How To Make Tequila:
A Distiller’s Guide For Brewing Agave Spirits

Last Updated on June 14, 2021

In this guide, we’re going to walk you through, step-by-step how to make tequila from scratch.  We’ll start by covering the background of tequila and the origin of its ingredients.  Then we’ll cover the basics of how to create tequila in its simplest form.  Finally, we’ll go into more detail on the variety of different methods of aging for achieving a range of different flavors of tequila.  All of the supplies you’ll need for distilling your own homemade tequila can be found in our shop.  If you’re more of a gin distiller and drinker, then check out our guide on how to make gin.

At Mile Hi Distilling, we love helping people who are passionate about spirits with helpful guides and top-quality moonshine stills and supplies.  Learning how to make a great batch of tequila or ‘agave spirit’ requires a lot of attention to detail. So be sure to plan thoroughly and execute carefully to create the best tequila possible.  Let’s get started!

***Before we get started. It is illegal to distill spirits at home. This guide is meant as a hypothetical walk-through.  Mile Hi Distilling doesn’t condone any illegal or illicit behavior and cannot be held responsible for the actions taken by any individuals not acting within the parameters of the law.***

Browse By Step.  Click on any of these links to jump to the step you want to see:
A Short Background on Tequila
Getting Started: Picking Your Tequila Wash Ingredients
How to Make Tequila: Wash Recipe
Fermenting Your Tequila Wash
Distilling Your Tequila
Collecting Your Tequila Distillate
Conclusion

A Short Background on Tequila

Tequila is a very interesting distilled spirit, that’s made unlike any other, from the agave plant.  Specifically, the blue Weber agave (Agave tequilana or A. tequilana) native to western Mexico, is the only agave plant used to create 100% pure tequila.  A. tequilana has four varieties altogether.  Azul, Azul Listado, Siguin, and Pata De Mula.  Out of these, Azul is the only variety that tequila distilleries use to produce tequila.  Azul is also the most widely cultivated and best known, simply as ‘blue agave.’

In order to be considered ‘real and pure’ tequila, the spirit must also be produced in one of these five areas in Mexico: Michoacan, Tamaulipas, Guanajuanto, Nayarit, and Jalisco.  Out of these five areas, Jalisco is the most famous and where the majority of the world’s tequila is produced.

Tequila vs. Mezcal

Tequila and mezcal are very similar spirits.  In fact, technically all tequilas are mezcals, but not all mezcals are tequilas.  This is because of the raw ingredients used to create these spirits.  Even though they are very similar, there are some key differences between the two.  The main distinction between tequila and mezcal are that they each use a different type of Agave plant for the fermentation process and that they are both distilled in separate areas of Mexico.  Like we mentioned before, distilling tequila requires the Blue Weber Agave plant, while distilling mezcal can be produced from more than thirty different types of agave, only one of which is the Blue Weber Agave.  Most mezcals are produced with the Agave Espadin plant.  Similar to tequila only being produced in five regions of Mexico, Mezcals may only be produced in nine designated regions of Mexico.  These nine regions are: Durango, Guanajuato, Guerrero, Michoacán, Oaxaca, Puebla, San Luis Potosí, Tamaulipas, and Zacatecas.

Similar to bourbon or rye whiskies, tequila has very specific mash/wash ingredients in order to be classified as pure tequila.  Also, in order to be classified as tequila, the spirit must be produced in only five designated areas of Mexico, not unlike all scotches being produced in Scottland.  So for the purpose of this guide, unless you reside in one of those regions of Mexico, technically you’ll be making an “Agave spirit” not a tequila or a mezcal.

How To Make Tequila Blue Agave Plants

Blue Weber Agave plants grown in Mexico

Getting Started: Picking Your Tequila Wash Ingredients

Like we mentioned before, in order to produce pure tequila, you’ll need to use the Blue Weber Agave plant to create your wash.  Fortunately, you can find Blue Agave nectar in most grocery stores or online so you won’t necessarily need to harvest the actual agave plant to create the mash for your fermentation.  For the purpose of this guide, we’ll just be using Blue Agave Nectar to cut down on the processing time.

Tequilas are broken down into two main categories.  The first is tequilas that are made using 100% agave for their wash/mash.  These are known as ‘Puro’ tequilas and they make up the highest-end tequilas such as Patron, Don Julio, Espolon, and other well-known brands.  The other category of tequila is known as ‘Mixto’ tequilas.  These tequilas are made using at least 51% agave in the fermentation stage of production.  The other 49% or less of the fermentable sugars come from other sources besides the agave plant, such as cane sugar.  Some examples of popular mixto tequilas are El Jimador, Jose Cuervo Gold and Sauza.

To cut down on the cost of the run, we’ll be creating a mixto agave spirit in this guide.

Tequila Wash Ingredient Blue Agave Hearts

Blue Weber Agave hearts are much harder to come by unless you’re located in specific regions of Mexico.  To create a true-to-form tequila, these Agave hearts can be ground up to create a mash to be fermented.  For the sake of ease, we’ll be simply using the agave nectar to create a wash for this guide.

Tequila Wash Ingredient Blue Agave Nectar

Although being costly, large portions of Blue Weber Agave Nectar can be easily purchased online.  This agave nectar contains the correct type of complex carbohydrate, known as inulin.  The inulin contained in the agave spirit wash gives tequila its distinct flavor profile after fermentation and distillation.

Tequila Wash Ingredient Cane Sugar

Cane sugar can also be used as a substitute for 49% or less of the total sugars in the fermentable wash for producing a ‘mixto’ tequila.  Using cane sugar to replace a percentage of the agave nectar in your wash will cut down on the overall cost of your tequila run, while still allowing you to create a great-tasting tequila.

How to Make Tequila: Wash Recipe

Base Ingredients & Materials

Agave Nectar/Cane Sugar Wash Procedure

  1. Place your brew pot on its heat source and pour in 4.5 gallons of water.
  2. Heat water to 125 °F.
  3. Stir in Raw Cane Sugar and Agave Nectar and stir with a long spoon until completely dissolved. (you may have to stir for a while to get your agave nectar to fully dissolve)
  4. Once the Agave Nectar and Cane Sugar are fully dissolved pour in 1 gallon of cold water to bring the temperature of the wash down.
  5. Check temperature and stir wash for 30 seconds every 5 minutes until the temperature cools to 80 °F. (This process can take several hours on its own, but can be sped up significantly with the use of an immersion cooler.
  6. When the wash has cooled to 80 °F, add tequila active dry yeast.
  7. Aerate the wash by dumping it back and forth between two separate containers for 5 minutes.
  8. Pour the wash into your fermentation bucket. We carry complete fermentation kits for these as well as the materials to produce your own. It is important to have the bucket, cap, and air-lock. A spigot also makes for easier pouring.
  9. Seal your fermentation bucket with the air-lock and store in a dark place around 75 °F – 80 °F.

Fermenting Your Tequila Wash/Mash

Materials

Fermentation

Your wash made using a mixture of agave nectar and raw cane sugar will ferment for 5-7 days and when ready, no longer taste sweet or emit gas from the air-lock.  The yeast can fully convert all of the sugars to alcohol in the wash.

To test the ABV (alcohol by volume) of your fermentation, you can use a hydrometer.  If you’ve never used a hydrometer before, check out our ‘How To Use a Hydrometer‘ guide.

Straining

Once fermentation has completed, we’ll need to completely remove any solid material that may have formed. The solid material left over can lead to headaches if left in the wash. Cheesecloth material is a great option for straining the wash before distillation as is an easy siphon.  We carry both of these useful products in our online shop.

(Advanced) Some distillers will test the pH of their wash. The ideal pH is 4.5 to 5.0. Use citric acid to bring the pH down and calcium carbonate to bring it up.

Distilling Your Tequila

Materials

If you’ve made it this far, great job!  So far you’ve done all of the work necessary to actually produce your fermented agave spirit or tequila wash.  Your tequila wash will currently contain some undesirable contents and sediment that you’ll need to separate out and dispose of before distilling.  You can utilize either cheesecloth or an easy siphon to remove this sediment.  After you’ve removed the undesirable contents from your tequila wash, comes the distillation step of making your own homemade tequila. The process of distilling the fermented agave/cane sugar wash will produce a purer and more concentrated spirit (tequila).  This step separates out all of the undesirable types alcohols such as acetaldehyde, acetone and methanol (which can cause blindness if consumed).

Prepping and Cleaning Your Pot Still

Don’t skip this step!  We place an emphasis on this step in all of our distilling guides because unfortunately, many people skip prepping/cleaning and it causes a subpar product in the end.  If you aim to maximize the quality of your distilled agave spirit, then it’s all about your attention to detail. You’ll want to start on prep work by thoroughly cleaning your still.  If this is your first run ever, below is a great walkthrough of how to setup your pot or reflux still.

Even if you cleaned the still after your last run and let it sit for a while, you still will want to clean it again.  If you’re just now learning how to make tequila, or any other spirit for that matter, now is the time to really emphasize this so you can build good habits to your distilling routine.  Remember practice makes perfect.

Now that your still and equipment have been properly cleaned and prepped, you can pour your agave/tequila wash into the still. We recommend using a siphon for this process. This is the best way to reduce the amount of sediment from your fermented tequila wash getting into the still.  Particles and sediments can cause the distillation to burn and ruin your product so take your time and be diligent during this step.

Running Your Pot Still

It’s now time to fire up that pot still! Ensure that your still is properly set for this step.  Secure all clamps and domes and make sure condensers are properly attached, as well as any hoses.  Next, you’ll turn on the heat source and start raising the temperature of your tequila wash.  You’ll want to run the tequila wash through two separate distillations.  During the first, you’ll collect the entire distillate without separating the heads, hearts and tails.  That will be done during the second round of distillation.

If using a condenser, turn on the water when the boiler reaches 130 °F.

At about 168 °F the still will start producing. Increase the temperature to keep producing distillate.

Stop collecting distillate after it measures less than 20% ABV which you can measure using the hydrometer.  Be sure to hold on to the remaining contents of the still as you’ll be adding it back in with your second distillation.  This will add to the final flavor of the product.  Dilute the first round distillate by 20% with water.  Stir the mix thoroughly and add back into the still.  Begin your second round of distillation.

Collecting Your Tequila Distillate

Next, you’ll be collecting your tequila distillate.  This is where all of your hard work up to this point will pay off!  It’s definitely the most satisfying part of this entire distilling process. This step is a mixture of art and science.  It takes an experienced distiller to get this process dialed in and exactly right.  However, don’t let that deter you if you’re a tequila distilling newcomer.  You know what they say, “practice makes perfect.”  It’s no different here.  After you run a few batches with your still, you’ll gain a familiarity with the whole process and be able to really improve by taking notes and making the necessary adjustments.

How To Make Tequila Collecting Your Distillate Chart

Foreshots

The first 5% of your run will consist of the foreshots. Foreshots contain methanol which is an extremely volatile and toxic alcohol.  As a standard practice, always throw out the first 250 ml per 5 gallons as this part of your run will consist of these foreshots.

WARNING* Do not consume this part of your run!

Be sure to isolate the foreshots thoroughly and throw them out. Consuming this alcohol, known as methanol can cause an array of issues with your health, including blindness.  

Heads

The next 30% percent of your tequila run is known as the ‘heads.’ Similar to the foreshots, the heads of your run are filled with volatile alcohols that you should not consume. One of the staples of the heads is a particularly volatile alcohol known as acetone.

Acetone is fairly easy to identify, because of its distinct, solvent-like smell. Drinking the heads from your tequila run won’t make you blind but they will leave you with the worst hangover of your life.

Like your foreshots, you’ll want to isolate these and throw them out.

*Note a great way of isolating both the foreshots and heads in your run is to bring your still to around 168 °F and keep it there for around 10 minutes.  The alcohol produced during this duration will consist of only foreshots and heads.   Once the condenser stops producing at 168 °F, you’ll know that you’ve collected all of the foreshots and heads of the run.

Hearts

The next 30% of your run will be the sweet spot of your tequila run.  This portion of your distillate is known as the ‘hearts’ and it’s where you’ll produce a consumable spirit.  You’ll want to raise the temperature of your still to 175 °F to 180 °F range to start collecting this portion of your distillate.

At this stage, you’ll notice the solvent smell of acetone taper off and be replaced by a sweet-smelling ethanol.  A distiller with lots of experience really shines during this stage of the distillation process. Maximizing high-quality hearts comes with practice.  You will recognize the ‘hearts’ portion of your spirit by the sweet and neutral flavor.  You should only taste a bit of the distillate on your finger.  Not time to break out the shot glasses just yet.

By accurately identifying where the acetone stops and the ethanol begins, you can really maximize the amount of high-quality tequila you’ll be able to produce. The main things to recognize here are the fading of the solvent smell of acetone and the sweet/smooth taste of ethanol getting stronger.

Tails

The last 35% of your tequila run will be the ‘tails’ portion. You can recognize the tails by the sight, smell, and taste.  You should see an oily film start to collect on the top of the tequila distillate and be able to smell/taste a type of burnt flavor.  The tails contain protein and carbohydrates from the wash that you don’t want in your final product.

You should hold on to your tails because you can actually re-run them as their own wash in a future run to pull out a bit more product.

Aging Your Tequila

There are quite a few ways to go about aging your tequila.  Aging breaks down into three basic windows of time, but there are roughly five different types of tequila.  Each of these types has its own look and flavor profiles based on the amount of time the spirit is aged.

Blanco, Silver, or White Tequila

Blanco tequila is a transparent spirit that isn’t necessarily completely colorless and is diluted with water, to the proper bottling ABV. To be considered a Blanco or silver tequila, you can mature or age the spirit in oak barrels for zero to two months.  If you age your Blanco tequila for more than two months, it will be considered a Reposado tequila.  Which we’ll cover next.

Reposado Tequila

To be considered a ‘Reposado’ or ‘rested’ style tequila, you must age the spirit between two months and one year in an oak barrel.  Aging the tequila for this amount of time gives it a caramel-colored tone and a light oak flavor profile.  Fun fact, ‘Reposado’ actually translates to ‘rested.’  Most Reposado tequilas are labeled as ‘aged’ on the bottle.

Añejo Tequila

To be considered an ‘Añejo’ or ‘old’ tequila, you must age the spirit from one to three years in an oak barrel. This will produce a dark-colored and very robust flavor profile depending on how long you allow the spirit to age.  Most Añejo tequilas are labeled as ‘extra-aged’ on the bottle.

Extra-Añejo Tequila

Extra-añejo or muy añejo tequilas must be aged for at least three years in an oak barrel to be considered as such.  It’s not uncommon for extra-añejo tequilas to be aged for over four years.  Compared to Blanco, Reposado, and Añejo tequilas, this type of tequila is very rare and expensive.  Extra-Añejo tequilas are labeled as ‘ultra-aged’ on the bottle.

Joven or Gold Tequila

Joven or gold tequila is unaged tequila that is typically colored and flavored with caramel, oak extracts, or syrups.  Basically, you can use a Blanco tequila and add in an extract to achieve the gold or caramel coloring.  Gold tequilas look very similar to Reposado tequilas.  There are simply labeled as ‘Gold’ on the bottle.

How To Make Tequila Aging process

After you age your tequila how you like it (whether Blanco, Reposado, or Añejo), bottle it up, grab some limes and enjoy.  You earned it!

Conclusion

And there you have it!  You have just made your own batch of homemade tequila. We hope this guide was helpful for you and you churned out a top-shelf spirit. It’s very important to not skip the cleanup step.  Be sure to wash all of your equipment thoroughly to ensure that you can produce a high-quality product in the future. Disassemble your still and store it in a cool, dry location.

Thank you for visiting Mile Hi Distilling, your one-stop-shop for all of your distilling needs. Don’t forget to check out our shop for any supplies or equipment you may need for any future distillations. We hope you enjoyed learning how to make tequila using this guide.

If you enjoyed this guide on how to make tequila, check out our other guides on how to make rye whiskey and how to make gin.

Let us know what you thought of this guide by leaving a comment or a star rating below.

Last Updated on June 14, 2021