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© MARTIN GRASSL
NO MOURNING IN THE MORNING
METHANOL, AGAVE & HYDROLYSIS
Distillers usually make spirits from three botanically distinct types of plants. Some such as grapes, sugar cane, fruits or berries have sugars that yeasts can digest directly, but others need special preparation to produce fermentable sugar. Many of the plants that need processing, such as potatoes or cereals, contain starch, but there is a rarer group based on inulin of which the agave family is the most prominent example.
Each plant in these three groups has a unique pectin content, which affects the methanol content of the spirits made from it. Many of the world´s most commercially acceptable liquors, such as vodka, rum and whisky, are also those with the least methanol. The methanol problem common to 100% agave tequila also applies to certain European fruit distillates, in particular grappa and marcs, which are made from grape seeds, skin and pulp that contain higher than average pectin concentrations.
To convert the inulin from the agave into fermentable sugar, distillers first need to hydrolyse its tissues or the juice extracted from it. Preparing the sugars from agave usually involves thermal hydrolysis, which means that the plant is heated, cooked, roasted or steamed. Humans have been doing this for thousands of years to extract food value from the agave, but thermal hydrolysis of the agave is also the basis of all spirits made from agave such as 100% agave tequila, mezcal, cocuy, and other agave spirits, with the Porfidio 100% Blue Agave brand the only exception.
The agave family is unique as a sugar source, whether consumed directly or used for fermentation, because its low glycemic content (GI) of less than 30 points makes agave sugar one of the most healthy and diabetes-friendly sources of sweetness available today.
The agave plant is a botanical miracle, with its varieties evolved to spread and prosper in the arid conditions. It is slow-growing with a tough skin and spines which not only protects it against insects and animals, but helps it to conserve water. Its properties make it a great potential source of renewable energy in water scarce terrain, and, as local peoples have known for millenia, for food and drink.
Those were the properties that led distillers to discover its potential. However, the agave is also botanically distinctive, here in a negative sense, because of its high fiber or ´wood´content, which usually leads to higher levels of methanol, also known as ´wood alcohol´. So, whether the agave is treated in an autoclave, brick oven or earthen fire-pit, the heat disintegrates or softens the agave fibers, which release pectins into the juice, which then produces methanol. That is carried over through the distillation process until ending up in the bottle and, ultimately, in the consumer´s body.
While more dilute amounts of methanol simply cause a general feeling of discomfort, in high concentrations it is toxic and can cause blindness and death. Even in small doses, as the concentration of methanol increases, the more discomfort it causes - not least a hangover. The folk-widom that,´tequila makes you blind´ is based on the 100% agave tequila drinking experience, which when the agave is thermally hydrolyzed, involves drinking more methanol than with most other spirits.
Historically, one way that the tequila industry responded to this agave-fiber methanol problem was with the blended tequila category, the mixto, made only from 51% Blue Agave. Blending agave juice with sugar cane derivatives or corn syrups that produce less methanol, reduces the overall methanol content of the distilled product by almost a third. However, it also dilutes the distinctive aroma and authenticity that the agave gives to the spirit. Indeed, many consumers associate the methanol smell and taste distinctively with 100% agave tequila.
Destileria Porfidio, the tequila industry´s major innovative force during the last decades, has tackled this crucial methanol problem head on, in a way which redefines the flavor and aroma profile of spirits distilled from 100%
 





















































































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