Spirits Platform recently introduced Sierra Milenario Fumado into the Australian market and Kathrin Abels, Global Brand Ambassador for Agave Spirits, Tequila and Mezcal, joined us to share her insights and knowledge of the two family companies behind the brand, their common philosophies, production methods and most of all her passion for Sierra.
An ex-bartender for 7 years before taking on the role at Borco, Kathrin has been with the family owned company, BORCO, a German distributor and co-owner of the Sierra tequila brand for the past 4 years. The Matthiesen family founded the BORCO company over 60 years ago. Today, the company has a unique portfolio of international premium spirits brands. BORCO is the only German company that makes its own premium spirits on location in their countries of origin, and markets them successfully throughout the world.
The family company is characterised by their ability to act sustainably, think innovatively and set new standards in the world of spirits. Their strong portfolio of top international spirits is firmly established as is their state-of-the-art technology, quick logistics and direct communication: All of these make BORCO unmistakable and successful.
Sierra Tequila emerged as a market leader in 1982. Today the Number 1 brand in Europe and in many countries around the world such as Australia. Today it is still owned by two family businesses, one in Jalisco Mexico, where the distillery and production of Sierra take place, and the other, in Germany. In fact, the Mexican owner and Master Distiller Rodolfo Gonzalez Gonzalez comes from a tequila dynasty where his ancestors have been making tequila for over 150 years. “We are not mass producers of tequila, we are a family business producing tequila” explains Kathrin.
Tequila is the “Champagne of Spirits” with lots of rules and regulations governing how it is produced. Terroir matters to tequila and Sierra is produced in Los Altos, Jalisco (the epicentre of tequila). There are four other regions in Mexico that produce tequila, and these are Tamaulipas, Guanajuato, Nayarit and Michoacán. All these regions are situated on the Pacific Ocean side of Mexico because its climate and geology are particularly good for growing agave. This area is known for its windy climate, mountainous ranges, temperature fluctuations and lack of water.
All these conditions stress the agave plants and this helps the plant to provide a more concentrated agave that results in a fruity and naturally sweet flavour. Their agaves are situated high in Mount Tequila, and so they are concentrated in mineral, providing rich nutrients to the agave. Los Altos, where Sierra plantation is located is situated approx. 1750 – 2200 metres above sea level. Only blue agave off-shoots known as baby agaves, Jijuelos are selected and planted by hand by the highly experienced and skilled Jimadors, who harvest agave hearts known as pinas by hand. To produce our Sierra Silver Tequila, they start harvesting agave at 7 years and Milenario at 10 years.
There is a lot of care that goes into the agave for it to grow. The agave is rooted in the Mexican soul, they’ve been harvesting this plant for over 20,000 years for food, medicine, building material, clothing, even pointy needles for sewing. Of course, they use it to make tequila so for the Mexican people there are a lot of reasons to love this plant.
It truly is a ‘labour of love’ because agave takes such a long time to produce good quality tequila. The job of the Jimador is a proud one and it means you have a lot of knowledge and expertise on agave and how to grow & harvest it. In fact, Jimador’s come up with intricate patterns of where to plant agave clones to protect their fields from pests. It’s a very labour-intensive job so it has to be a labour of love because lots of care is taken on the fields to grow it successfully.
Sierra is also proud to be able to share that for the past 20 years it has not used chemical fertilizers. Destilería Sierra was one of the first tequila distilleries in the world to stop using artificial fertilizer on its fields. They only use cow and chicken manure to fertilise their plants and mineral solutions to protect their agave from pests and even wash the agave leaves with this mineral solution to protect it. They also let their agave to grow as long as they can and much longer than legally required. “We are more interested in quality over quantity”, says Kathrin.
THE SIERRA TEQUILA PRODUCTION PROCESS.
PICKING, PLANTING AND GROWTH
Cuttings referred to as “baby agaves” (hijuelos) are taken from more mature agave plants. These baby agaves are planted by hand. It is at this stage that lower quality agaves are sifted out. Our agaves don’t grow in big, artificial greenhouses; they grow out in the highland fields.
Sierra fieldworkers (jimadores) have years of experience, and they care for the agaves with their hands and hearts from the time they are planted to when they are harvested, which requires a lot of time and patience. They work the Sierra fields without the help of machines, which allows the plants to benefit from their natural environment in peace.
HARVESTING AND TRANSPORT
Sierra agaves grow for a long period of time until they are harvested. Every agave is an individual. The jimador waits for the moment when the inner leaves of the agave are longer than the outer ones. That is the ideal time to harvest. The agaves are harvested individually by hand by the jimadores using a coa, which is a sharp harvesting knife. The heart of the agave is called the piña (or “pineapple”). A piña weighs on average between 20 and 80 kg. The agave arrives intact at the distillery. They are chopped just before they enter the autoclaves to maintain as much of its flavour.
Agaves are cut up by axe at Destilería Sierra and then placed in large stainless-steel tubes (autoclaves) and cooked gently. After 16 to 24 hours, the steamed agaves are taken out of their cooking pots. The fructose they contain has now been transformed into sugar. At this stage, the agave tastes similar to boiled pumpkin.
PRESSING, FERMENTATION AND DISTILLATION
The fruit, which is now soft and mildly fruity, undergoes a step-by-step extraction process. Special yeast is added to the agave juice to ferment it, and by the end of the fermentation process, it is a kind of agave wine with between 8 and 10% alcohol content by volume. This is then traditionally distilled twice in copper pot still vessels. The fibres left over after pressing are used for the production of insulating materials and natural materials.
After distilling, blanco tequila is placed into large steel tanks where it matures before being bottled as Sierra Tequila Silver, or Sierra Milenario Tequila Blanco. The other types of tequila are stored in oak barrels for different periods of time, which refines their flavour to perfection. The ex-bourbon oak barrels come from Heaven Hill in Kentucky (another family owned company).
THE FINISHED PRODUCT
There is one thing that all Destilería Sierra tequilas have in common, and that is the traditional care with which they are handled throughout the entire production process. Next, you can discover the characteristics of our different tequilas and find out which tequila suits you best.
Tequila has to contain at least 51% agave juice. Sierra tequila has between 65-70% agave and the Milenario Fumado contains 100% agave juice.
Our current range of Sierra consists of Sierra Silver, Sierra Reposado and Sierra Café. The newest addition to the family is the Sierra Milenario Fumado, a new innovative tequila, hand-crafted 100% de agave tequila. It was born out of constant requests for the tequila distillery to make a Mezcal, but this is a very different process to growing tequila. Tequila Fumado is the distillery’s response to create a smoky tequila. It features a unique ahumado process with exquisite Mesquite wood that provides its exceptional desired notes of smokiness. Clean and crisp agave aromas with a fruity smoky taste and a hint of chilli make this tequila exceptional. Its profile is completed by powerful notes of roasted delights with soft and elegant agave undertones. Sierra Milenario Tequila Fumado is an award-winning tequila having been awarded Siler Medal at the 2018 Tequila Masters hosted by international publication, Spirits Business.
Today in the western Sierra Madre – the mineral-rich highlands of the Federal State of Jalisco – Sierra’s master distiller produces the 100% de Agave Sierra Milenario Tequila range using traditional methods. In the sun-drenched, low-precipitation climate the highland agaves grow free from artificial fertilizer or industrial irrigation for many years, until they are harvested by hand.
The distillery in Guadalajara, capital of Jalisco, is built on the grounds of an old hacienda and there only the best first-pressed agave juice is fermented and then traditionally distilled in copper vats, before being bottled by hand.
MILENARIO PRODUCTION PROCESS
Premium Tequila begins with the finest Weber blue agaves. Which is why Sierra carefully chooses only the best: if they don’t make the grade in their scrupulous triple selection process, then they don’t make it into their Tequila.
THREE IS THE MAGIC NUMBER
The first step is finding special, isolated cru fields in the highlands of the Jalisco region. The soil must be rich in minerals, the altitude just right, and the fields tended by only the most experienced jimadors.
The second step involves selecting the finest baby agaves. Sierra jimadors will cultivate the chosen plants for many years without using fertilizers before they harvest them by hand.
And harvesting only the cream of the agave crop is what the third step is all about. Our experts pick only the plants that have the highest sugar content, for a clean, pure and delicious tasting tequila.
THE BEST IS FIRST PRESSED
After slowly cooking the agaves for a day, we use the juice from the first pressing so we’re claiming only the finest, freshest agave for our tequila.
THE TASTE OF TRADITION
To ferment the agave juice, we cultivate yeast in our highly-modern laboratories using a well-kept family secret that requires the heart of the agave (the ‘piña’). Every step of the distillation process is key to creating our premium Tequila; we believe that only the most traditional, time-tested distillation techniques are able to produce this refined taste. Gentle, low-grade distillation is carried out in copper pots and extracts the distinct flavour from the agaves, giving us the exceptional quality synonymous with Sierra Milenario Tequila.
THE PROOF IS PERFECTION
With its alcohol content of 41.5% ABV, (excluding Sierra Milenario Café, which has 35% ABV) Sierra Milenario Tequila exceeds the proof requirements that define a premium Tequila.
After the distillation process, Sierra Reposado, Anejo and Extra-Anejo mature in either American white oak or French limousine oak barrels for up to four years. The ideal climate conditions, the air circulation, the carefully selected barrels and the length of maturation lead to their unique flavour and finish.
HOW TO BEST ENJOY SIERRA FUMADO TEQUILA
Kathrin Abels recommends that the best way drink Sierra Fumado is to sip it slowly straight or enjoy it in cocktails like Tommy’s Margarita as it showcases the agave flavour and works well with spices like chilli. It works well with Sage, Basil, Mandarin and hibiscus too.
“This tequila is great with lemon juice, so try a Basil Smash but substitute the gin for Tequila Fumado” Kathrin suggests.
Kathrin’s favourite is the Negroni with Fumado. It features: –
20mL Sierra Tequila Fumado
20mL Sweet Vermouth
5m: Sierra Café
Garnish with an orange twist.
Kathrin recommends Aussie bartenders to feature Fumado as a twist on the Mexican Mule and the Lupita! She says, “Sierra Fumado can add a unique flavour to these classic drinks, you will be pleasantly surprised with the results!”
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