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  • Writer's pictureBil

Tequila Time

Blanco, Reposado and Añejo, and four types of tequila liqueur
Blanco, Reposado and Añejo, and four types of tequila liqueur

Many of us have some great stories from our misspent youth (or misspent present days?) that revolve around the mystical properties of Tequila. I have a dear friend that had a particular fondness for José Cuervo back in college times, inducing him to imbibe a bit more freely than the rest of us. On more than one occasion he was not to be found as the rest of us were staggering off to rest sometime before dawn.

After scouring all the indoor rooms, we were forced out into the frozen, Midwest winter to continue the search. Lo and behold, there lay our woebegone companion, face down in the ditch, mumbling something about “José, José…”.  Scott (not his real name) muttered “leave him be! I’m goin’ ta bed!” And maybe the alcohol in his blood would have kept him alive, but the rest of us felt it prudent to drag him back inside. Who knows – might be one of us next time?

Ever since homo sapiens stumbled up onto their hind legs, they have sought out natural substances to consume that altered their perception of the world around them. And it didn’t take long to figure out how to modify these items to strengthen their effects.

Tequila’s origins go back over 2,000 years when indigenous peoples of the Mexican highlands, such as the Aztecs or the Toltec Empire, learned to produce pulque from the fermented sap of the maguey (agave) plant. Pulque was an important part of sacred rituals and reserved for the upper classes.

They represented an endless number of deities or gods drinking the juice from an agave plant or characters a person could exhibit when over intoxicated.
Aztec Goddess Mayahuel & her 400 Rabbit Children

Hundreds of years later local legends state that a lightning bolt struck a large maguey plant, instantly cooking it and splitting it open, releasing the juices. This “elixir of the gods” came to be called mezcal, which means "oven-cooked agave" in Nahuatl. Various other stories of origin say that early Mesoamerican people discovered fermentation using clay pots, while others credit the Filipino or Spanish with introducing fermentation and distillation to Mexico, utilizing the agave and coconut to produce alcoholic drinks.

However, the strong, smokey flavor of mescal did not sit well on the sophisticated palates of the Spanish Conquistadors, so they modified the cooking and distillation process to produce a more consistent beverage without the smokey flavor.

About this time (1595) King Philip II of Spain became alarmed that the export of wine to the Americas was falling dramatically, and thus finances, owing to the flourishing vineyards and wine production in Central Mexico. He issued a decree prohibiting the planting of vines and the production of wines and coconut liquors.

Conquistadors with natives
Conquistadors with natives

This was an opportune moment for the tequila business, and Don Pedro Sánchez de Tagle, the Marquis of Altamira, seized the opportunity, utilizing the abundant blue agave plants. He built his first spirits factory in his Hacienda Cuisillos (near the village of Tequila, in the state of Jalisco), one of the largest haciendas during that time and amassed a great fortune. The Marquis is known today as the "Father of Tequila".

In 1758 Spain's King Charles IV granted the Cuervo family permission to cultivate and harvest the blue agave plant in the Jalisco region of Mexico, where Don José Antonio de Cuervo founded the Taberna de Cuervo, to commercially make tequila. Today their brand s produces a fifth of the world market. Blue agave tequila from Mexico is in demand everywhere.

Susie has developed an affinity for margaritas and has enjoyed sampling them all over the world. One particular bartender at Coco Grove in Siquijor (the Philippines) really mixed a winner. Her secret was to use Grand Marnier, which contains cognac as well as triple sec, instead of a house brand of triple sec.

Margarita makings, overlooking the Pacific
Margarita makings, overlooking the Pacific

After spending many pleasurable months sipping and shopping throughout Mexico the last couple of years, Susie has perfected her own recipe. I am only revealing the contents – not the proportions – as that is a matter of taste. And don’t tell her.

Well, actually she does vary some from week to week, but usually starts with José Cuervo Silver. She prefers Cointreau over Grand Marnier, but Cointreau has been difficult to find in Mazatlán. However, there is a Mexican brand of triple sec called Controy that tastes just fine. Imagine that! Add some pure La Noria blue agave syrup to sweeten to taste, squeeze in some fresh Key limes (that are grown here in Sinaloa), shake and pour over ice. Ta-da! (full disclosure – she does use José Cuervo Original Margarita Mix in a pinch, if some ingredients are missing.)


Welcome to Los Osuna
Welcome to Los Osuna

Whilst hanging out in Mazatlán this winter we have been fortunate enough to visit Los Osuna, a small tequila farm and distillery several times. They produce three main types of tequila: Blanco, Reposado and Añejo, and four types of tequila liqueur. This is a fun & educational experience where a guide walks you through the growing, harvesting and processing of the agave to produce their boutique brand of spirits, ending with a sampling of the tasty end product.

Driving along Carr. A La Noria about 40 km NE of Mazatlán (after passing the huge Osuna rooster farm!) we come to the entrance for Los Osuna, flanked by a tall fence made from transplanted giant cacti and weathered wooden posts. Two kilometers of dirt road winds through acres of blue agave, large parota trees and a few ancient cacti that are too large to move, ending at a small parking lot.

We are met by a guide in the open reception area that features several beautiful wooden tables made from parota wood, partially shaded by a magnificent specimen of these trees, with many of the distinctive ear-shaped seed pods dangling from the branches. Two small groups of visitors are queued up at the bar and a few others browse in the small gift shop. Our guide begins to describe the cultivation process.

blue Weber agave
Blue Weber agave

Mexican law has declared that only blue Weber agave (classified by German naturalist Franz Weber) can be used to produce tequila, due to its distinctive flavor, easy cultivation, and high sugar content. The plants are harvested between 8 to 10 years of age, before they flower, when the farmer decides they have just the right amount of sugar content. After removing from the ground, a jimador uses a sharp, spade-like coa to chop the leaves away from the piña (pineapple, or heart), which can weigh from 60 to 100 kg.

Then the piñas are transported to the traditional underground brick ovens (140 years old) where they are halved and tossed in, cooking for 48 hours with steam heat, which transforms the starch into fermentable sugars, and softens the structure of the plant to facilitate extraction of the juices or “jugos”.

Chopping the leaves away from the piña
Chopping the leaves away from the piña

The next step is to mash the baked piñas to extract the agave juice. Los Osuna has three generations of equipment on display: from the original donkey-drawn grist wheel to the steam/belt powered grist wheel, to the current, sleek electric machine that squeezes out the juice with multiple passes, sending it to the fermentation tanks. The fiber left behind can be used as compost, animal feed, or fuel. 

Now comes the heart of the process: fermentation! We are led into a glass-walled room, down a catwalk between several huge, open-topped barrels, as some beautiful Mozart plays through overhead speakers. Los Osuna uses a particular local yeast to transform the basic sugars in the juice into alcohol. They believe the yeast requires certain vibrations to activate and produce the best results, and classical instrumental music provides just the right stimulation! Not banda, rap or rock! Or Taylor Swift.

Distillation is the process that purifies the liquid and concentrates the alcohol. All Los Osuna products are twice distilled. The first process called destrozamiento, in a copper/stainless steel still yields a product called ordinario. The second distillation, called rectification uses a still made of wood and copper, which adds flavor and produces the “tequila.” This second distillation produces the rough product at 60% alcohol/volume and has the aroma and the flavor of the blue agave plant.

Chopping the leaves away from the piña
1st stage distillation tanks

When distilling there are “cuts” to be made to ensure you get safe and desirable tasting spirit.

The “heads” represent the initial portion of the distillation run. This fraction typically contains volatile compounds with lower boiling points than the desired ethanol or essential oil, and can include harmful substances like methanol, acetone, and other unwanted congeners. Distillers typically discard the heads to ensure that the final product is safe for consumption.

Hearts are the prize of the distillation process. This is the part of the distillate that contains the desired alcohol or essential oil, along with the compounds that contribute to the unique flavors, aromas, and characteristics of the final product. Distillers carefully collect and preserve this fraction for further aging or blending to achieve the desired flavor profile.

The last portion of alcohol that is produced from most stills is the “tails”. This portion contains heavier alcohols, a much higher percentage of water and other unwanted by-products which are more water soluble.

In the world of spirits production, achieving the perfect cut between heads, hearts, and tails is both an art and a science. Distillers often rely on their senses, such as taste and smell, as well as precise temperature and pressure measurements to determine when to make the cut. These decisions can significantly influence the character and quality of the final product.

At Los Osuna all heads and tails are discarded, and no colorings, flavorings or thickeners are added to the Blanco, Reposado or Añejo.

2nd stage wooden tanks
2nd stage wooden tanks

After the product is obtained at 60% of alcohol, it is lowered to 38% by adding local deep well, distilled water which gives you the finished Los Osuna Blanco Expression. The Blanco is then rested for 90 days before bottling. To make Reposado, the Blanco is introduced into new White Oak Barrels and aged about 11months and the Añejo is aged up to 3 years in the same barrels and then blended.

During the aging process the products flavors and bouquet are refined after resting in white oak barrels. The product’s alcohol absorbs the different substances from the wood resulting in a perfect balance of texture, body, flavor and smoothness.

The final step is bottling and labeling, where every label is manually affixed. The alcoholic content is slightly below the standard 40% (80 proof) due to idiosyncrasies in Mexican law. Commercial tequila must have ABV between 35% and 55%, but the tax increases above 38%.

Another quirk is that only tequila produced in certain states in Mexico can legally have the word “Tequila” on the label, instead being called “Agave Distillate” or something similar. Los Osuna has a very interesting story about how this came about.


Three Osuna brothers emigrated from Spain in 1864 to the Mazatlán area. By 1876, they opened a large Mescal factory for sales in Mexico and California market. By the WW II era they were the largest Mescal producer in the area, rivaling competitors in the neighboring state of Jalisco.

In 1933, Alfonso Tirado Osuna won the Mayoral seat in Mazatlán, becoming very popular, much to the chagrin of the Governor of Sinaloa and the ruling PRI Party.

Osuna brothers
Osuna brothers

In retaliation, the Governor sent a cavalry of 320 men to confiscate and seize the Vinata agave farms and factories and redistribute the land to local peasants. Los del Monte, a 40-man mountain rebel militia was hired by the Vinata owners and a bloody battle took place near the Los Osuna property. The army cavalry was defeated and lost 206 men, with only six of the militia group dying.

Relative calm ensued and Mayor Alfonso Osuna remained in office for two years and then returned to manage the family’s Mescal business. Because of his immense popularity while Mayor, a movement began to have him enter and run in the upcoming state gubernatorial elections.

In 1938, while at the Hotel Rosales in the capital town of Culiacán a gunman appeared and assassinated him. As it turned out, the gunman was the Chief of the State Police who testified it was a justified homicide caused by a barroom fight. The Police Chief was lightly sentenced to a minimum prison term. Most people believe it was a planned assassination by Mayor Osuna’s political opponents.

Belmar Hotel on the Beach in Mazatlan
Belmar Hotel on the Beach in Mazatlan

Six years later, in 1944, during a Carnaval party at the Hotel Belmar in Mazatlán, the governor of Sinaloa, Rodilfo T. Loisa—the person believed to have ordered the killing of Mayor Osuna—was shot three times and killed. Many suspect the gunman was hired by Mayor Osuna’s father.

As a result of what many believed to be retribution for the assassination of Governor Loisa, beginning in 1949 it was decreed that tequila from only a few selected regions, primarily in the State of Jalisco, could meet the Standards of Tequila Classifications. As a result, most of the Vinatas in Sinaloa closed, including the Vinata Los Osuna.

Fast forward to the year 2000, the fifth generation Osuna’s, Alfonso and Sergio Pelayo Osuna, decide to restore their family’s business. Alfonso Osuna met with the President of Mexico and received permission to produce and distribute their product so long as they did not represent it as “Tequila”.

So – here we are at the end of the tour – which includes 3 tickets apiece to get sample shots from the bar. Besides the Blanco, Reposado and Añejo, Los Osuna produces four tequila “liqueurs” with roughly half the alcoholic content: vanilla, cinnamon, coconut and limon.  These last four are perfect for me as I have personally never been a big fan of tequila. And the flavored shots are also available “con leche” – with a splash of milk. Now, those I could drink all day!

Akina, our guide for the day, brought out a big of chips and some delicious guacamole made by his wife, as well as salt and cut Key limes – the perfect accompaniment for our tequila samples.


It’s a lovely afternoon in Sinaloa, under the shade of an ancient 300 year old parota tree, surrounded by gorgeous walls of colorful bougainvillea, desert rose and palm trees, visiting with dear friends and sipping ““elixir of the gods”. Life is good.

¡Arriba, Abajo, al Centro, Pa’ Dentro!

*I found many conflicting dates and names researching this piece. But you get the gist…right?!?!


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