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In 1991 Billy and Akaisha Kaderli retired at the age of 38. Now, into their 3rd decade of this financially independent lifestyle, they invite you to take advantage of their wisdom and experience.

La Altena Tequila Distillery

Arandas, Jalisco, Mexico

Billy and Akaisha Kaderli

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The reason we are traveling through the Golden Triangle of Tequila-making in the Mexican State of Jalisco is because the finest tequilas in the world are produced here.

The Golden Triangle of Tequila Making, Mexico Highlands, Jalisco, Mexico

The Golden Triangle of Tequila Making, Mexico Highlands, Jalisco, Mexico

We had just toured El Pandillo Distillery, whose tequilas currently rank as number one in the world.

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.

Closed gate at La Altena Distillery, Arandas, Jalisco, Mexico

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 there.

Sign on the front of La Altena Distillery, Arandas, Jalisco, Mexico

Sign on the front of La Altena Distillery

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 sister.

More long 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.

Whew.

A truck full of agave pinas on road to La Altena Distillery, Arandas, Jalisco, Mexico

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 stone oven.

Notice the agave field on the right.

Halved agave pinas before roasting, La Altena Distillery, Arandas, Jalisco, Mexico

Halved agave pinas before roasting

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 roasting ovens, La Altena Distillery, Arandas, Jalisco, Mexico

Two stone and brick agave roasting ovens

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, La Altena Distillery, Arandas, Jalisco, Mexico

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 Altena Distillery, Arandas, Jalisco, Mexico

Magaily Franco, our tour guide at La Altena Distillery

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 tequila-making process.

Magaily is La Altena's Ambassador.

Oven door open, showing roasted agave pinas, La Altena Distillery, Arandas, Jalisco, Mexico

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 the oven La Altena Distillery, Arandas, Jalisco, Mexico

Close up of roasted agave in the oven

 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 agave, La Altena Distillery, Arandas, Jalisco, Mexico

A traditional tahona to crush agave

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 road.

This volcanic stone is moved by a John Deere tractor. Siete Leguas 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, Arandas, Jalisco, Mexico

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 excellent water.

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 that it 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 Distillery, Arandas, Jalisco, Mexico

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.

Copper stills at La Altena Distillery, Arandas, Jalisco, Mexico

Copper stills

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, La Altena Distillery,  Arandas, Jalisco, Mexico

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, our tour guide at La Altena Distillery tasting ordinario, Arandas, Jalisco, Mexico

Magaily Franco pouring ordinario for tasting

 

 

 

 

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 tequila, La Altena Distillery, Arandas, Jalisco, Mexico

Used Jim Beam Whiskey barrel for aging tequila

After the second distillation the tequila is aged in oak barrels.

Most tequila companies like the used American white oak whiskey barrels, and Jack Daniels and Jim Beam barrels are the most popular.

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, Arandas, Jalicso, Mexico

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, La Altena Distillery, Arandas, Jalisco, Mexico

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 them.

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.

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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, La Altena Distillery, Arandas, Jalisco, Mexico

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, La Altena Distillery, Arandas, Jalisco, Mexico

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, Arandas, Jalisco, Mexico

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 flavor realm.

We learned so much from this tour and from the tasting itself. Tequila is an amazing and complex drink.

If you ever get up to the Mexican Highlands, be sure to stop at Al Altena for a tour - and be sure to call ahead!

For more information, photos and stories about Mexico, click here

For more information on tequila, click here

The most extensive tequila database on earth, Tequila Matchmaker

VIDEOS, VIDEOS, VIDEOS! See Mexico for yourself! Beaches, Bars, Babes, Great Food, Live Music.

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About the Authors

 
Billy and Akaisha Kaderli are recognized retirement experts and internationally published authors on topics of finance, medical tourism and world travel. With the wealth of information they share on their award winning website RetireEarlyLifestyle.com, they have been helping people achieve their own retirement dreams since 1991. They wrote the popular books, The Adventurer’s Guide to Early Retirement and Your Retirement Dream IS Possible available on their website bookstore or on Amazon.com.

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