How is Tequila Made?

If you love to make tequila cocktails or margaritas or are intrigued about the rich histories of liquors, then knowing more about tequila is essential. Where did the drink get such a name? The alcohol acquired its name from the town of Tequila, near Guadalajara. The very first place to be distilled.

What is Tequila?

Tequila is an irresistible, distilled spirit. It is fancied throughout the world with its superior taste, high production regulations, and sweet-smelling finesse, giving it a special charm.

To give this alcohol the accolades it deserves, it would be good to learn what goes on until it reaches the liquor stores; how it is made. What type of agave is used to make tequila? Keep reading to find out how this amazing alcohol is made.

What type of Agave is Used to Make Tequila?

The sensational blue agave plant is used to make the best tequila. Agave produces high levels of fructose and sugars known as agavins which propels the fermentation process during production. The Agave plant burgeons in Mexico since it requires rich sandy soil. They are grown in Mexico mainly to produce tequila and mezcal.

agave pinas in field
An agave pina can weigh up to 120 pounds!

After about seven to fourteen years of age, flowers sprout on top of the succulent plant. An indication of peak maturity to ensure nice perfection.

Even though some brands of tequila remain family-owned, the best brands belong to large multinational corporations. Owing to that, each tequila bottle has a serial number (NOM).

What is a NOM? A short form of Norma Official Mexicana. The body foresees all the activities and processes related to the production, supply, marketing, and marketing information related to agave and the business practices related to Tequila.

How Tequila is Made?

Unlike other spirits that can use a combination of base ingredients, tequila is solely made from the blue agave plant. The blue agave plant is native to Mexico. That is why tequila can only be distilled in Mexico. Any spirit made outside of Jalisco and the surrounding municipalities is called mezcal.

There are distinct steps in the process of tequila production:


The first step in the tequila-making process is the harvesting of the blue agave plant. Workers get into the agave fields with a machete and do away with the leaves and thorns of the plant. They will continuously do this until they reach the plant’s heart. They will then remove the heart of the plant, which can weigh several pounds. Everything is entirely done using the hands, incorporating the same techniques used hundreds of years back.


After harvesting, the heart of the plant is cooked in a huge oven. Traditional methods use a stone oven. Today’s producers have gone a step higher and use either clay/brick or stainless steel ovens. The oven steam roasts the plant rather than heat roasting it. After the process, the plant significantly reduces in size and looks caramelized. Baking the plant aids in the preparation of its sugars for the fermentation process. The whole process takes approximately 48 hours.


The juices in the agave plant are now ready to be extracted. Mostly, tequila distilleries use mechanical shredders to pulverize and separate the sweet juice from the agave fibers. All types of alcohol must undergo the fermentation process. During the fermentation process, yeast is introduced to the juice to eat the sugar of the agave plant in the fermentation tasks. As the yeast eats up the sugars, alcohol is formed. On average, the fermentation process takes between four to six days.


Distillation is the process where alcohol undergoes concentration through evaporation. The fermented residue has 4-10% alcohol content. The intent is to reach a concentration of 55% after distillation. The tequila regulations require the alcohol to undergo distillation twice for the best sanitary and health purposes. Most distillers purpose to achieve an excellent bottling strength of 45%. As much as some spirits can be distilled thrice or even four times, tequila is only distilled twice to maintain the rich flavor profile.


It is the ultimate important step in the whole process. Aging occurs in used barrels. Aging plays a crucial role in adding unique flavors to tequila. The aging process is what makes aged tequila have that caramel or golden color. However, the process depends on the type of tequila. For tequila Blanco, this step will be entirely skipped.


There are different types of tequila brands:

  • Blanco: Also called the silver tequila. It’s commonly used for shots and mixed drinks. Boasts the purest taste among all the other types since it is never aged at all.
  • Joven: Tequila Joven is made from a combination of tequilas, the aged (five-year aged or so) and unaged tequilas. The result is a sensational taste unique from the other types. Typically, golden in color
  • Reposado: This type of tequila aged for a minimum of two months and not longer than 364 days. Any additional day longer, it becomes a different type of tequila. It can be used in shots and mixed drinks. Typically, light golden or almost yellow in color.
  • Anejo: Tequila Anejo is aged for a maximum of three years and a minimum of one year. Three years is the usual time frame for aging tequila; anything more than that is rare. Anejo is typically served neat in small glasses made for sipping but can be used in smoky and dark cocktails. The color ranges from light amber to dark amber.
  • Extra Anejo: This is the rarest and, on average, the costliest type of tequila. It must be aged for three years or longer. The longer the aging, the darker and rarer the tequila becomes. Its color is brown; however, with some hints of gold and amber in it. It is enjoyed as it is because of its rare nature.

The notable difference among all these types is their color, determined by their age. Their colors range from clear, golden to dark caramel. The older the tequila, the darker its color, and the smoother it gets.

There are different tequila varieties and brands available today. To maintain the high standards of every tequila, NOM has put in place very strict control measures. What is a NOM? It is the regulatory council that ensures each bottle of tequila that leaves Mexico has the best standards. It is such a brave move since the quality of tequila never changes. Now that you are well versed with everything about tequila try out some new tequilas!

The Don Julio Tequila Brand

Today we’ll talk about the brand of tequila called Don Julio.  First off, let’s talk about the founder, Don Julio Gonzalez.

Who is Don Julio Gonzalez?

Don Julio Gonzalez was a master distiller and an unforgettable pioneer for the tequila industry. He established the tequila standard for many decades and revolutionized production. His story was remarkable and remains well-known throughout the industry. To this day, the premier luxury tequila across the globe is Don Julio. He believed quality was always more important than quality and only selected the best. Each agave was carefully planted farther apart to allow room for growth.

Prior to harvesting, he made certain every agave was mature. He only used the most succulent areas of the pina, then steamed them for cycles of 72 hours. He turned his back on the tradition of bottling tequila in tall bottles usually hidden under tables. Don Julio did not believe his tequila should be hidden. Instead, he created a shorter bottle. His guests would then pass the bottle to everyone seated at the table and be able to see one another.

The History of Don Julio Tequila

Don Julio tequila was named for its founding father. He was born in Jalisco, Mexico in the remote highlands in 1925 as Don Julio Gonzalez-Frausto Estrada. His father passed away in 1940 when he was only 15 years old and left behind seven children and a wife. He was responsible for earning enough money to support his family. His first job was as a farmhand, but he quickly learned he would be unable to support his family earning only nine pesos each week.

This was when Don Julio began his first venture in the world of tequila. He was an entrepreneur from the beginning and rode a horse across Jalisco. He used small wooden barrels to sell tequila. Soon, he was earning nine pesos every day as opposed to weekly. The only thing he had left by 1942 was passion. He spoke to the richest merchant in Atotonilco, Mexico to ask for a loan. His dream was opening a distillery of his own.

The merchant decided Don Julio had the confidence and drive necessary to succeed. He then loaned him 20,000 pesos so he could begin. He was only 17 years old when he bought his first distillery. He called it La Primavera. This was his first step on the path to creating the famous Don Julio brand which was the finest premium luxury tequila. He initially began working when he was 10, long before he spoke with the wealthy merchant.

Don Julio worked for his uncle in Jalisco in his tequila distillery. This was where he learned how to produce tequila. He was dedicated and learned everything he could about tequila. His perseverance and hard work eventually paid off. What many people do not realize is he believed boldness led to fortune. This was the reason he received a loan from the merchant.

When he first approached Don Julio, the merchant told him he was only a young man and asked how he would be able to pay him back. Despite the peasant sandals worn by Don Julio, he raised his chin and stated the money would be returned when he was wearing boots. He was born with the natural self-confidence taught by books and entrepreneurs today.

The History of Don Julio Tequila During the Next 40 Years

During the course of the following 40 years, the tequila industry was revolutionized by Don Julio Gonzalez. His choice of quality over quantity became a standard of the industry. The result was the first real luxury tequila. What he produced was smoother and richer than any tequila anyone else has ever produced in the past. Soon, he became extremely successful and his tequila was discussed far and wide. Despite this, his loyalty remained with his community.

Don Julio Reposado
Pictured is the popular Don Julio reposado (rested) tequila.

His love of tequila and high standards transformed Don Julio into a phenomenon. He remained in Jalisco since this is where he was born. The distillery he established led generations to follow his extraordinary example of both craftsmanship and passion. The result was a revolutionization of the tequila industry still alive today. The agricultural techniques he developed set his brand apart from all of the others. He used Los Altos soil from the highlands of Jalisco.

This red clay soil was rich in minerals and perfect for growing healthy and vibrant agave plants. The area Don Jose chose to grow his plants was a microclimate. During the evening, the temperatures dropped. This slowed down the process of maturation. He studied all of the ancient methods he could find for the region. He became extremely knowledgeable regarding the condition of the area and the effect it would have on his agave.

Don Jose figured out if he placed his agave plants farther apart, they would grow sweeter and bigger because more nutrients could be absorbed. He also realized under these conditions the plants would require more time to reach full maturity. He allowed his plants to age for seven to 10 years. This was much longer than what was considered normal for the tequila industry at this time. His motives had nothing to do with profit.

Don Jose knew if he spaced his plants farther apart, there would be fewer. He also realized his tequila production would be slower due to the additional time necessary for growth. This is the reason so many professors teaching business classes shook their heads in disapproval. Eventually, he proved all of them were wrong. He began using quotes on a regular basis and essentially became a quote machine. He said if life was lived with excess arrogance or pride, problems would become unrecognizable.

Another famous quote stated honesty and hard work are necessary and nobody should be judged. He believed this was the only way trust could be established. Each quote was a direct representation of a different period of his life.

Celebrating Don Julio

The name of Don Julio transformed the tequila industry. In celebration of 45 years as a tequilero, a special party was thrown by his family in honor of his accomplishments. During this legendary party, guests were offered tequila he had left in his office to age. Don Julio knew it was the best tequila in his possession and wanted it shared with the people he loved. Once the affair was over, he began receiving phone calls from people attending the party wanting to purchase the tequila they were served.

Don Julio Blanco
Don Julio blanco tequila is enjoyed on the rocks or in margaritas.

He told all of them this tequila was not for sale. Eventually, he changed his mind and began to sell his tequila. This was how the first true luxury tequila came to be introduced. The industry was transformed and a completely new tequila category was established. Don Jose was also responsible for revolutionizing the tequila bottle as well. Until Don Julio tequila became available on the market, the bottles for traditional tequila were all tall and thin.

When this type of bottle was placed at the table between the members of the family, all social interaction was interrupted. This is because it was impossible to see the person sitting on the other side of the table. The solution was the short round bottle created by Don Julio. During his lifetime, he was responsible for the cultivation of more than three million agave plants. His wife Dorthea often said she had nine kids with a few thousand extras. She was referring to the agave plants receiving her husband’s devotion for more than 60 years.

The Legacy of Don Julio

The legacy of Don Julio is alive and well in Enrique De Costa. This tequila evangelist is currently serving La Primavera as the Master Distiller. He trained with Don Julio for five years before receiving this position in 2004. In 2012, the 70th anniversary of the Don Julio brand was marked. Enrique De Costa was thinking along similar lines of the founder when he created the first clear anejo the world had ever seen with Don Julio 70.

Enrique De Costa is following the path of his mentor and still sets the tequila standard for the industry. This is accomplished with both respect and reverence for the methods used by Don Julio when producing his first tequila more than 80 years ago. The tequila distillery established by a young Don Julio is still operational today. La Primavera was created in Atotoniclo shortly after the merchant agreed to give Don Julio a loan.

Shortly afterward, Tres Magueyes became available as the first brand. Within the next 10 years, Don Julio was established as a successful tequila producer with the Don Julio collection including Reposado, Blanco, 70, Anejo, ultra-premium Real and 1942. La Primavera still proudly produces all six of these tequilas today.

List of Tequila’s Don Julio Makes

By 1951, Don Julio started producing Tres Mageyes, later produced in several different variants in addition to Don Julio Real. The List of tequila’s Don Julio makes currently includes:

  • Don Julio Anejo
  • Don Julio Reposado tequila
  • Don Julio Real Tequila
  • Reposado Private Cask tequila
  • Blanco tequila
  • Reposado Double Cask tequila
  • 1942 tequila
  • Don Julio 70 tequila (Anejo Claro)
  • Reposado Double Cask Tequila Lagavulin Aged Edition