Tahona is another one of those words that does double duty in the Spanish vocabulary. It used to mean mill or mill house but in Mexico it also means the large stone wheel that is used to crush the roasted hearts of agave known as piñas into a fermentable mash. As you can see from the images below it’s quite a dramatic sight.
The tahona is usually pulled by a donkey and that donkey frequently has a jocular name like “Superman” that gives credit for keeping the entire distilling operation going. Horses and oxen can be also provide the labor. Many palenques also use tractors. In older or more remote palenques the tahona can also be made out of wood.
To date every artisanal mezcal uses a tahona to crush its piñas. Traditionally tequila was also made this way but the industry moved to mechanical extraction processes and only a few traditional distillers like Fortaleza and 7 Leguas still mill all their piñas with tahonas. Recently Patron launched a new brand defined entirely by being milled with a tahona.
Read more of our entries in the Mezcalistas Encyclopedia of Mezcal and email us questions or ideas for future entries.
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