What is blue agave?
The Blue Agave (Agave tequilana var. Weber) is probably the most famous member of the agave used to make the famous Mexican drink called Tequila. Interestingly, many people do not know that Blue Agave plant is only one member of a group of at least 166 species of plants belonging to the Agave genus (in Greek, αγαυή, meaning “noble” or “admirable”). The Agave plant has been an important source of sweetener and fiber throughout Mesoamerican history.
The Blue Agave is one of the most important products in the economy of the state of Jalisco, Mexico due to its role as the base ingredient for tequila, the popular distilled spirit. The high content of starch in the core of the Agave plant is its most important feature, ideal for the preparation of alcoholic beverages.
Blue Agave is one of the major crops of the state of Jalisco, but is now widely cultivated in different states of the country, including the state of Sinaloa, where Onilkan, licores artesanales de Mazatlan is located.
Wild and commercial Agaves have the ability to adapt to different environment, by adjusting their life cycles to accommodate different climatic and soil conditions. The Agave plant consists of sharp, fleshy leaves that can reach up to two meters in length. At the end of the plant’s cycle, a bulge (quiote) develops in the center of the plant, which then becomes the stem of up to 5 meters high, covered with yellow flowers. The flowers are pollinated, producing thousands of seeds per plant. However, in commercial plantations, small plants are originated from the roots of three year plants to establish new plantations. Only the Blue variety of Agave is used to make Tequila. It is believed that Blue Agave originated in Jalisco.
However, as a member of the family plant agavasea, the Blue variety is very versatile and can grow in many other states of the Mexican republic.
The cultivation of blue agave and production of tequila
Tequila can only be produced from Blue Agave in five major states of Mexico, Jalisco, Michoacán, Tamaulipas, Nayarit and Guanajuato, and the distillates manufactured from Blue Agave in other states cannot not be called tequila. Agave distillates are produced by taking the stem before it starts flowering at approximately 7-12 years of age (and between 35 and 90 Kg In weight). Agave pineapples (stems) are cooked to convert the starch into fermentable sugars, which will then be put into fermentation tanks. To complete the process, the fermented mash is then distilled.
Millions of Blue agave plants are grown in different regions of Mexico, but in recent years, farmers have struggled to meet demand due to the loss of about 25 to 30% of production caused by a disease affecting the plant.
Distillate production and cultivation in Sinaloa
Prior to 1975, there were 108 active distilleries in Sinaloa, but the industry disappeared after 150 years of being the main economic activity in southern part of the state. Currently, Onilikan Liquors from Mazatlan is one of two distilleries which has initiated this economic activity, boosting the development of the region. There are approximately 12,000 hectares of Blue Agave planted throughout the state of Sinaloa.
Within the distillates of Blue Agave, 3 kinds of definitions emerge:
Tequila 100% agave: Based on only sugars extracted from Blue Agave, with not enrichment by any other sugars.
Mixed tequila: Contains Blue Agave, but this product can be prepared by adding other sugars in a proportion no higher than 49% of added sugar and its production is only permitted in the states of tequila designation of origin (Jalisco, Michoacán, Tamaulipas, Nayarit and Guanajuato).
Blue Agave spirits: Made outside of the zone designation of origin of tequila has to be produced with 100% Blue Agave. The production of Mixed Blue Agave spirits outside the tequila designation of origin states is not permitted.
At Onilikan we produce a 100% Blue Agave Spirit (aguardiente) and depending on the post-distillation process, the OniliKan Blue Agave aguardiente can be classified as: White, Maduro (aged for less than a year) and añejo (aged for more than a year).
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