5 Fascinating Facts About Making Tequila That I Learned At The Patron Headquarters

by Collette Reitz

When it comes to tequila, I thought I knew a little bit about it. More accurately, I knew enough to know that I enjoy it in a margarita and have probably outgrown my tolerance for salt-rimmed shots of the hard stuff. After spending two days immersed in the entire tequila-making process from the agave fields to the bottling room, I can say with confidence that I didn't know nearly enough about tequila before my recent experience at Hacienda Patrón. Furthermore, here are five tequila-making facts about how this delicious spirit gets from the agave fields to your bar cart.

In 2002, Hacienda Patrón was established where it is today, in Atotonilco El Alto, Jalisco, Mexico. This is where Patrón tequila is processed and bottled by more than 1,600 Patrón employees. You might only recognize Patrón as the top-shelf bottle of tequila in the green box, but have you wondered why it deserves that price tag?

Depending on your level of tequila knowledge (mine was quite subpar), you might be surprised to learn that the tequila-making process is quite involved. My tequila eduction came courtesy of Patrón, and after seeing the time and dedication it takes to produce the tequila, I understand a little better how the good stuff is made.

Speaking of time, it takes much longer than you might think to get the agave plants ready for their transformation into tequila.

Collette Reitz
Agave plants take seven years to ripen.
Collette Reitz

You might not think of picturesque agave fields in the rich red soil of the highlands of Jalisco when you sip a margarita, but this is where your tequila begins. The soil in the highlands makes for sweeter agave plants, and the agave ripens to maturity six or seven years after planting.

Once ripened, the piñas (hearts of the agave plants) are harvested. Jimadors are farmers who harvest the agave plants with a very sharp tool called a Coa de jima, and the Jimadors expertly use the Coa to cut the agave leaves from the piña. Once the leaves are cut off by the professionals (it looks so much easier than it is), the piñas are sent back to Hacienda Patrón where the tequila-making process really gets started (yay!).

Agave piñas are baked for three days.
Collette Reitz

The agave piñas are then baked in small batches for 79 hours. A little over three days might sound like a long time to bake the agave in the small brick ovens, but it's the perfect amount of time to achieve the just-right flavor needed for the tequila.

During the tour, we tasted the differences between undercooked agave, 79-hour baked agave, and overcooked agave, and the perfectly baked 79-hour piñas have just the sweet flavor you want in your tequila. It turns out, great things (like tequila) really are worth waiting for.

There are two different processes for one delicious tequila.
Collette Reitz

Once the agave piñas are baked to perfection, the tequila is one step closer to becoming your favorite happy hour sip.

Patrón uses both the modern roller mill and the ancient tahona mill processes to crush the baked agave. The roller mill process filters out agave fibers, leaving only the juices of the baked agave, while the old-school tahona mill process uses the tahona stone to extract both the juice and the fibers of the agave.

Each of these processes bring different flavors to the table, with the roller mill producing a citrus flavor and the tahona mill delivering a more fruity flavor. After that, the two mixtures are fermented and distilled twice in huge copper pot stills.

Collette Reitz

The final roller mill product and the final tahona mill product are then combined together with distilled water to create Patrón Silver.

It might sound like a lot of work, but it is so worth it to achieve the perfectly smooth and sweet flavor of the tequila.

Different barrels are used for distinctly flavored tequilas.
Patrón/Collette Reitz

When it comes to variety, you might wonder how darker Patrón tequilas get their color. Patrón doesn't make a gold tequila, because gold tequila is a mixto (which means it's not 100 percent agave), so Patrón goes elsewhere to for its coloring. The different aged tequilas — like añejos and reposados — get different colorings and flavors, thanks to the various barrels they are aged in.

Every aged tequila begins with Patrón Silver as the base. Then, it's stored in one of a variety of barrels in order to attain its distinct flavor. For example, Gran Patrón Burdeos is an añejo that is racked in vintage Bordeaux barrels to give it a dark amber color and rich Bordeaux aroma.

Collette Reitz

There are no additives in Patrón's aged tequilas, so they get their color and flavor from aging inside barrels, like an Allier French oak tight grain barrel or a used American Oak whiskey barrel.

As for how long the tequila ages, Patrón Reposado ages between three and five months, while Patrón Extra Añejo ages for three years (again proving that good things are definitely worth the wait).

Patrón is carefully bottled and packaged by hand.
Collette Reitz/Patrón

Patrón prides itself on making a premium tequila by using old methods. The old-school tahona process isn't the only vestige of classic tequila production. Patrón has kept their tradition of corking, labeling, wrapping, and boxing the bottles of tequila by hand. In fact, by the time a bottle of Patrón makes it to you, it will have been touched by over 60 hands.

It's thanks to the production done by hand that you are greeted with an expertly wrapped bottle complete with a beautiful agave tissue-paper design when you open a box of Patrón.

In all, the production of Patrón tequila is quite an involved process, but as Antonio Rodriguez, Patrón's director of production, told me during my tour, "Everyone involved with the production is a master of the process." Rodriguez called each of them "artists," and I must say, they do produce some delicious "art."

While you might be shocked to learn about all the processes required to turn those gorgeous green agave plants into delicious tequila, you also now know a little bit more about how your favorite spirit winds up in your glass. Plus, you can enjoy sharing tequila-production tidbits with all your drinking buddies this summer.