If you’re a fan of Mexican spirits and alcohol then you will have no doubt heard of and tasted the infamous Tequila and its more sophisticated big brother Mezcal. Both traditional Mexican spirits made from Agave, these drinks may be from the same family but they have some key differences that every spirit connaisseur should know. Read our “what is the difference between Mezcal and Tequila” guide to find out more.
What is Tequila and What is Mezcal?
Tequila is a type of mezcal, much like how scotch and bourbon are types of whiskey. Mezcal is defined as any agave based spirit. This includes tequila, which is made in specific regions of Mexico and must be made from only blue agave (agave tequilana), whereas Mezcal can be made from a wide variety of agave.
Where are Tequila and Mezcal made?
Although there are some overlaps, Mezcal and Tequila are both produced in different regions of Mexico. Tequila is only produced in Michoacán, Guanajuato, Nayarit, Tamaulipas and Jalisco, which is where the actual town of Tequila is located. Whereas Mezcal is produced in Durango, Guanajuato, Guerrero, San Luis Potosi, Tamaulipas, Zacatecas, Michoacán, Puebla and Oaxaca.
How are Tequila and Mezcal made?
Both Tequila and Mezcal are made from the agave plant. The agave plant is a labour of love to harvest and can take 6 – 10 years to fully mature. With its spiky appearance, the agave is often mistaken for a cactus but it is in fact a succulent, also known as the century plant. Although Tequila and Mezcal are both made from agave, that is where the similarities end.
Tequila is made using the blue agave plant. Even to this day the agave plant is farmed manually and it takes generations of ‘know how’ to do this correctly. When the blue agave plant is ripe, the harvester, or “Jimador” removes the agave leaves with a sharp curved tool called a Coa. The leaves are removed and the heart or “pina” of the agave is what is used to make Tequila.
The agave is then steamed inside an industrial oven, which activates a chemical process within the piña that converts complex carbohydrates into simple fermentable sugars. The steaming process also helps soften the agave, making it easier to extract the sugar. Once cooked the agave pinas go through a milling process whereby they are crushed in order to release the liquid inside. This liquid is then fermented and turned into alcohol before being distilled 2 – 3 times to create Tequila.
Mezcal can be made from a variety of different agave plants. They are also harvested in the same way as the blue agave that makes Tequila. However the agave pinas that make Mezcal are cooked in fire pits in the ground and this is what gives it its smokey flavour. Once roasted, the agave pinas are then crushed in a mill to extract the sugars.
After the agave is crushed, it is placed in wooden barrels to ferment with water. After the fermentation, the agave mash is then distilled twice and blended to create a smooth liquid. Finally the mezcal is either bottled right away or it is left to age in oak barrels.
How are Tequila and Mezcal aged?
Once the distillation process is over, both tequila and mezcal are aged inside oak barrels. However, the different aging categories of the two spirits are defined slightly differently
- Blanco or Silver Tequila: 0-2 months
- Reposado Tequila: 2-12 months
- Anejo Tequila: 1-3 years
- Joven Mezcal: 0-2 months
- Reposado Mezcal: 2-12 months
- Anejo Mezcal: 1 year minimum
What do Tequila and Mezcal taste like?
The taste of tequila will vary depending on where the agave was grown as well as the age of tequila. Blanco tequilas, which are bottled soon after distilling have an earthy yet sweet flavour. Reposado tequila is more mellow than Blanco and has a soft oak flavour. Whereas Anejo Tequila, which is aged for the longest has a dark colour with a smooth balance between agave and oak flavours
As with tequila, the taste of Mezcal will vary depending on where the agave was grown as well as the age of the spirit. There is much more variation in the flavour of Mezcal compared to tequila due the fact that tequila is made from only blue agave and Mezcal can be made from up to 30 different agaves. With an overall smokey flavour, Mezcal can also have floral, fruity and earthy notes.
How to drink Tequila and Mezcal?
Tequila is typically known to be included in margarita cocktails and tequila slammer shots. Although tequila is a great addition to any cocktail, the quality of the spirit is so good that it can be sipped neat over ice.
As tequila’s more sophisticated big brother, Mezcal can also be enjoyed in a cocktail but is best served neat without ice. Its unique flavour is a delight to the palette and should be enjoyed and savoured.
Overview: what is the difference between mezcal and tequila
- Made in different regions of Mexico
- Made from different agave plants
- Different cooking and distillation processes
- Different ageing processes
- Different flavours