A guide to Mezcal and Tequila

Spirit drinkers, rejoice – there are two delicious types to enjoy while holidaying in Mexico. Both made from the agave plant, tequila and mezcal are two popular distilled beverages created in different regions of Mexico.

For some, tequila may conjure up images of heady mornings-after, while mezcal may not ring a bell at all. However, both of these drinks, when enjoyed in the traditional manner, offer up a delicious, authentic taste of Mexico.

What's the difference?

First of all, a note on the difference between the two – both are made from the agave plant, native to Mexico and the southern US, but tequila can, by law, only be made from one type of agave.

Tequila is made from blue agave, and can in the main only be manufactured in the state of Jalisco. A handful of other states have certain areas approved for the production of tequila.

Mezcal however can be made using up to 28 to 30 different varieties of agave, and although it’s primarily manufactured in its home state of Oaxaca, a number of other areas in states throughout Mexico can produce it as well.

Tequila is therefore technically a type of mezcal, but the difference lies in the type of agave plant used in the method of production.

This is another way in which the two spirits differ. At the heart of the agave plant is the pina – the area from which the sweet agave nectar is removed and then heated and filtered into products such as drinks and syrups.

When making tequila, pinas are mass cooked in industrial ovens called autoclaves, while the process of making mezcal is slower and conducted on a smaller scale. Pinas are placed in smaller ovens and are smoked over several days, resulting in the distinctive smokier taste.

An introduction to Mezcal

‘Para todo mal, mezcal, y para todo bien, tambien’.

This phrase means ‘For every ill, Mezcal, and for every good as well’, and gives you an insight into the local attitude towards this delicious drink.

According to folklore, a lightning bolt struck open an agave plant, cooking the pina in one and releasing the finished juice. For this reason, mezcal is often referred to by it’s nickname, ‘the elixir of the gods’.

For many, a journey to Mexico means coming across mezcal for the first time, and sampling the delights of Tequila’s lesser-known cousin. However, those that try it are often quick to fall in love with it, given that the small-batch distilling process using oven-cooked agave creates what many describe as a smoky and smooth taste.

While shots of tequila are commonplace, Mezcal is best enjoyed from a scotch tumbler or similar, and sipped at a slow pace to let the smokiness develop. Typically, it’s enjoyed straight rather than in a cocktail, and you may want to try it on the rocks if it’s your first foray into the world of Mezcal.

Please remember to drink responsibly.

A guide to Tequila

Arguably a spirit that needs no introduction, Tequila hails from an area surrounding the city of the same name, located in the state of Jalisco.

There is tangible evidence of tequila production occurring as far back in time as 1600, and by 1608 the Cuervo family were granted a license to begin commercially producing the spirit.

However, it’s thought that the Aztecs made a similar drink from the Agave plant long before Jose Cuervo became a household name.

While it remains one of the most recognisable to foreign tastes, it is certainly not the only type of tequila today, as there are more than 100 distilleries in Mexico now producing upwards of 900 different brands.

There are many variances between these different brands, and one key difference can be seen when looking at where the agave hails from. For example, many people note that agave harvested from highland areas makes sweeter tequila, while earthier, smokier tones result from agave harvested in the lowlands.

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