Tequila Vs. Mezcal: An Insightful Take On Popular Mexican Spirits

Informational

Tequila Vs. Mezcal

In American bars, mezcal is gaining popularity with tequila. These drinks are both classic Mexican spirits derived from agave. But they have several crucial characteristics that every spirit enthusiast should be aware of.

Like scotch and bourbon, tequila is a type of mezcal. Any agave-based alcohol is considered mezcal. Tequila, for example, is created in specific locations of Mexico and must be made of only blue agave. Meanwhile, Mezcal may be produced from a diverse range of agave plants.

So, which is better between the two? This article will answer that for you!

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A Quick Glance

Tequila Mezcal

Type of agave

Weber blue agave

50 species of the agave plant

Place of origin

Michoacán, Guanajuato, Nayarit, Tamaulipas, and Jalisco

San Luis Potos, Guanajuato, Guerrero, Tamaulipas, Durango, Puebla, Zacatecas, Michoacán, and Oaxaca

Taste 

Smooth, sweet flavor

Smoky and savory

Alcohol content

40% ABV

55% ABV

Cooking and distillation  process

Agave is distilled 2-3 times in copper pots after being steamed

Cooked in wooded and charcoaled pits then distilled in clay pots

Matured in

Oak barrels

Oak barrels

What is Tequila?

Tequila shots with salt and lime

Tequila is derived from the Weber blue agave plant and is distilled into liquor. Huge spikes emerge from the piña, the inner core of the blue agave plant. Only a few parts of Mexico are allowed to make the beverage.

As per Mexican law, tequila must contain a minimum of 51% Weber blue agave. The finest tequila is labeled "100% Weber blue agave."

Mixto is agave tequila that has been blended with several types of agave plants or contains additional components. During distillation, it's frequently combined with water and sweeteners.

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What is Mezcal?

Mezcal shot with chili salt and lemon

Mezcal, like tequila, is an agave-based spirit from Mexico. So, while tequila is a kind of mezcal, not all mezcal is. Mezcal is prepared using 50 distinct agave varieties. 

Tobalá, tepeztate, arroqueño, tobaziche, and espadín are the most frequent agave types used for mezcal. Espadín is the most prevalent agave and accounts for most mezcal production.

The word mezcal comes from the Nahuatl term for roasted agave, the most essential plant in liquor manufacturing. Agave piña is boiled after harvesting to soften the fibers and convert the carbohydrates into sugar.

Although the agave is traditionally roasted, some advanced manufacturers choose to steam it to reduce the smoky flavor of the finished alcohol.

Type of Agave - Winner: Mezcal

Espadín agaveAlthough both mezcal and tequila are derived from agave, tequila is essentially a form of mezcal. While mezcal may be created from up to 50 different agave species, tequila can only be prepared from one, which is agave tequilana Weber or Weber blue agave.

Since tequila is manufactured exclusively from blue agave, and mezcal may be created from up to 50 different agaves, Mezcal has far more flavor diversity than tequila.

Place of Origin - Winner: Mezcal

The spirit must be created in one of nine Mexican states: Durango, Guerrero, Guanajuato, Michoacán, Oaxaca, Puebla, San Luis Potosi, Tamaulipas, and Zacatecas to be termed mezcal.

Outside of the controlled Denominaciones de Origens (DOs), certain agave-based spirits are created in a mezcal manner, but they can't legally be called mezcal.

It's crucial where the agave is cultivated and harvested, but it's also vital where it's fermented and distilled. Wild yeast is always used to ferment high-quality mezcals, which significantly influences the quality and richness. 

On the other hand, tequila was initially produced in the town of Tequila, in the state of Jalisco. Mexico has entire authority over the areas where tequila may be manufactured, which are five regions. 

The state of Jalisco produces the most tequila with the seal of approval, with minor sections in the states of Guanajuato, Michoacan, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas also distilling tequila.

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Taste - It’s a tie!

The location of each spirit's production and the agave's environment contributes to taste variations. Their distinct manufacturing procedures and whether or not the liquor was aged significantly impact the flavor.

Tequila is often roasted, sweet, rich, and fruity due to its oak aging process. Compared to tequila, mezcal has a somewhat funky taste with botanical and tropical notes. It also has vegetal and floral flavor hints.

Mezcal has a flavorful, smokier profile than tequila because of its cooking process in an underground pit. Remember that the longer any spirit is aged and matured in barrel, the smoother, more developed, and more refined its taste profile will become.

Alcohol Content - Winner: Tequila

Mezcal has greater alcohol by volume percentage than tequila, at 55%. Tequilas are typically 38% to 40% alcohol by volume, around 76 to 80 proof, although they can't be more than 50% ABV or 100 proof. 

However, mezcal is not always necessarily stronger than tequila. Many people believe that mezcal has a stronger flavor than tequila, but this is not always true. A certain mezcal may be stronger than a particular tequila, but it's also possible that it's the other way around.

Cooking and Distillation Process - It’s a tie!

Aside from the raw components, the processes for manufacturing tequila and mezcal are somewhat different. The agave harvest is the starting point for both operations. The jimador or the harvester uses a Coa to remove the leaves off the plant, leaving just the plant's piña.

The agave is then roasted in an industrial or an autoclave oven, triggering a chemical reaction that transforms complex carbs into simple fermentable sugars within the piña. The agave is softened during the steaming process, making it simpler to recover the sugar.

The agave piñas are crushed after being cooked to liberate the juice inside. Tequila is made by fermenting this liquid and turning it into alcohol, then distilling it two or three times.

On the other hand, mezcal manufacturing is undoubtedly more artisanal. Instead of being cooked in an autoclave, agave for mezcal is cooked underground in a cone-shaped pit surrounded by coals, rocks, and woods. 

Piñas are placed in the pit, a fire is started, and the pit is then covered with soil. The piñas being cooked in this manner gives them a smoky, charred texture. In clay pots, the agave is fermented and distilled.

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Aging Process - It’s a tie!

Blue and white-labeled tequila bottle

Tequila and mezcal are both aged inside oak barrels after distillation but with slightly distinct labeling classifications.

Tequila

Age

Label

0 - 2 months

Blanco or silver

2 - 12 months

Reposado

12 - 36 months (1 - 3 years)

Anejo

Mezcal

Age

Label

0 - 2 months

Joven

2 - 12 months

Reposado

Minimum of 12 months

Anejo

Price - Winner: Tequila

Because of how mezcal is produced, it is more costly than tequila. It is not only more expensive to manufacture, but it is also more costly to transport in tiny amounts when compared to tequila.

Another reason for the mezcal’s high price is that the agave plants used to manufacture the spirit can take a long time to reach their prime. Espadín agaves can take 7 to 14 years to reach harvest size. Other agave species, such as tepeztate and tobala, might take 17 to 35 years to mature.

Conclusion

This article has proven that both tequila and mezcal are popular Mexican spirits, but they have a handful of key differences. Which one you drink depends on your preferences! 

Choose tequila if you:

  • Want a lower alcohol content
  • Like a fruity and smooth flavor
  • Want a cheaper spirit

Choose mezcal if you:

  • Want a more diverse taste profile
  • Prefer smoky flavor
  • Consider the regions the spirit is made from

Let us know what you think about these two variations in the comments below.

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  • David Runnion on

    Thanks for the education. I love your Posts.


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