Spirits & Liqueurs Tequila & Mezcal

What’s the Difference Between an Authentic Hacienda and a Typical Tequila Distillery?

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Casa Herradura is the last authentic hacienda on the planet.

Jalisco lives up to its reputation as the birthplace and modern capital of tequila. The Mexican state is covered with distilleries making a wide variety of excellent tequilas. But only one can claim to be an authentic hacienda: Casa Herradura.

This isn’t a matter of opinion. It’s a fact verified by the National Institute of Anthropology and History in Mexico. Herradura earned this distinction by being the only brand to meet all the requirements of an authentic hacienda.

Originally called Hacienda San José del Refugio, the factory was opened in 1870. That’s important, since only distilleries built in the 18th or 19th century are capable of being an authentic hacienda.

A look inside Casa Herradura, which has been producing tequila since 1870.

But not just any old building can earn hacienda status. It needs to be surrounded by a land extension big enough to be self-sufficient in either agriculture or livestock. Casa Herradura covers more than 256 acres in Amatitán, Jalisco, so it certainly qualifies.

That land also needs to include buildings other than just the distillery. An authentic hacienda features a main house and worker housing within its walls. Casa Herradura has both, with jimadors (agave farmers) and other employees living in casitas on the hacienda grounds.

There’s one important qualification for moving into one of the casitas: You must be related to one of the original workers from San José del Refugio. The fact that so many Herradura employees are eligible for this housing says a lot about the closely knit community of Jalisco and Herradura.

More than 40 tons of agave can be slowly steamed inside each of the ovens at Casa Herradura.

Herradura also hand-packs the piña (agave heart) into traditional ovens, where it’s slowly steamed for up to 26 hours. It’s an old-school way of doing this, but the results speak for themselves. According to Infiniti Research Inc., Tequila Herradura is the world’s most gold-medal-awarded tequila.

There’s one last box to mark off on the authentic hacienda checklist—something you wouldn’t find at any modern distillery: Casa Herradura is home to its very own Roman Catholic chapel. Of course, a chapel isn’t necessary for making tequila. But that’s a major part of what makes a hacienda different from a typical distillery.

An authentic hacienda is a fully formed community that also happens to produce exceptional tequila. A distillery, on the other hand, just makes tequila.