When you go to the liquor store and see the wide array of available tequila and mezcal, do you know the difference between the two?
While there has been a number of slick marketing campaigns to differentiate the two products, the reality is they are one and the same, just with some small but significant differences.
Let’s start with the basics: Mezcal is a Mexican distilled spirit that is made from the agave plant. Tequila is also produced from agave and is technically a mezcal. However, there are differences in production technique and in the types of agave used to determine the difference between the two.
Tequila is made from a single type of agave plant, what we commonly know as blue agave. In addition, tequila can only be produced in the state of Jalisco and in small parts of four other states around Mexico. Think of this as the distinction between Champagne and sparkling wine; Champagne must be produced in the Champagne region of France.
While tequila is produced from only one type of agave, Mezcal can be produced from up to 28 varieties of agave (including blue agave). There are also some geographical restrictions for Mezcal, being made around the city of Oaxaca and in some areas of the states of Guerrero, Durango, San Luis Potosi and Zacatecas.
As far as taste, there is also a noticeable difference between the two styles. Mezcal traditionally has a smoky flavour that comes from it’s difference baking process. It also tends to taste sweeter, or richer, than tequila, however some mezcal producers intentionally try to emulate tequila.
As with tequila, there are strict categories associated with mezcal:
Type 1: 100% agave (using any or all permitted agave plants)
Type 2: Minimum 80% agave and maximum 20% other sugars.
In addition there are similar aging categories:
Abacado: Mezcal’s version of an un-aged, or blanco tequila.
Reposado: aged in wood barrels for two to eleven months.
Añejo: aged in wood barrels for a minimum of twelve months.
One final note, tequila makers are not allowed to produce mezcal, and vice versa, so as to not contaminate either spirit.