piñas.

Joven

(adj.)

A class of Tequila that literally translates to “young”. This term can refer to either unaged Tequila blended with aged Tequila or ‘mixtos’ that have abocantes to imitate aging, which are more specifically known as joven abocado, gold, or oro (see Oro).

M

Mezcal

(n.)

A distilled product of agave; both an overarching umbrella term for all agave spirits (that includes Tequila), and a regional DO in its own right including the states of Oaxaca, Guerrero, Michoacán, Puebla, Guanajuato, Tamaulipas, Zacatecas, San Luís Potosí, and Durango.

Mixto

(adj.)

An unofficial name for the general category of ‘Tequila’ (as opposed to 100% de Agave Tequila) that may be made from up to 49% non-agave sugars, and may use abocantes to imitate aging or otherwise alter the aroma, texture, and/or flavor. Since 2006, ‘mixto’ Tequilas may be shipped in bulk and bottled in other countries.

Mosto

(n.)

The juice collected from crushing cooked piñas that is subsequently fermented and distilled.

N

NOM

(n.)

The Norma Oficial Mexicana (NOM) certification is a set of regulations and standards that are required by the Mexican government. In Tequila, it takes the form of a unique four-digit code assigned to a distillery that produces Tequila. The CRT certifies adherences to NOM, including the strict, legalized quality standards placed on Tequila production and bottling.

O

Ordinario

(n.)

The result of the first distillation in a batch process of Tequila that includes the cabezas, corazónes, and colas and are generally around 35-40 proof when accumulated.

Oro

(adj.)

Literally “gold” and also referred to as joven abocado, this is a class of Tequila that consists of ‘mixtos’ that have abocantes to imitate aging. Colloquially, this term is often used interchangeably with Joven.

P

Pechuga

(n.)

Mezcal that is redistilled with additional ingredients, including game, cured meats, spices, and dried fruit, often made for celebratory purposes or special occasions.

Penca

(n.)

The spiny leaves of the agave plant that grow around the piña. These are removed during the jima process.

Piña

(n.)

Spanish for pineapple, piña refers to the center of the agave plant used to produce Tequila or mezcal, after the pencas (leaves) have been removed.

Posturas

(pl. n.)

The number of times that a barrel has been used to rest spirit.

Pulque

(n.)

An ancient Mexican alcoholic beverage made from fermented the unrefined, uncooked sap (or aguamiel) of ‘agave pulquero’. It is a common misperception that Tequila is made by fermenting pulque, but Tequila is made from fermenting and distilling the juice of roasted agaves.

Q

Quiote

(n.)

The flowering stalk of the agave plant that, if allowed to grow, rises high above the pencas and flowers. When agaves are being grown for use in Tequila, the quiote is generally trimmed to prevent this process from taking place, as the quiote utilizes the plant’s sugar reserves, making its piñas less suitable for fermentation.

R

Raicilla

(n.)

A type of distilled spirit from agave from Jalisco and Nayarit, protected by its own DO.


Reposado

(adj.)

A class of Tequila that is matured for at least 2 months, but no more than 1 year in an oak container.

Roller Mill

(n.)

A machine designed to shred, press, and extract juice from roasted agave piñas. Chunks of cooked agave pass through a series of metal rollers that crush them thoroughly. The shredded fibers are sprayed with water to release fermentable sugars after each set of rollers; the sugary liquid is captured and diverted to fermentation tanks.

S

Sangrita

(n.)

A popular drink served alongside Tequila, traditionally tomato- or
pomegranate-based with salty and spicy components.

Sexual Reproduction in Agave

(v.)

Generally refers to when the quiote is allowed to grow, bloom, and be fertilized. The fertilized flowers yield seeds that can then be planted to produce new agave plants. When agaves are being grown for use in Tequila, the quiote is generally trimmed to prevent this process from taking place, as the quiote utilizes the plant’s sugar reserves, making its piñas less suitable for fermentation.

Silver

(adj.)

See Blanco.

Sotol

(n.)

A distilled spirit from several species of the Dasylirion plant, an evergreen shrub similar to but not technically an agave. Made in Chihuahua, Coahuila, and Durango, Sotol is protected by its own DO.

T

Tahona

(n.)

A large, often volcanic stone in the shape of a wheel, used to crush agaves, releasing their sugar-laden juices. Believed to be in use since the arrival of the Spanish in Mexico, by the year 2000, the tahona had all but been phased out in the Tequila making process in favor of more efficient processes like the roller mill and diffuser. Currently, the tahona is enjoying a resurgence.

Tails

(pl. n.)

See Colas.

Tequila (‘Tequila Regular’)

(n.)

A style of Tequila in which up to 49% of the sugars can be from a source other than agave (most frequently, sugar cane). Tequila can be exported in bulk to be bottled outside Tequila’s DO.


Tequila 100% de Agave

(n.)

A style of Tequila in which 100% of the sugars used must come from blue Weber agave. It may only be bottled in Tequila’s DO.

V

Vinaza

(n.)

The remaining liquid in the still after the distillation process. This extremely hot, highly acidic liquid can have severe negative effects if introduced untreated into the environment.