The Tequila Making Process

03. Cooking the Agave


Energy Conversion: Cooking the Agave

Unlike grapes or other fruits, agave does not have readily available fermentable sugars. As with grain in whiskey production, agave requires a conversion process before fermentation, converting complex sugars to their simpler form. Agave’s sweetness is locked up in long chain polysaccharides called fructans. The most commonly referred to fructan is inulin, but this is but one of many. Inulin is basically a long chain of fructose molecules that must be hydrolyzed in order to be released. The most straightforward way (but not the only way!) of doing this is by cooking. Cooked agave is full of simple sugars which are ready to be fermented. 

There are three main ways to cook agave: pit ovens, brick ovens and autoclaves {we will discuss diffusers in the next section).

Pit Ovens

In the production of ancestral agave spirits, piñas are buried in a pit in the ground along with hot stones and a heat source, usually a fire of wood or coals. The agaves are stacked atop the stones and covered with earth, providing insulation for a very long, slow roasting process that generally takes 3 – 7 days. This method is extremely labor-intensive, and has been practiced relatively unchanged for hundreds of years. Though no longer used in tequila production except on the rare occasion, it is still common in the production of mezcal and other regional agave distillates (See Chapter Three).

GRAN PATRÓN SMOKY The newest member of the Gran Patrón line. Made from agaves that have been roasted over mesquite charcoal in underground stone pit ovens for 7 days; the rest of its production follows the process for Roca Patrón.

Brick Ovens

Clay brick ovens began to replace pit ovens around the turn of the 20th century, even though the technology still requires a lot of labor in stacking and emptying the ovens. Piñas are stacked inside brick ovens that are powered by steam, with the temperature in the ovens alternating with periods of heat and periods of rest. From start to finish, this way of cooking generally takes 48 – 72 hours.

credit: Chloe Harrison-Ach

at patrón: we use brick ovens.

Our traditional brick ovens and long cooking times yield cooked agave that’s both complex and consistent in flavor. We alternate periods of steaming and rest over 79 hours which allows the agave to cook evenly throughout.


The most modern and efficient method of roasting agaves, autoclaves, are essentially large pressure cookers. They can cook the agave — or the agave juice — extremely quickly and efficiently. In this method, technological efficiency replaces labor; this process dates back about 50 years, and was adopted from the sugar refining industry. We believe that this practice sacrifices some of the flavor characteristics of slow cooked agave, which are lost in the interest of speed.

credit: Chloe Harrison-Ach