Mezcal vs. Tequila: What’s the Difference Between These Spirits?

Mezcal and tequila are both Mexican distilled spirits and can typically be confused with one another. Technically speaking, all tequila is mezcal, however not all mezcal is tequila. “Before being presented to distillation by the Spanish in the early 1500s, the Aztecs had actually perfected a beverage called ‘pulque’ made from fermented agave sap. When the fermented juice collected from the hearts of the agave plant fulfilled European distillation techniques, it transmuted into two of the world’s most meaningful spirits: tequila and mezcal,” describes Jason Hedges, Beverage Director at Laurent Tourondel Hospitality and author of The Seasonal Cocktail.

As you will soon see, mezcal and tequila are not as comparable as you might think. Curious to find out more about mezcal vs. tequila?
What Is Mezcal?
Frequently found next to tequila in the liquor shop, mezcal is a distilled alcoholic drink with a smoky flavor made from any type of agave. “Mezcal can be produced from more than 30 different types of agave plants, including espadín, tobalá, and tobasiche, and it is made mostly in the southwestern Mexican state of Oaxaca,” says Hedges.

While mezcal is primarily produced in Oaxaca, it can likewise be made in other areas of Mexico. “Oaxaca stands as the primary mezcal manufacturer, but other states, such as Michoacan, San Luis, Zacatecas, Guerrero, and Chihuahua each deal unique terroir profiles,” shares Jonathan Gonzalez, food and drink supervisor at Drift Kitchen & Mezcal Bar in San Jose Del Cabo.

Mezcal is often understood for having a smoky or earthy flavor, however tropical, citrus, and even bitter notes can also be spotted in numerous mezcal varieties.

What Is Tequila?
Tequila, which dates back to the 1620s, is another agave-based spirit that comes from Mexico. Nevertheless, unlike mezcal, tequila can’t be made with simply any agave plant. “Whereas mezcal can be made from more than 30 varieties of agave, the Mexican federal government just enables the usage of blue Weber agaves in the production of tequila,” notes Hedges. “There are two kinds of tequila on the racks: 100 percent agave tequila, which is pure and potent, and mixto, which blends in sugars from sources besides agave. The latter ought to be, for the most part, avoided.”

According to Jennifer Jackson, Beverage Manager at Thompson Restaurants, there are also constraints on where in Mexico tequila can be made. “Tequila is produced in the state of Jalisco and limited towns in other states,” she discusses. Common taste notes include citrus, herbs, vegetal hints, fruit, smoke, and earthiness.

Gonzalez adds: “Tequila can also be aged, resulting in variations like reposado, añejo, or extra añejo,” More on that listed below.

What Are the Different Types of Tequila and Mezcal?
As holds true with many spirits and other alcoholic beverages, there are a lot of types of both tequila and mezcal to choose from. According to Jackson, these are a few of the most common types of tequila and mezcal you will find:

Tequila types
Typically speaking, the different kinds of tequila differ based upon the length of time the spirit has been aged, if at all. The aging procedure (along with what type of vessel the tequila has been aged in) yields tequilas with various taste notes. The longer a tequila has been aged, the darker it will be.

Blanco: As its name suggests, this spirit is clear. It is in some cases called silver or white tequila, and is aged less than 2 months (if at all) in stainless-steel or oak tanks. It must be bottled within 60 days. According to Hedges, blanco tequila is known for its fresh, spicy, vegetal, and lively flavors.
Joven: Sometimes called gold tequila, this is a mix of white (blanco) tequila and aged tequila, or blanco tequila and additives.
Reposado: Reposado (rested) tequila is aged for a minimum of two months in oak casks. It has a “rounder and more intricate flavor profile,” according to Hedges.
Añjeo: Darker in color, añejo tequilas are aged for a minimum of one year in oak barrels. Per Hedges, this creates “rich and nuanced flavors.”
Additional añjeo: This oldest type of tequila (and the darkest) is aged for at least 3 years in oak barrels. It uses “heightened flavors of vanilla and baking spices, which can be very good to drink however regrettably can sometimes obscure the essence of the agave character,” explains Hedges.
Mezcal types
The various kinds of mezcal are a bit trickier to master than the different kinds of tequila because mezcal can be categorized by age and by the type of agave plant utilized to make the spirit, because, unlike tequila, there are no specifications about the types of agave plants that can be made use of. There can also be an additional distinction that depends on the precise technique of distillation used to make the mezcal.
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Joven or blanco: Mezcal with this label is colorless and unaged.
Madurado en vidrio: Translating to “developed in glass,” this mezcal is aged in glass for at least one year, either underground or in a light-free, temperature-controlled environment.
Reposado: Reposado mezcal is aged in wood (any type) from two to 12 months.
Añejo: Añejo mezcal is aged in wood (any type) for at least one year.
While mezcal producers can focus on the age of their item, there’s often a higher focus put on the kind of agave plant utilized to produce the spirit, because that can have a larger impact on how the mezcal ultimately tastes. Here are a couple of agave plant varieties to remember:

Angustifolia
This agave plant is accountable for the huge majority of the mezcal on the marketplace, and takes 6 to 8 years to develop. It can likewise be called espadín, espadilla, pelón verde, or tepemete. The agave from this plant has a high concentration of sugars, and mezcal made with it boasts herbaceous notes with hints of ripe fruits, and a smoky surface.

Marmorata
This agave plant takes 35 years to mature, which implies mezcal made with it is often on the costly side. It can likewise be called pichumel or tepeztate, and is known for spicier, more intense taste notes, like peppercorn and cinnamon.

Potatorum
This small agave plant can just grow from seeds, and can likewise be called papolome or tobalá. It’s known for its sweet taste. Mezcal made with agave from this plant often comes with a hefty price.

Can You Substitute Mezcal For Tequila?
If you’re fresh out of tequila but have a bottle of mezcal at the ready, you might be questioning if you can substitute one spirit for the other. Some popular mezcal cocktails consist of a mezcal margarita, Oaxacan old fashioned, smoky paloma, and mezcal Negroni.

Just due to the fact that some mixed drinks typically made with tequila can likewise work with mezcal, it doesn’t imply they all can. “I think both spirits have such unique qualities that they can not be replaced,” argues Gonzalez. “Using each spirit individually allows for a more authentic representation of their individual characters.”

Nick Turner, food and drink manager at Maleza Restaurant in Palm Springs, California, concurs. “Mezcal has such a stark distinction in taste it’s almost alien to someone without a ready taste buds,” he shares.

How to Drink Tequila and Mezcal
You can consume both mezcal and tequila neat, or you can whip up mixed drinks and mixed drinks using either spirit. “When it comes to consuming mezcal and tequila cool, it’s finest to appreciate the tastes gradually and value the complexities of each spirit,” notes Hedges. “Mezcal is frequently served in traditional clay cups called copitas, enabling the scent and tastes to be skilled fully. Tequila is frequently served in tulip-shaped glasses that record and boost its scents.”

Desire to match your tequila or mezcal with certain foods for the supreme dining experience? When it comes to cocktails, mezcal sets well with tastes like grapefruit, smoked salt, and spicy peppers, while tequila pairs well with ingredients like lime, salt, and fruit juices.”

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