If you’ve kept up at all with the trending spirits in the U.S. over the past few years, you’ve no doubt noticed a huge spike in popularity of mezcal. Mezcal is often described as a smokier version of tequila, but there are some key differences between the two spirits. Interestingly, though some people may claim to have never tried mezcal before, they are likely incorrect. The term mezcal refers to any distilled beverage made from agave, meaning that all tequilas are in fact forms of mezcal. However, this is basically where the similarities between the two spirits end. If you’re looking to add some diversity to your liquor cabinet, mezcal may be the right choice for you.
Tequila and mezcal are both drinks originating from Mexico. The two spirits are historically intertwined because tequila is a form of mezcal. When the Spanish invaded Mexico in 1519, they brought the distillation process with them. This process was passed along to the native Mexicans who already knew that the sugar from agave plants could be fermented and drunk. Through this process, mezcals were born. After hundreds of years of being mostly enjoyed in Mexico, tequila spread North during and after prohibition when Americans first discovered it. Since then tequila has only gained popularity, and with the mezcal boom of the past five or six years, these spirits are showing no signs of disappearing.
Tequila and mezcal are both produced exclusively in Mexico, but the regions in which they are produced vary. There are multiple states throughout Mexico where mezcal and tequila are produced, some producing both but the majority focusing on only one of the spirits. The majority of mezcal is produced in Oaxaca, a state on the south-west side of the country. Most tequila is produced in the state of Jalisco, another state on the west coast but much farther north.
Types Of Agave
Tequila and mezcal are both spirits made using the agave plant. By law, tequila can only be produced using the blue weber agave plant. By contrast, mezcal can be made using up to 30 varieties of the agave plant. This method lends a far wider flavor profile to the types of mezcal produced. The espadin agave plant is most frequently used for the production of mezcal because it is one of the most prevalent species. The tobalà plant is also used but is much scarcer, making mezcal produced using this variation more expensive.
Harvesting And Cooking
Agave plants for both tequila and mezcal are harvested after a maturation period that depends on the species of agave. The harvesters take the core of the plant, the piña, which is then chopped up and prepared for the cooking process. Agave for tequila is steamed inside above ground ovens for two to three days. For mezcal, the chopped piña is put into underground wood-fired pits and roasted for a few days, giving it its signature smoky flavor. This process is what makes the two spirits so distinctive from one another.
The fermentation process for both spirits is fairly similar. Yeast is added during the process for both tequila and mezcal. Traditionally, the yeast found on the agave leaves were used during the distillation process. This process has largely been replaced by the use of cultivated or wild yeast. The fermentation process for both spirits takes up to two weeks depending on the process used. Mezcal was traditionally fermented in clay pots but is now done in metal as is done with tequila.
Both spirits are distilled two to three times depending on the manufacturer’s process. They are usually distilled in large metal vats. Some traditionalist mezcal producers will distill the spirit in clay pots. The vessel type and length of distillation vary depending on the producer. This gives a wide variety to the tequilas and mezcals that you will find at your local liquor store.
Tequila and mezcal are both aged in oak barrels. The types of oak used in the barrels can impart certain flavors on the spirits. Both spirits are labeled depending on how long they have been aged.
Tequila Worth Trying
Tequila aged between 0-2 months is Blanco- Click To Try Espolon Tequila Blanco
Tequila aged between 2-12 months is Reposado- Click Here For A Great Reposado Tequila
Tequila aged between 1-3 years is Anejo - Want To Try A Great Anejo Tequila? Click Here
Tequila aged over 3 years is extra Anejo. You Can Order A Bottle Here
Mezcal aged between 0-2 months is Joven- Try A Joven Mezcal Here
Mezcal aged between 2-12 months is Reposado or Madurado- Find A Great Bottle Here
Mezcal aged at least one year is Anejo- See A Bottle Of It Here
As you can no doubt tell, mezcal is known primarily for its smoky flavor. Especially for people who know it as a relative of tequila, this can be quite a flavor change. In general, tequila will focus heavily on bright citrus notes, some fruitiness, and pepper notes. Mezcal can range from intense smokiness with little focus on other flavors to a lighter touch of smokiness with stronger fruit flavors.
About the author: Meg McPherson is a recent graduate from Syracuse University. She is passionate about all things beer, wine, spirit and food-related, especially new trends in these areas. She can be contacted at email@example.com