As Mexico’s number one party drink, tequila is beloved by many around the globe. Mezcal, its close relative, is also a close second. Both names are used interchangeably to mean the same thing—an agave-based spirit. The liquors themselves are also often used in place of the other. While both hail from the same country, we know that tequila can only be considered as such when produced in Jalisco. However, regional technicality isn’t the only difference between these sister-drinks. Subtle deviations in production process creates subtle differences in how the liquor tastes. Let’s try to establish the fine line between these two spirits.
Agave types used
Both tequila and mezcal is made from the same base ingredient—the agave succulent, particularly the heart of the plant known as the piña. Agave comes in a wide range of different colors.
To be considered tequila, distillers must specifically use the heart of the blue agave plants. On the other hand, mezcal production chooses from up to 50 different types of agave.
Roasting, steaming, and their effects on flavor
In mezcal production, piña is first smoked in pits in the ground. Charcoal is often used in this process. Afterwards, the smoked piña is mashed and fermented.
Roasting the agave heart this way contributes to the final taste of mezcal. It’s known to have smokey notes as compared to tequila.
In creating tequila, the piña is either baked or steamed before fermentation. As a result, it lacks the smokiness of mezcal, and is instead sweeter.
Aging and its effects on flavour
Tequila is aged in oak casks for specific periods of time, ranging anywhere between 2 months to 3 years. Blanco is the only tequila that is bottled without being aged first. The oak barrels gives tequila some oaky notes that aren’t present in mezcal.
Meanwhile, aging is optional for mezcal Many distillers bottle the drink after distillation.
Region of production
We know that tequila can only come from Jalisco. But did you know that mezcal is just as regionally oriented?
Mezcal can only be named as such if it’s produced in either one of these nine Mexican states:
- San Luis Potosi
Other agave-based liquor can be made using similar methods as mezcal, but they cannot be legally labeled as such unless they come from the above regions.
Variations and classifications
As we learned in our deep dive into tequila, tequila is classified based on how long it’s aged.
What are the five types of tequila ranging from shortest to longest aging time?
- Extra añejo
In contrast, mezcal variations depend on the production methods and equipments used to make the drink. Following this classification, the Consejo Regulator del Mezcal (CRM) divided mezcal into three types.
This is when the drink is made using the most recent technology and high-tech equipment. The piña is roasted using diffusers, column stills are used for distillation, and stainless steel tanks for fermentation.
At first, this artisanal method of producing mezcal may seem a little bizarre, but it makes for a classic taste.
Instead of technology, piña is roasted in brick ovens, with clay being the alternative. Afterwards, it’s crushed manually with a hand mallet.
The crushed agave heart is then fermented in earthen tanks, wood, or even animal skin! It’s then distilled in copper stills directly over a fire. Sometimes artisanal distillers will use clay or wood stills too.
This true traditional method of production is possibly how the first mezcal was made.
Creators of this mezcal will roast piña in earthen pits and then crush it up with a hand mallet or traditional mill. The mash is then fermented in traditional tanks, usually made of wood, tree trunks, or stone. Distillation occurs in clay pots with direct fire.
Tequila available at minuman.com:
Mezcal available at minuman.com: