We’ve been asked this very question, time and time again… So we thought maybe we should just clear the air once and for all, to be direct, the answer is No! But well, to those who want to know what makes them distinct, sit back and continue reading, let us break it down.
Where do we start?
Let us start by saying, all Tequilas are Mezcals. Mezcals are basically any agave-based liquor, which makes tequila a subset of mezcal. Now, let’s get down to their differences.
There are three basic differences between these two Mexican spirits which are:
Mezcal and Tequila are produced in different States of Mexico although there’s an overlap. Tequila can only be produced in specific regions of Mexico, five regions to be precise: Jalisco, Michoacán, Nayarit, Guanajuato and Tamaulipas. Now, this should come as a shock to you, but there’s a town called Tequila (the home of the drink) located Jalisco, which is the center of Tequila universe.
Mezcal, on the other hand, is made in nine specific regions of Mexico, including Oaxaca, Guerrero, Durango, San Luis Potosi, Zacatecas, Tamaulipas, Michoacán, and Puebla. Oaxaca is the center of the Mezcal universe, producing a majority of about 80 – 90% in the region.
Based on location, you’ll notice that there are 3 states that make both Tequila and Mezcal, that’s the overlap we were talking about.
The Variety of Agave
Tequila must be made (by law) from a specific variety of agave: the Blue Agave. While Mezcal can be made from more than 30 different varieties of agave, including the Blue Agave. But a large number of Mezcal is made from the Agave Espadin, which is the found mostly in the center of Mezcal universe, Oaxaca.
You must understand that because of the several varieties of agaves used in producing Mezcal, its flavor can vary greatly, while for Tequila, the flavor is almost the same throughout.
For both Tequila and Mezcal production, the Agave plants are harvested in the same way. The long spear-like leaves are sheared off by the jimador (the person doing the harvesting) leaving just the “pina” behind (pinas looks like large pineapples).
Well, the difference of the production process lies in the way the pina is cooked for both the Tequila and Mezcal giving them their unique flavor. For most Tequilas, the pinas are baked in the steamed oven also known as huge industrial ovens or pressure cookers and afterward, fermented.
Mezcal can also be manufactured in this manner, but traditionally, the pinas are cooked in an underground, earthen pit lined with wood and volcanic rocks. The fire burns the embers, heating up the volcanic rock to extreme temperatures, which in turn gives Mezcal its distinct smoky flavor. The pinas are then put in the oven and caramelized over a certain number of days. The pinas are then crushed, and the agave juice is extracted using a tahona which presses the agave rather than shredding it.
So that is the difference between Mezcal and Tequila at a basic level. Although there are more to them ranging from culture to history, but with the above three major differences, you are now more informed than 99% of the population. Now it’s time to buy a bottle and throw one of them into a margarita.
Photo by Eneas De Troya