Seminar report: Harvesting Blue Agave with Herradura & El Jimador

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Drinks: Imbibe Live, Tequila
Location: England, Mexico

The team behind Herradura and El Jimador tequilas demonstrated how to harvest real blue agave to a packed crowd in the Cocktail Lounge this afternoon.

Casa Herradura global ambassador Ruben Aceves Vidrio and third-generation jimador Jose Cortes had two agave plants to demonstrate on.

‘Ninety-eight per cent of Blue Weber agave is grown in the state of Jalisco, in two terroirs – the Highland and the Valley,’ explained Vidrio. ‘For us, 80% of our agave comes from the Valley and 20% from the Highlands.

‘It’s not about quality, it’s about difference in flavour – Valley agaves are earthier, more complex and spicy. Highland agave are sweeter and more floral.’

Vidrio went on to inform the crowd that Casa Herradura grows all its own agave – 18 million of them – on 11,000 hectares of land.

Baby agaves are removed from the mother plant, which produces five or six baby plants at a time, and these are transplanted either to the nursery or the fields, depending on their size. From here, the agave needs to grow for seven years before it is harvested.

‘The tool used to cut is a coa, which is very sharp,’ said Vidrio as Cortes wielded the large flat almost circular instrument that’s so lethal it was common for jimadors to lose toes before the days of steel toe capped boots.

The jimadors cut off the pencas, or long leaves, from the body of the agave, which is known as the pina. Cortes made short work of the agave, which is no surprise – jimadors have to harvest an incredible 120 plants a day, six days a week. That’s one agave every two minutes, pop pickers.

Once harvested, Casa Herradura leaves the penca on the ground in the fields and combines it with the milled agave fibres to leave a compost on their fields, which are then left fallow for a year. But what about the harvested agave?…

‘Agave is a starch; it needs to be converted to sucrose and fructose before it can be fermented, and we cook ours for 26 hours in brick ovens,’ said Vidrio.

Once cooked and milled, the resulting juice from the agave is ready for fermentation. ‘We have 16 different types of fruit trees in the hacienda, which results in a lot of natural yeasts floating around,’ said Vidrio. ‘We have 300 different strains of yeast. We use a natural fermentation process that takes four days.’

From here the fermented liquid is distilled, and then aged for the requisite amounts of time for the category the liquid is being used for: Herradura Blanco is aged for 45 days, Reposado for two months and Anejo for 25 months. When asked about the issue of agave supply that many tequila producers are currently facing, Vidrio was rather sanguine. ‘Every seven years we have a cycle. There’s an excess of agave, or a lack. And at the moment there’s a lack. Some brands disappear until the price of agave drops, then they’re able to buy and produce again.

‘It’s complicated to predict how many agave plants you’re going to need, because with a blanco you need to plan seven-and-a-half years in advance to allow for the growth of the agave and the tequila production. More than 90% of tequila producers need to buy from agave growers, but they don’t talk to the growers to let them know how much they’re going to need. That’s where problems arise.’

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Laura Foster

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