Tequila Drinkers, You're Actually Drinking A Type Of Mezcal

Tequila Drinkers, You're Actually Drinking A Type Of Mezcal

Anyone who loves tequila has probably also heard of its close cousin, mezcal. But a common mistake is thinking the two are the same. They're not! Yes, there are some similarities between the two spirits, which often leads folk to think they're interchangeable. But there are key differences between them, which anyone worth their salt-rimmed margarita should know.

Both tequila and mezcal are made from the agave plant, but the type of agave differs.

Technically, tequila falls under the umbrella term "mezcal" because mezcal is simply the name for any liquor made from agave. So yes, tequila is mezcal, but to be classified as tequila, the liquor must be made specifically from blue agave. There are several other types of agave, like espadín, tobalá, and tepeztate, which mezcal is produced from.

They're distilled differently.

Besides the material used to make each respective liquor, the nuanced details of each's production process make tequila and mezcal incredibly different drinking experiences.

First, both mezcal and tequila use the core of the agave (the piña), which is harvested from the plant when it's first pulled from the ground. For tequila, the piña is cooked in industrial ovens and is then shredded, fermented, and distilled in copper pots. Piña destined for mezcal, on the other hand, is cooked in an underground pit lined with aromatic items like volcanic rock, charcoal, and wood. The agave piñas are then fermented and distilled in clay pots.

These separate processes result in completely different flavor profiles.

Tequila is more agave-forward, resulting in a liquor that tastes semi-earthy, and even a little bit sweet upon first taste. Depending on the brand, the finished product may also have added flavor or have been aged in oak barrels, leading to a much smoother, less bitter taste. Opt for tequila in cocktails and dishes when you want an agave-forward, approachable flavor.

With mezcal, explaining flavor is a little less straightforward. Most casual mezcal drinkers are familiar with mezcal from Oaxaca, which has a woody, almost savory flavor thanks to the Espadín agave from which it's made. Aficionados might also detect floral, fruity, or earthy notes. However, even mezcal made with the same type of agave can taste different across Mexico's many regions as a result of the individual cooking and fermenting preferences of the mezcaleros themselves.

On the whole, though, mezcal has a more in-your-face flavor than tequila and should be used with that in mind—in, for instance, this mezcal margarita.

Tequila and mezcal come from entirely different regions of Mexico.

The two drinks are different because of the regions they come from. Tequila is made in the Jalisco, Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas regions in Mexico. Mezcal can be made in Durango, Guanajuato, Guerrero, Michoacán, Oaxaca, Puebla, San Luis Potosí, Tamaulipas, and Zacatecas.

They are also labeled differently.

Tequila and mezcal each have their own systems of classification. Tequila comes in blanco, reposado, and añejo varieties, and cristalino; here's more information on the types of tequila.

Mezcal is also labeled with the type of agave used to produce it. It might also be labeled with joven, reposado, and añejo varieties. Generally speaking, the categories correspond with the length of the spirit's aging period, with joven being the shortest and añejo the longest.

And there you have it—the differences between tequila and mezcal. Need a little more help? Here's a guide to the best tequila brands and best mezcal you can buy. Go forth and sip with confidence!

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