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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Agave Landscape and Ancient Industrial Facilities of Tequila

Card No 155
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The domestication of wild agave seems to have begun around 3,500 years ago. The wild plant may have originated in the Rio Grande canyon. The agave plant is ideally suited to the poor soil and rough terrain of the Tequila area.

Agave was extensively cultivated by the Teuchitlans and served to provide many basis necessities: its fibres were used for fabric, rope and paper, the flower stem provided wood for construction, the fleshy leaves were used as roof tiles and fuel, the spines for needles and arrow heads, the sap produced a type of honey and its juices were used for medicinal balm and fermented to produce an alcoholic drink. The leaders of the complex, stratified, Teuchitlan society created wealth from their apparent monopoly of the agave resources.

To transform the starches in the plant to sugar, for eating and fermenting into alcohol, the pineapples need cooking. There is archaeological evidence from nearby Lake Sayula (outside the nominated area) that the practice of cooking agave pineapples in open, conical ovens, made of volcanic stone, existed around 400 BC. These ovens were preheated with wood and the pineapples covered with branches and clay.

The Spanish priest, Friar Francisco Ximenez, wrote in 1615 how juice from the cooked plant was fermented to make wine flavoured with orange and melon rinds.

In the 16th century the area was conquered by the Spanish who established the town of Santiago de Tequila. The Caxcanes who were living in the areas gradually assimilated with the Spanish. In order to mitigate shortages of spirits from Europe, the Spanish experimented with local beverages and begun to distil the agave fermented juice to make vino de mezcal. At the same time rum was being developed in the Antilles and so the necessary equipment for the new agave spirit was introduced from the rum making areas.

The taxes levied on the new spirit produced a significant income for the Spanish government of Guadalajara. It funded a water supply and the government palace of Jalisco in Guadalajara. Read more

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