10 Things you Didn’t Know About our Tahona Wheel
If you have had the opportunity to go to the Altos Tequila distillery in Arandas and have experienced one of the tours given by our Master Distiller, Jesús Hernández, surely you know that the doughnut-shaped tahona stone wheel made of volcanic rock that traditionally was pulled around a shallow pit by a team of donkeys or mules, and continues to this day to grind the roasted agave hearts and separate sweet juice from tough agave fibers or pulp.
You may not have known that the tahona process is not actually the most ancient technique for milling cooked agave piñas. The oldest method is what you still see used to produce a very traditional tequila, which is crushing with mallets or axes.
1. Nahuatl Word
Did you know that “tahona” is actually the word for wheel in Nahuatl, the language of indigenous Aztecs?
2. Tezontle Stone
Our tahona stone is made up of tezontle—a red igneous rock that comes from the existing mass in fusion in the interior of the earth; it is found in volcano slopes.
3. Since 1997
Our tahona stone was installed in 1997 when the distillery was built. It turns 24 this year!
4. Made in Querétaro
Our tahona stone was carved in the Mexican state of Querétaro and commissioned to a local artisan who made it by hand with a hammer and chisel. Can you believe it?
5. Original Weight
The original weight of our tahona stone was 2 tons and was carved from a single volcanic piece. Incredible!
6. An Old Stone
The stone has only deteriorated by 10 percent to date. At this rate, it will last much longer than all of us!
7. Two Tahona Stones
When the artisan told them that it would take him four months to carve the stone, they got very worried. What if a crack or other problem would leave them unable to make tequila? So they decided to commission a second stone as a back-up. It has been decorating our beautiful garden for the past 24 years. It is a real tahona and can be used at any time if necessary.
8. Pet Friendly
Since 1997 our tahona stone has been horse/donkey/mule friendly. It was the first mechanized tahona, meaning it was adapted with electric motors and wheels. From the start, Jesús and Alberto decided not to use horses, mules or donkeys to move it. The job would be too grueling for the poor animals.
9. Tailor Made
Each tahona has its own geometry, dimensions, and weight. Our tahona stone was made specifically for the distillery and in accordance with the tons of agave that it would be processing every day.
The first Tequila that was made with our tahona stone was Tezón, which is now discontinued. It was a tequila made with tahona wheel or 100% from the tahona process, and was named as such in honor of the volcanic rock, tezontle. Today, Tezón complements the Altos Tequila formula.
Why does the tahona stone make tequila more pure?
According to Jesús Hernández, Maestro Tequilero of Altos tequila, the tahona stone alone does not make tequila more pure. "It is the complete and very slow maceration process using the tahona stone followed by the fermentation and distillation with all of the fibers from the maceration, that produces a tequila with a lot of body and flavor". Selecting the distillation heart also influences how smooth or intense the final tequila is.
What gets done with the blue agave remnants?
The process of distilling blue agave leaves two primary remnants: the bagazo (fiber) and the vinaza (residual water).
All of the fiber is consumed by a compost process to generate organic fertilizer. A good portion of the residual water is consumed in the composting process. The rest is sent to a residual water processing plant.
Why is it important to preserve the tahona tradition?
Jesús Hernández says that "while the tahona is a traditional process, the tequila it renders is very special in character; and this exceptional result is why the process is still used."