Retirement; like your parents, but way cooler
In 1991 Billy and Akaisha Kaderli retired at the age
of 38. Now, into their 4th decade of this
financially independent lifestyle, they invite you
to take advantage of their wisdom and experience.
Arandas, Jalisco, Mexico
Whatever it is, tequila
probably can't fix it, but it's worth a shot! - Jimmy Buffett
Billy and Akaisha Kaderli
The reason we are traveling through the Golden Triangle of Tequila-making in the
Mexican State of Jalisco is because the
tequilas in the world are produced
The Golden Triangle of Tequila Making,
Mexico Highlands, Jalisco, Mexico
We had just
Pandillo Distillery, whose tequilas currently rank as number one in the
As tequila-making is
often a family business affair passed down through generations, we were not
surprised that La Altena, a distillery just outside of Arandas, was run by
Felipe Camarena's brother and sisters.
Felipe was kind enough to call ahead to
La Altena to get us a tour without our having to wait weeks to get in.
Gated Entrance to La Altena Distillery
From the Plaza in Arandas,
we hired a taxi to take us to La Altena Distillery. However, when we arrived at the
gate, it was locked and there was a guard station on the right.
"Do you have an appointment? I can't let
you pass without an appointment," the guard said.
"We know Felipe Camarena and he called
ahead for us to be able to take a tour. We're supposed to meet Jenny."
"Let me check inside."
Long moments passed with the guard
returning, saying we have no appointment, and he can't let us in.
No, no, no, no, no, we can't have that -
we want to, we need to get in for a tour.
So one of the guards leaves on foot to
the entrance of the distillery, and promises to call the guard station from
Sign on the front of La Altena
More long moments pass and we chat with the remaining guard, letting him
know that we toured El Pandillo a few days before. We met Felipe and his
chemist, Oscar, and Felipe suggested we come here and speak with Jenny, his
moments pass, and this was confusing to us, as we thought receiving a tour
should be so easy...
Finally, the phone in
the guard house rang.
Felipe, his sons and his sister were all
there and remembered Billy and me from just a few days ago.
"PASSALE!" The guard said.
And we drove through.
A truck full of agave pinas on
the private road to La Altena Distillery
The distillery itself is down this
country road a ways. Here you see a dump truck full of harvested agave
pinas being transported to their next location where they will be halved,
the quiote (agave flower) taken out and then roasted in a
Notice the agave field on the right.
Halved agave pinas before
Once in the distillery, the pinas
are split as you can see here. The quiote (looks like a leek stem on
the floor) is taken out so that the bitterness of this organic material does
not make its way into the final tequila product.
If you tap on the white part of the
pina, it sounds like a watermelon - kind of hollow, but holding liquid.
Two stone and brick agave
Every distillery needs roasting ovens.
The agave pina is placed here in
these ovens to be roasted for at least 24 hours. Some distilleries roast
longer, but they all use steam as a heat source.
Filling up the agave ovens
Mature pinas can vary in weight
(from 80 to 300 pounds), so even when halved they are quite heavy.
The pina is loaded onto this
conveyor belt and is moved into filling up the oven, floor to ceiling.
Magaily Franco, our tour guide at La
Magaily is telling us all the details of
harvesting, what makes a mature agave, what percent of sugars they
are looking for, and how the ovens work.
She was very knowledgeable about the full
Magaily is La Altena's Ambassador.
An open oven door, showing roasted
agave pinas inside
After roasting, the sugars in the pina
have turned brown.
The agave will be removed and next
will be crushed to extract this sweet liquid.
Close up of roasted agave in
All the sugars in the
pina have caramelized, thus the brown color. The outside spines of the
pina are very fibrous and in order to munch on the sweet agave,
you must scrape the spines between your teeth. The center of the pina
is a texture a bit like pumpkin and can readily be eaten without effort.
However... this is not the destiny for
this agave. It will turn up as tequila in a few weeks!
A traditional tahona to crush
La Altena has two ways to crush their
agave, depending on what flavor they want to bring out in their final
product. They have the traditional tahona as you see here, and they
also have a mechanical crusher. The stone tahona adds minerals to the
agave as it is crushing it, which affects the flavor later down the
This volcanic stone is moved by a John
uses donkeys to pull their tahona, and
El Pandillo uses Frankenstein, an
8,000 kilo mechanical crusher, moved by a 1 horsepower motor.
Spring water at La Altena Distillery
We were told by a Master Distiller that
to make excellent tequila you need two things: excellent agave and
La Altena Distillery uses spring water
from its finca. You can see the iron content of the water leaving its
mark on the walls.
Billy tasted this water and commented
was very high in earthy minerals.
Here we were in the cave room where
tequila was put in used white oak barrels to age. This spring water was
drizzling down the wall in order to keep the humidity high so the barrels
would not split from becoming dry.
This is very important, as there is a
certain percentage of the liquid in the barrels that is lost yearly to
evaporation. This is called "The Angels' Share." When you can keep the
barrel staves moist, they are tighter and thus, less evaporation, keeping
aging costs down.
Natural fermentation in wooden barrels
La Altena does not add yeast to their
fermentation process but rather allows the natural bacteria from the biomass
to create it.
There is a bit of this necessary bacteria
left inside the barrel between batches, and this also adds to the process.
There is an interesting
story about these particular copper stills.
El Pandillo and La
Altena Distilleries are run by the Camarena Family. The grandfather of this
family (Don Felipe Camarena Hernández) was the first in the family to distill tequila
legally, and he had both these copper stills and a volcanic stone tahona.
Felipe of El Pandillo was given the
tahona, and Carlos and his sisters were given these copper stills which
are still in use today.
Ordinario being collected from
the copper stills
The first distillation of the aguamiel
(the agave honey) is called ordinario.
At the second distillation, it then
becomes tequila with the proper alcohol content according to government
regulations and is ready to be sold as a blanco, or aged as a
reposado or anejo.
Magaily Franco pouring ordinario
Magaily is pouring a small taste of this ordinario into tiny plastic
cups for our tasting. This is so we can smell the bouquet and taste the
first distillation, making mental notes for comparison later.
Used Jim Beam Whiskey barrel for aging
After the second distillation the tequila
is aged in oak barrels.
Most tequila companies like the used
American white oak whiskey barrels, and
Daniels and Jim Beam barrels are the
The longer a tequila ages, the more color
and tannins it will have and the smoother it will be to the taste.
Magaily mentioned that when a barrel
becomes "exhausted" this distillery will use that barrel to age their
Tequila Ocho. In this way, their reposado or anejo will rest
or age, but without obtaining the barrel characteristics. This allows the
agave to express itself on its own.
In producing Tequila Ocho, La Altena also
does not utilize the stone tahona, but rather the crushing machine.
This is a new style of tequila that La
Altena is producing, not wanting to influence the agave, but rather
allow it to assert itself in its own way.
Barrels aging Tapatio Tequila
La Altena Distillery was founded in 1937
with its first tequila named Tapatio.
This particular tequila has won gold,
silver and bronze metals in competitions. The Distillery is currently ranked
as #8 by Tequila Matchmaker.
Tapatio Blanco runs about $35USD per
bottle in the States.
Our tequila tasting of blancos
After our full tour of La Altena
Distillery, we all traipsed to the tasting room. Laid out before us were
several place settings of 5 flutes with about an inch of blanco tequila in
Now, let me just say that before we
visited the Golden Triangle of Tequila-making, neither Billy nor I preferred
blanco tequila. It was a little too bold and fiery for our tastes and
we preferred the smoother, sweeter reposados.
Oscar the Master Blender/Chemist at La Pandilla told us that "anyone"
can make a reposado or anejo. The barrel flavors and sometimes
the additives can cover up a lot of mistakes. But to make a blanco -
one that is memorable with body and aroma - takes skill.
Magaily pretty much said the same thing,
and she showed us how to appreciate these blancos.
We tasted Los Lobos, two different
Tequila Ochos (the only difference was the agave used), a Tapatio blanco
and then the El Tesoro blanco.
The Los Lobos was flowery and easy to
drink - seemingly the least favorite of everyone but me. Of the five of us,
most really enjoyed the Tapatio blanco and several favored El Tesoro
which came on STRONG, with a powerful peppery taste.
Tequila Ocho Reposado
After tasting the blancos, Magaily
brought out an Ocho anejo and reposado and a Tapatio El
Potrillo reposado. All were simply excellent.
Notice the plate of crackers that would
help us clear our palate between tasting one copa and another. When
we first began the tasting, we were instructed that if our nose became
overwhelmed or confused, in order to clear it out, we could simply smell our
wrist and this would "reset" our power of smell.
Tequila Ocho Reposado with
Distiller's signature and NOM
Tequila Ocho is the newest product of La
Altena. Focused on allowing the agave to "express itself," this
tequila is crushed by machine and aged in exhausted barrels.
The reposados and anejos
have a light color even after aging.
Here you see the signature of Carlos
Camarena on the bottle, noting that this bottle is number 6,810 and with the distillery NOM.
The NOM is a number on the label of every
100% agave bottle of tequila, and it is the Norma Oficial Mexicana,
or in English, the Normative Number. It is a seal guaranteeing that this
tequila is made to government standards.
Our tequila tasting after the tour of
La Altena Distillery
My oh my, those are a LOT of glasses!
After all the blancos, and a
couple of reposados and anejos, I've had my fill of tequila
for the day! But still... the tastings go on. The men on the left were
purchasers from Frankfurt, Germany, and asked about several other boutique
bottles with higher alcohol content.
For Billy and me, these were out of our
learned so much from this tour and from the tasting itself. Tequila is an
amazing and complex drink.
ever get up to the Mexican Highlands, be sure to stop at Al Altena for a
tour - and be sure to call ahead!
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About the Authors
Early Lifestyle appeals to a different
kind of person – the person who prizes their
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