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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.

El Pandillo Tequila Distillery

Jesus Maria, Jalisco, Mexico

Billy and Akaisha Kaderli

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We were serious.

Many North Americans know tequila only by the College Students Spring Break activity of slamming shots down followed with a taste of salt and a bite of lime.

But for those who know personally of tequila's finer pleasures, that exercise in getting drunk is discordant with the respect for Mexico's national drink.

There is so much more to the story.

Map of Mexico's Highlands, The Golden Triangle of Tequila Making.

Map of Mexico's Highlands, The Golden Triangle of Tequila Making

We were traveling through the Golden Triangle of Tequila, in Mexico's Highland area of Los Altos de Jalisco, specifically today - the town of Jesus Maria.

It is here, that the number one rated tequila-making distillery in all of Mexico, El Pandillo, works its magic on the agave pina.

Blue-gray agave fields in Jesus Maria, Jalisco, Mexico

Blue-Gray agave fields in the iron-rich volcanic soil

From our hotel in Jesus Maria, we found a taxi driver to take us out to El Pandillo tequila distillery for 100Pesos, about $5USD, each way. For whatever reasons, we were not connecting with the distillery through their website, email address or phone number, so we decided once again, to simply show up.

This was a magnificent idea!

The Tahona at El Pandillo, Jesus Maria, Jalisco, Mexico

El Pandillo's original volcanic stone tahona, in the family for generations

 

 

 

 

Using a volcanic stone tahona to crush the cooked agave to release its aguamiel is the traditional manner in which tequila has been made for generations.

The tahona above is the Camarena Tahona, handed down through the fourth generation of tequila lineage in the family.

It stands on proud display here at the front of the distillery.

Oscar, the chemist at El Pandillo Distillery, Jesus Maria, Jalisco, Mexico

Oscar, the Chemist, at El Pandillo Distillery

Oscar was amazing. He was delightful, engaging, really "knew his topic" and he was open to making sure we understood everything we wanted to know about El Pandillo's style of making tequila.

What a resource he was!

Oscar explaining the baby offshoots of the agave plant

When an agave plant is about 3 years old, they might make an offshoot - a baby agave - from their roots. This is how the agave plant replaces itself. At El Pandillo, the agave that they harvest is between 6-8 years old, so from about 3 years of age and to harvest, one agave plant might make 3-4 offshoots on average.

Notice the family tahona on a stone pedestal on the left.

unroasted pina showing the center, El Padillo, Jesus Maria, Jalisco, Mexico.

Unroasted pina of the agave plant

This is what an agave pina looks like when it has been cut in half and before it has been roasted.

It is bone white, and when you tap it, it sounds hollow like a watermelon. Once it has been roasted, the sugars caramelize and turn the pina a coffee or caramel color.

In the center is a quiote, where the flower begins to rise from the pina, and that is cut out to prevent any bitterness from seeping into the tequila flavor.

El Pandillo's cooking ovens, Jesus Maria, Jalisco, Mexico

Two cooking ovens for the agave

Once the pinas have been split, then they are layered into one of these two ovens to be steamed. These ovens were designed to have two levels of steam entering to insure the even cooking of the pinas. One jet is about two feet from the floor, and the other jet is about 7 feet from the floor.

Control valves for the steam to enter the ovens, El Pandillo, Jesus Maria, Jalisco, Mexico

Valves that control the influx of steam into the stone ovens

On the outside of the stone ovens are these valves that control how much steam to let in, and at what levels of the oven.

Having the steam come in at two levels allows the pinas to have a more consistent cooking, and more quality control over the flavor of his tequilas.

Cooked agave in stone oven, El Pandillo, Jesus Maria, Jalisco, Mexico

Cooked agave in the stone oven

 

 

 

There are thousands of kilos of agave pina in a full stone oven. The agave is steam-cooked steadily for about 24 hours, then left to cool for another 24.

From chopping the agave, to roasting, to mashing, to fermenting, to distilling, it takes 3 weeks to make a single liter of tequila.

Wheelbarrows of cooked agave, Frankenstein and the Crusher, El Pandillo, Jesus Maria, Jalisco, Mexico

Wheelbarrows of cooked agave, Frankenstein and the Shredder

Here you see the darkened cooked agave loaded in wheelbarrows ready to be thrown into the tall yellow shredder, which shreds the pina and spits it out.

Workers pitch fork the shredded agave into place, in front of a modern-day tahona - a piecemeal but practical presser - which presses the aguamiel out for the next process which is fermentation.

Taking a pinch of cooked agave, El Pandillo, Jesus Maria, Jalisco, Mexico

This stuff is sticky-sweet!

At this point, the pinas are sticky-sweet like honey and caramel. Once the aguamiel is on your fingers, you'll be licking them "forever" to get the stickiness off.

Notice that I'm taking the tiiii-niest piece I can so I don't end up having fuzz on my fingers for the next hour of the tour.

tasting cooked agave at El Pandillo, Jesus Maria, Jalisco, Mexico

It's good, though!

Regardless of the stickiness, it's delicious. You can taste the caramel, the honey flavor, the "cooked-ness" -- all of which will translate into the flavor of the tequila later on down the line.

The fermentation room is behind those glass windows in the back of the photo.

Shredding and crushing the agave at El Pandillo distillery, Jesus Maria, Jalisco, Mexico

Men at work

To watch Billy's excellent video of this full process, click here.

Roasted agave is placed on a conveyor belt which carries the pina up into the shredder. Then the man in the center of the photo takes his pitch fork and dislodges these slashed bits of pulp onto the flooring where the two men in red shirts will strategically place them in front of what is affectionately called Frankenstein.

Frankenstein is a combination of machinery from a bus, a truck, this and that and a 1 horsepower motor that moves it. It weighs around 8,000 kilos, and is very efficient in its pressing out the agave juice.

The shredded agave in the left of the photo has already been pressed and will be returned to the fields for fertilizer.

Pitchforks and shredded pina at El Pandillo distillery, Jesus Maria, Jalisco, Mexico

More action

Here you see very clearly how these men work in tandem to get the pina pulp in the right place for the modernized tahona to do its job.

Pitchforks and pina, right here at El Pandillo Distillery!

8,000 kilos of weight smashing the pina pulp at El Pandillo distilleryJesus Maria, Jalisco, Mexico

8,000 kilos of weight

Back and forth, back and forth, this 8,000 kilo weight slowly munches down on the pina pulp to extract the juice.

A man on the left is adding spring water (or rain water, or deep well water) to the pulp as Frankenstein gradually makes its way from one end to the other.

Up close

In the world of tequila, Frankenstein is singular. He's the only one of its kind.

Traditionally, distilleries use the volcanic stone, bringing minerals to the taste of the tequila, but Frank is far more efficient than a tahona drawn by mules or oxen.

And El Pandillo prides itself on its efficiency.

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Mechanical Tahona crushing aguamiel out of agave pina, El Pandillo distillery, Jesus Maria, Jalisco, Mexico

Doesn't look so yummy now...

There are troughs on both sides of Frankenstein which funnel the liquid into the distilling tanks in the next room. The tanks fill up using the power of gravity to bring the liquid into them.

Stainless steel fermentation tanks, El Pandillo distillery, Jesus Maria, Jalisco, Mexico

Stainless steel fermentation tanks

The aguamiel crushed out of the agave by Frankenstein is gravity fed into these stainless steel tanks.

When we were there, we saw one tank being filled as we watched, another tank that was on its second day of fermentation, and still another tank that had 3 days on it.

Fermentation tank filling up

These are the gravity-fed tubes carrying the honey water from where Frank has crushed it out of the agave and is now filling this tank. At the same time, one of the tubes is bringing a specialized yeast blend that has been stored in a separate tank in this fermentation room. The specialized yeast is being added at the same time as the agave juice in order to mix the contents evenly.

Agave juice fermenting, El Pandillo Distillery, Jesus Maria, Jalisco, Mexico

Agave juice is fermenting with the specialized yeast

Here you see the agave aguamiel and yeast working together in the fermentation process.

This takes a few days.

Copperand stainless steel tanks for the distillation process. El Pandillo distillery, Jesus Maria, Jalisco, Mexico

The copper and stainless steel tanks

When the fermenting aguamiel is ready for distillation, again it is gravity fed into the copper tanks on the left side of this photo.

In the distillation process, copper is used to impart flavor into the tequila. It also reacts on a molecular level with the sulfurs put out by the fermenting yeast, and it "cancels out" the sulfur taste which makes the tequila bitter.

Here you see the first distillation copper and stainless steel tanks (on the left), as well as the second set of copper and stainless steel tanks for the second distillation (on the right).

copper distillation tanks for making tequila, El Pandillo distillery, Jesus Maria, Jalisco, Mexico

The series of copper distillation tanks

The fermented agave juice fills one of these copper tanks and then steam is pumped into the tank through coils at the bottom to heat up the juice.

This is the first distillation.

You can see here that the copper still is heavily sealed with rivets. The lid for the opening here, is quite heavy. When the lid closes, then those valves are turned shut so there are no leaks.

copper tubing at the bottom of the still, El Pandillo, Jesus Maria, Jalisco, Mexico

Coiled copper tubing at the bottom of the still

Steam is generated from the next room and into these coils to heat up the fermented agave juice called mosto. The mosto gets so hot that it turns to steam and rises to the top of the still and condenses flowing into the stainless steel distiller next to it.

Steam maker, El Pandillo distillery, Jesus Maria, Jalisco, Mexico

The steam making machine

In another room is this steam generator. The steam after use is recaptured in another tank and recycled over and over for efficiency.

Master Distiller Felipe Camarena and Akaisha, El Pandillo, Jesus Maria, Jalisco, Mexico

Master Distiller Felipe Camarena and Akaisha

Felipe has a civil engineering background, and an artist's heart. He is considered to be the "Mad Scientist" of today's tequila industry.

He was warm, charming, intelligent, dedicated, knowledgeable about his product and freely gave his time to us.

He speaks English and Spanish both. His sons will take over this family business when he retires.

What a legacy!

Tequila aging barrels of white oak, El Pandillo, Jesus Maria, Jalisco, Mexico

White oak aging barrels

Other than the blancos which are not aged at all, the reposados and anejos are placed in white oak barrels such as these for several months. Reposados (which means "rested") are placed in a Jack Daniels whiskey barrel or a Jim Beam bourbon barrel from 60 days to 364 days -- not quite a year.

These barrels are imported from the US just for this purpose.

Anejos (which means aged or vintage) are placed in these white oak barrels for a minimum of one year up to three years.

Extra Anejo is aged at a minimum of 3 years.

Since about 6% of the barreled liquid evaporates each year (this is called The Angel's Share), Anejo and Extra Anejo become increasingly expensive to produce.

James B. Beam Bourbon Whiskey tequila aging barrel. El Pandillo Distillery, Jesus Maria, Jalisco, Mexico

Jim Beam Bourbon Whiskey barrel from Kentucky

Here you see James B. Beam Bourbon Whiskey Sour Mash stamped on the used barrel imported from Kentucky.

These barrels are used over and over again in aging tequila, until they become "exhausted." Some tequila distilleries utilize these "exhausted" barrels for yet another feature for the taste of their tequilas. If a tequila is aged in an exhausted barrel, that tequila emphasizes the expression of agave more than flavors of the barrel.

Aging in these whisky or bourbon barrels imparts a golden color to the tequila, and make for a smoother and sweeter drink.

details in maturation barrels Jesus Maria, Jalisco, Mexico

Details of the barrel's contents

The slip of paper says "Tequila in maturation." It lists the El Pandillo Distillery with the lot number (P-0026) underneath. The category is 100% Agave (the only kind you should drink) and then it lets you know that there are 50 casks of this lot of tequila.

On the top right you will see "folio 38/50" which means this folder is cask #38 of 50 other casks.

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The NOM of El Pandillo Distillery is 1579

If you want to know who makes a certain tequila, look for the NOM on the bottle.

The NOM is the Norma Official Mexicana or, in English, the Normative Number. It is a seal certifying that this tequila is made to government standards and will be a certain level of quality.

"Mixtos" are made with "some" agave, but also with cane sugar, additives, flavorings, color and so on, and it is these mixtos that will give you a hangover.

All the tequilas made by El Pandillo Distillery will have the NOM of 1579.

Bottles of blanco tequila, Pasote, Terralta, G4, El Pandillo Distillery, Jesus Maria, Jalisco, Mexico

Pasote, Terralta and G4 blancos

These were the 3 blancos that we tasted at El Pandillo Distillery: Pasote, Terralta and G4.

Each of these tequilas are made from the same agave, using the same process. The only difference among them is the water used to create the tequila and yet their flavors were distinct from each other.

El Pandillo uses rainwater, spring water and deep well water.

These separate characteristics were noticeable. If you would like to see Billy's video on the tasting of these three tequilas, click here.

Reposado tasting at El Pandillo Distillery, Jesus Maria, Jalisco, Mexico

Time for the reposados!

 

 

 

 

Because of Oscar, the chemist or Master Blender, we learned to appreciate blanco tequila. Previously, these were not our favorite style, since we preferred the smoother, less fiery reposados.

Now that we had a good feel for El Pandillo's blancos, it was time to try their reposados.

 Here you see the Terralta Reposado, the favorite of Felipe Camarena, the Master Distiller of El Pandillo. This was Billy's favorite also.

In the background you see Pasote and G4 reposados.

They were mighty fine... mighty fine.

El Pandillo Logo, Jesus Maria, Jalisco, Mexico

El Pandillo Logo

El Pandillo was the name of Felipe's Grandfather's favorite bull. It is said that most of the cattle alive today in this region of Mexico are descendents of this bull.

So on this logo you have El Pandillo himself, the Blue Weber Agave plant and the traditional tahona used to crush the agave pina

A row of Terralta Reposado at current pricing, Arrandas, Mexico, Jalisco

Terralta Reposado

The current price of this tequila in Mexico runs about $23USD. In the States, the price is about double.

If you look closely, you will see the El Pandillo logo embossed into the bottles.

G4 Anejo bottles, Arrandas, Jalisco, Mexico

G4 Anejo bottles of tequila

This bottle of G4 Anejo runs close to $100USD in the States. 

These tequilas from El Pandillo are among some of the finest that Mexico can produce. If you see them for sale, we can certainly recommend that you purchase them.

 

 

 

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

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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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