Tequila Vs. Mezcal, What's the Difference?

Mezcal and tequila… the two Mexican drinks that are always present in celebrations, especially when it comes to filing your appetite to receive our food. These are two alcoholic beverages of Mexican tradition that, at first, may appear to be the same, but that are indeed very different in terms of flavor, ingredients, and the way in which they are made. Although both drinks come from the beautiful agave plant, their differences make them unique and incomparable.

Rows of agave in Tequila, Jalisco.

Tequila is the emblematic Mexican alcoholic beverage that has spread the most around the world. And no wonder why as the ritual of consuming a shot of this with a little lime and salt is a classic in cocktail bars and the like. When we think of this spirit drink, celebrations harmonized with mariachi music come to mind, the prelude for great feasts and festivities. Even more than this, it is a wonderful addition for some recipe preparations that give our favorite foods the toasty flavor of agave. However, there is another traditional elixir from this country that is very similar to tequila: mezcal. 

Like tequila, mezcal is a distillate that has gained momentum in recent years, and that we presume as a cultural and identity reference of our country. However, although these two drinks come from the same plant, agave, their differences go beyond what it seems. These being the case there are people who wonder what similarities and differences there are between both which is why today we break down the particularities of each one of them in order to learn how to differentiate between both delicious drinks!

Jimador, farmer who harvests agave plants, harvesting piñas, the center bulb of agave which gives tequila and mezcal.

The agave plant

Agave, also known as maguey in Mexico, is a large succulent with long, spiked leaves similar to aloe vera and the plant from which both tequila and mezcal come from. Within the core of the blue agave plant is a bulb called the piña, which gives the liquid to make these drinks. However, the type of maguey used varies from one drink to another. It is in their origin where the first difference between the two is found. In the case of tequila, it is exclusively obtained from the fermentation and distillation of blue agave, also known as Tequilana Weber. Mezcal, on the other hand, can be obtained from various species of agave, specifically from more than a dozen of these, and it can also be made with the mixture of more than one type of agave.

Production

The production processes of tequila and mezcal also follows different practices responsible for the difference of these drinks: tequila respects the conventional method of cooking piñas, or agave bulbs/cores in either clay and brick ovens called hornos, or large stainless steel ovens. While the mezcal process is cooked in a wood-fired oven, underground, and then ground with a mill. In fact, depending on how traditional the cooking and fermentation mechanism is, it can be categorized as artisanal or ancestral mezcal. 

Tequila (left) and mezcal (right) ovens. 

Taste

It is precisely in the flavor that you can find another of the great differences between tequila and mezcal. Although in both distillates there is always the citric and herbaceous presence of the agave taste, the mezcal usually has a strong character with very marked smoky flavors, due to the contact that the piñas had with the firewood during its cooking.

Since tequila is always made with blue agave, it has a unique and more defined flavor with certain neutral notes that can include floral and slightly sweet presences. In the case of mezcal that is made from different species of agave plants, or even with a combination of more than one type, and with an artisanal process that gives variation to the taste, its flavor can radically vary from one mezcal to another.

Alcohol Content

The alcohol content percentage can also help differentiate both products. Tequila typically contains an alcohol concentration between 36-40 percent alcohol by volume. Mezcal, on the other hand, is typically higher as it can exceed the 40 percent ABV (Alcohol By Volume) of tequila.

Denomination of origin

Both tequila and mezcal have denomination of origin, which can be a key point to distinguish them. Mezcal is produced in Mexican entities such as Oaxaca, Guerrero, Michoacán, Tamaulipas, Durango, Guanajuato, San Luis Potosí, Zacatecas, Puebla, State of Mexico, Morelos and Aguascalientes. In the case of tequila, despite being a product originating from the magical town of Tequila, in Jalisco, it is also produced in Tamaulipas, Nayarit, Michoacán and Guanajuato.

Mezcal worm, which creates misconceptions that see it as a necessary ingredient of mezcal.

Fun facts

  • Mezcal comes from the Nahuatl word mexcalli, which means cooked maguey, while tequila comes from the word tecatlis, which later became Tecuila, which is a reference to the region of Tequila, in Jalisco, where the drink is produced.
  • Some people may have seen that there are mezcals in which a worm is introduced. There are people who tend to differentiate tequila from this drink by the presence of said animal. However, this is not always the case and, although the image of said worm in mezcal bottles is common, it is not the norm. This invertebrate animal is only used in a certain type of mezcal to give it different characteristics, since it ends up adding subtleties to the flavor.
  • The delicious flavor of tequila has managed to captivate the most demanding palates, including those of celebrities, who produce their own label. The famous actor George Clooney was co-owner of the well-known Casamigos brand; Daddy Yankee created his label called Cartel; guitarist Carlos Santana joined Casa Noble as a partner. For his part, Justin Timberlake collaborated with Sauza to create 901 tequila, and Dwayne Johnson, The Rock, joined the guild with his Teremana tequila.

 

So, what do you think? Were you familiar with these differences? Have you tried both? What is your favorite way to have them? Do you prefer one over the other? Tell us in the comments below, we would love to hear from you.

Remember that everything with measure! If you're looking for a way to Mexicanize your table while serving tequila or mezcal, don't forget to check out our wide variety of decor and serveware in our Kitchen Collection, including tequila and mezcal glasses!

Authentic mexican recipes

1 comment

Joyce Thomas

Joyce Thomas

I love all of the information you share about Mexico and it’s customs and have learned so much from you! As a collector of Talavera pottery I would love for you to have a segment about Talavera.

Gracias!

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