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Monday, January 30, 2023

Mayapán’s agave spirits are delicious — just don’t call them tequila

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Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Born in Mérida, Carlos Rosado van der Gracht is a Mexican/Canadian blogger, photographer and adventure expedition leader. He holds degrees in multimedia, philosophy and translation from universities in Mexico, Canada and Norway. Sign up for the Yucatán Roundup, a free newsletter, which delivers the week's top headlines every Monday.
The heart of the Agave tequilana, commonly known as blue agave is the principal ingredient in the production of Tequila. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Tequila is a distilled beverage made from the blue agave plant, and Mexico’s most famous hard liquor export by far. Tequila, as we know it today, was first produced in the 16th century near the city of Tequila in the state of Jalisco. 

It can be called tequila only if produced in the states of Jalisco, Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas. So that would mean that Yucatán does not produce tequila, right? Well yes and no. 

Distilleries in Yucatán are not allowed to designate their blue agave beverage tequila, but in reality, it is tequila in all but name. It is practically identical, like champagne and a quality sparkling white wine. 

Regardless of what the label says, if it looks, smells and tastes like tequila, as far as I am concerned, it’s tequila. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Destilería Artesanal de Agave Mayapán is Yucatán’s best-known agave distillery and is located on the outskirts of Valladolid. Although far from Jalisco, the distillery produces high-quality agave liquor from the blue agave plant in much the same way as in the city of Tequila itself. 

The distillery, gift shop, and all areas of the property were built using local materials to keep with a traditional aesthetic. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

The agave plantation is open to visitors and offers tours that cost 50 pesos and include a sampling of their products.

A portrait of the distillery’s founders (the  Beutelspachers) hangs above the gift shop. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

The tour starts off with a brief explanation about blue agave and its harvesting. Our guide, Christina, explained that agave is harvested using a special tool known as a jimador, which resembles a sharp oval shovel with a long handle. 

The jimador is used to cut off the agave’s extremely prickly leaves until only the heart of the agave, or piña remains. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Blue agaves take between seven to eight years to achieve maturity and their hearts can weigh up to 100 kilograms. On average, the heart of an agave can be expected to produce 10% of its weight in distilled alcohol, though this amount can sometimes vary.

“One thing that makes our agave spirits different is that our process is entirely artisanal. This means that, unlike major brands, the taste and smell of our products vary a little from year to year. But we don’t see that as a downside at all, it’s part of what makes our products so special, said our guide. 

The Mayapán agave plantation is a great destination to learn about the history of distilling agave, as well as capturing some great photos. Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

After the heart of the agave is harvested, it is cut into four pieces and then cooked in a special wooden oven for a period of four days. Inside the oven, the heart of the agave is not exposed directly to the heat but is rather separated from the burning wood by a layer of stone. 

After the agave is cooked it has an extremely sweet smell, which resembles a more pungent pineapple. Perhaps this is the reason they are often referred to as piñas (pineapple in Spanish). 

The cooked agave heart does not only smell sweet, it tastes sweet too, though it is a bit rough and full of fibers. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

The agave is then processed in a mill. Christina told us that in the past horses had been used to power these types of mills, but that now out of concerns of animal welfare the process is done with the use of a machine.

The main mill at Destilería Artesanal de Agave Mayapán. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Once the agave has been run through the mill, it is placed in steel tanks to ferment for six days. The resulting alcohol is then distilled and then distilled again, to ensure a higher quality product. 

After the second round of distillation, the resulting spirit usually has an alcohol volume of approximately 38%. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht.

Once the process is complete, the distilled agave is placed in oak wooden barrels and allowed to age between 1 and 12 years. 

Without a doubt, the best part of the tour was the tasting. The agave distilled for a single year was good, but still somewhat rough. The three-year vintage was much smoother, but the six- and 12-year samples were truly delicious. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

While the tour is relatively short, at approximately 30 minutes, it is very interesting and informative and appropriate for people of all ages — aside from the sampling of course as the legal drinking age in Mexico is 18. If you plan on sampling all of the vintages, make sure that you designate a driver to refrain from the tasting, as you are sure to leave feeling at least a little tipsy. 

All vintages of Mayapán’s agave spirits are for sale in the gifts shop, which also carries a wide variety of souvenirs. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Given its proximity to Valladolid, as well as the archaeological sites of Chichén Itzá and Ek Balam, as well as countless cenotes, Destilería Artesanal de Agave Mayapán is sure to be on your way!

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