Tequila vs Mezcal: Two Sides Of The Agave Coin


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Mexico is renowned for its vibrant culture, delicious cuisine, and rich history. More importantly (to me!), it’s the birthplace of two of the world’s most celebrated spirits: tequila and mezcal.

While both of these fiery Mexican spirits come from the agave plant, my tequila vs. mezcal debate examines how they differ somewhat in their flavour due to the agave species used and slightly different production methods.

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Tequila vs Mezcal

Historical Roots

Both tequila and mezcal have deep historical roots in Mexico, tracing back to the indigenous peoples who first fermented agave and later French and Spanish occupations.

David discusses in our History of Mezcal article that mezcal remains more traditional than tequila and is linked to ancient mezcal rituals and ceremonies.

The history of tequila radically changed in the 19th century, when the spirit became mass-produced and more commercial, leading to the Mexican firewater we recognise today.

Agave Origins

Agave plant

Have you heard the saying: all mezcal is tequila, but not all tequila is mezcal? This is because tequila is made exclusively from the blue agave plant (Agave tequilana)

Now, mezcal? That’s a different story. It can be crafted from over 30 different types of agave. The one I’ve come across most often is Agave espadin.

Location, Location, Location

Agave growing on farm

Just like buying a house, location is everything when it comes to these spirits. 

For a spirit to wear the proud label of “tequila”, it has to be produced in certain regions of Mexico, such as Jalisco and some areas of Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas.

Mezcal, though? There are some incredible ones from Oaxaca, its primary production hub. But I’ve also come across mezcal from places like Guerrero, Durango, San Luis Potosí, and Zacatecas. 

Each region brings its unique touch to the spirit.

Production Process

Production Process of Tequila and Mezcal

When making tequila, they take the heart of the agave plant, which folks call the “piña”, and steam it in big ovens above the ground. 

Once steamed up, they crush these piñas to get all the juice out. After that, it’s all about fermenting and distilling to get that familiar tequila taste.

Now, mezcal? That’s a whole different ball game. They roast the agave hearts in these cool underground pits filled with volcanic rock, which gives mezcal that signature smoky taste I’ve come to love. 

After roasting, just like tequila, they crush the piñas, ferment the juice, and distil it. It’s a process, but oh so worth it!

Flavour Profile

pina close up

So, when you sip on tequila, you can taste that blue agave; sometimes it’s sweet and fruity, and other times it’s got this sharp, peppery kick.

And if tequila has been aged for a while, it becomes the best tequila for sipping. You might catch hints of vanilla, caramel, and even a bit of oak inherited from the barrels.

Now, mezcal? That’s a whole vibe on its own. That smoky mezcal taste? That’s from roasting it underground. But it’s not just about the smoke.

Depending on where it’s from and the agave they use, you might taste some fruitiness, a bit of floral, some earthy tones, and, if you’re lucky, a hint of dark chocolate.

Some mezcals are aged, too, and are the ideal mezcals for sipping.

Age Variations Of Tequila & Mezcal

Tequila in barrels

Like a fine wine, the age can switch up the flavour of your chosen tequilas or mezcal.

Tequila

Patron-Silver-Tequila
Silver Tequila
Blanco (Silver)

Think of this as tequila in its wild youth. It’s either fresh out of the still or has sat in barrels for less than 2 months. Super clear, packed with that agave punch, and a go-to for cocktails or shots with salt & lime.

Reposado (Rested)

This one’s taken a bit of a nap, ageing from 2 months to a year. Thanks to the oak barrels, it’s got this golden vibe and a smoother taste. It’s like the chill middle child between Blanco’s energy and Añejo’s depth.

Añejo (Aged)

Here’s where things get deep. Aged from 1 to 3 years, it’s darker and smoother, plus you might even taste hints of caramel or vanilla.

Extra Añejo (Extra-Aged)

This is the granddaddy of tequilas. Aged for over 3 years, it’s super rich and complex. If tequilas were whiskies, this would be the expensive vintage stuff.

Mezcal

Se-Busca-Mezcal-Añejo
Añejo Mezcal
Joven (Young)

This is like tequila’s Blanco’s cousin. It’s super clear, has no ageing, and has that straight-up agave taste with a smoky twist (thanks to those pit ovens).

Reposado

Aged like its tequila twin, between 2 months to a year and has a bit of a mellowed-out smoky vibe and some extra flavours from the oak.

Añejo

This one’s been chilling in oak barrels for 1 to 3 years. It’s got a richer taste, and the woodsy notes play well with that signature smoky flavour.

Food & Booze: The Perfect Match

Tequila snd Mezcal with food.

So, you’ve got a bottle of tequila and wondering what to munch on? Let me break it down. 

If you’re pouring some Blanco or silver tequila, think fresh. I’m talking ceviche or a good ol’ guac. Now, if you’re in the mood for some Añejo or the aged stuff, it’s all about the rich flavours. Think grilled fish or some juicy meats.

And mezcal? Oh man, that smoky goodness is just begging to be paired with some BBQ or grilled meats. Got something spicy on the grill? Even better.

Cocktails, Shots & Mixers

Margarita Cocktail

We all love a classic Margarita, but tequila has more tricks up its sleeve. From the vibrant Tequila Sunrise to the refreshing Paloma, it’s no wonder bartenders love playing around with it.

And with mezcal making a comeback, the cocktail game’s gotten even more exciting. 

Ever tried a Mezcal Margarita or a Smoky Negroni? If not, you’re missing out. Bartenders are having a field day mixing and matching with this smoky spirit.

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Tequila vs. Mezcal Summary

CharacteristicTequilaMezcal
Type of SpiritAgave spiritAgave spirit
Agave type(s)Blue Weber agaveAny type of agave
Cooking methodRoasted in ovens or autoclavesRoasted in underground pits
Smoke flavourMildPronounced
Production regionJalisco, Mexico, and certain other designated areasOaxaca, Mexico, and other designated areas
AgeingCan be aged or unagedCan be aged or unaged
Typical flavoursSweet, fruity, toastySmoky, earthy, savory
Typical proof80-110 proof80-110 proof

Conclusion

Andrew-with-1800-Tequila

Tequila and mezcal are like the cool siblings of the agave spirit family. Each has its own vibe, but both give you a taste of Mexico’s rich culture and flavours. 

Whether you’re sipping your tequila or mezcal neat, taking a cheeky shot, in a cocktail, or pairing them with some tasty bites, you’re in for a Mexican treat.

Also Read: 6 Myths Of Tequila And The Worm Answered!

References

wikipedia.org/wiki/Tequila
wikipedia.org/wiki/Mezcal
mezcaleria.de/en/history-of-mezcal
drinksgeek.com/history-of-tequila/
drinksgeek.com/history-of-mezcal/
amazon.com/Mezcal-History-Cocktails-Ultimate-Artisanal/ (book)
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Further Reading

Below are some additional articles from The Drinks Geek blog. We write articles on several fascinating areas of drinks, including different brands, drink types, cocktail recipes and more.

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