Why this spirit should be sipped not shot.

GQ (Australia) - - INSIDE -

The Scot­tish High­lands are ap­pro­pri­ately revered as the cra­dle of sin­gle malt civil­i­sa­tion. Now, their Mex­i­can equiv­a­lent in the blue agave hills of Jalisco are get­ting their due. Ex­cept the drink in ques­tion is te­quila. There ex­ists ev­i­dence that the Aztecs were neck­ing a fer­mented agave drink as early as 200AD, while the Span­ish opened Mex­ico’s first large-scale dis­tillery in the early 1600s. To­day’s prime player is Pa­trón, a pre­mium te­quila that takes care to ap­pear steeped in history de­spite only be­ing launched in 1989. The la­bel was founded by Amer­i­can bil­lion­aire John Paul De­jo­ria (who made his for­tune sell­ing Paul Mitchell hair prod­ucts) and busi­ness part­ner Martin Crowley, their rea­son sim­ple: they were sick of bad te­quila. The pair went to Mex­ico, re­cruited mas­ter dis­tiller Francisco Al­caraz and started making their own. The nexus of their op­er­a­tion is Haçienda Pa­trón, a sprawl­ing man­sion-cum-dis­tillery where much of the spirit’s pro­duc­tion – from har­vest­ing to af­fix­ing la­bels to bot­tles – is still car­ried out by hand. Up close, agave plants look like gi­ant pineap­ples, which is what they’re called in Span­ish: piñas. They are un­earthed by ji­madores (male work­ers) us­ing a coa, which is a round-headed knife with a long wooden han­dle that re­sem­bles a shovel, but is ra­zor­sharp. Op­er­at­ing on fuid mus­cle mem­ory and max­i­mum ef­fi­ciency, this is still an in­tensely phys­i­cal process. Roughly six kilo­grams of agave pro­duce a litre of te­quila, but the nec­es­sary alchemy is far from straight­for­ward. Some 1600 peo­ple work for Pa­trón. If it were fully au­to­mated, that num­ber would be closer to 250. That’s a prospect that is clearly not be­ing en­ter­tained as prod­uct and process seem in­ex­tri­ca­bly linked. What’s more, the rep­u­ta­tion of the drink it­self is fall­ing more into line with the his­tor­i­cal Mex­i­can per­spec­tive than it’s more louche salt-en­crusted as­so­ci­a­tions. Thing is, most will feign know­ing about te­quila – the stuff of wild nights and truly aw­ful morn­ings. But times have changed. Te­quila is now a re­fined spirit in its own right, no longer needs to be masked in sug­ary cock­tails or slammed down with lemon. Good te­quila should be smooth and en­joyed with lit­tle more than ice – maybe a wedge of lime and some good com­pany. Which is why we’re here, in the home of the spirit, to find out what goes into a bot­tle of Pa­trón.


While other dis­til­leries use largescale au­to­claves, which cook the agave quickly but can leave them burnt, Pa­trón does so in small brick ovens that cre­ate a unique flavour. Af­ter the ji­madores fin­ish in the fields, the plants are trans­ported to the dis­tillery, where they’re cut by hand and baked at around 95ºc for 79 hours.


The Haçienda Pa­trón uses two dif­fer­ent meth­ods of crush­ing the cooked plants and ex­tract­ing the agave juice. For the first, a roller mill sep­a­rates the agave juice, which be­comes te­quila, from the fi­bre, which is used as com­post. The sec­ond is Pa­trón’s trade­mark tahona method that em­ploys a heavy vol­canic rock in the shape of wheel that slowly crushes the cooked agave. This process has been used to make te­quila for hun­dreds of years and al­lows the agave syrup to stay ab­sorbed within the agave fi­bre. Each process adds dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters and flavours to the fin­ished prod­uct.


Af­ter both the dif­fer­ent ex­trac­tion pro­cesses, they’re trans­ported to pine wood fer­menters for 72 hours. Though more ex­pen­sive to main­tain than the steel tanks used by other dis­til­leries, pine creates nat­u­ral ther­mal con­trol for slower fer­men­ta­tion.


The te­quila is twice dis­tilled in cop­per pot stills de­signed by mas­ter dis­tiller Francisco Al­caraz, who still over­sees pro­duc­tion at the Haçienda. This is dif­fer­ent to other pro­duc­ers, which use large-scale col­umn stills that are more cost­ef­fec­tive, but lose many of the unique char­ac­ter­is­tics of smaller dis­til­la­tion.


The 80-proof Pa­trón Sil­ver is un­aged and goes straight from blend­ing to the bot­tling plant. Gran Pa­trón Plat­inum is also 80 proof, but rests in oak tanks for up to 30 days be­fore bot­tling.


Pa­trón bot­tles are pro­duced off-site two hours from the Haçienda. On ar­riv­ing, they’re rinsed with te­quila (not wa­ter), filled, in­spected and then corked and la­belled by hand.



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