While tequila dominates the market for agave based beverages, its smokier cousin has grown drastically in popularity. Between 2007 and 2011 alone, mezcal sales grew by nearly 48 percent according to Mexican government data, and remains one of the fastest growing spirits. Because mezcal is considered any agave-based liquor, all Tequilas are technically a subset of mezcals. However, there are some major differences that draw a line between tequila and mezcal.
Without Further ado… Mezcal vs. Tequila
Difference 1: Where they are made
Both Tequila and Mezcal are made in Mexico, but there are strict regulations on which regions Tequila and Mezcal can be made. Tequila can be made in only five regions, Jalisco, Michoacán, Guanajuato, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas. Jalisco is of central importance in tequila production, and is home to the town dubbed Tequila. Mezcal can legally be made in eight specific regions of Mexico, Oaxaca, Durango, Guanajuato, Guerrero, San Luis Potosí, Tamaulipas, Zacatecas, and Michoacán. Oaxaca produces as much as 90% of all Mezcals.
Difference 2: How they are made
Tequila must be made from the Blue Agave plant, but is not necessarily pure agave. Mixto tequila must contain a minimum of 51% agave, and the remaining 49% from other sugars (typically cane sugar).
Mezcal can be made from more than 30 varieties of agave, including the Blue Agave. That being said, most mezcals are made from the Agave Espadin, which is the most prevalent agave variety found in Oaxaca. Mezcal also needn’t use pure agave, 80% agave, and up to 20% sugars obtained from other sources may be used in the process.
When tequila is made, the head of the agave plant (or pina) is baked in an above-ground oven, while with mezcal production, the pinas are cooked in an underground, earthen pit, lined with volcanic rock. This cooking process is partially the reason for the drastic difference in the flavors of tequila and mezcal.
After cooking, tequila is almost always mechanically shredded. With mezcal, the agave juice is typically extracted using a tahona which presses the agave by horse or donkey pulling a large stone wheel around in a circle. After this the juice is fermented and distilled in the same fashion and shipped off to be purchased.
Difference 3: What they taste like
Mezcal can have a variety of flavors due to the number of different agave plants that can be used. Although most are made with Agave Espadin, some mezcal producers blend agave varieties to create a distinct flavor. Mezcal traditionally has a very unique, smoky flavor that makes it fairly easy to distinguish from tequila, However it can range from light and fruity with a touch of smoke to intensely smoky. It can have a more rich, sweet flavor profile than tequila. Traditionally it is served straight and at room temperature.
Tequila tends to be much more focused on the cooked agave flavor of the Blue Agave. You can expect notes of bright citrus, fruit, and pepper in most Tequilas. Although it is commonly thought that tequila should be taken in shots, that is not how it is traditionally served. Sip your tequila along side sangrita, or “little blood” in Spanish, in separate shot glasses. This can also be served with an additional shot glass of lime juice.
Mezcal is known for the agave “worm” (or gusano) in the bottom of the bottle, however most mezcals do not have this. It imparts no particular flavor, and is often a marketing ploy for lower quality mezcals.
Come discover the difference yourself at our tasting bar! Sip on! Or to learn more about different wines and spirits, check out our blog. When if comes to mezcal vs. tequila, do you have a preference? You can comment here (on our blog,) on Facebook or in the store. We are excited to hear from you! We also deliver locally, to East Hampton, Wainscott, Southampton, Watermill, Amagansett, Bridgehampton, Sag Harbor, and Montauk.
—Pauline Fink, Staff