Unveiling the Mystique: Mezcal vs. Tequila

Monday 13 May, 2024
4 mins read

Ever stood at a bar or browsed through a liquor store, spotting mezcal beside tequila, and pondered their differences? While both are Mexican agave-based spirits, they are distinct, much like bourbon differs from whiskey. Tequila is a type of mezcal, an intriguing tidbit for social gatherings, as noted by Valerie Alvarado, Pernod Ricard’s Agave Ambassador. Thus, all tequilas fall under the mezcal category, but not every mezcal is tequila. Mezcal encompasses a broader class of agave spirits, with tequila being a specific variant.

Redford Parker, co-founder of El Buho Mezcal Artesanal, highlights four key distinctions between mezcal and tequila:

1. Composition: Mezcal is crafted from 100% agave juice, while tequila requires a minimum of 51% agave juice.

2. Agave Variety: Mezcal can be produced from any agave species, whereas tequila is exclusively made from Blue Weber agave.

3. Geographical Origin: About 90% of mezcal originates from Oaxaca, México, whereas tequila is primarily produced in Jalisco.

4. Preparation Technique: Artisanal mezcal involves cooking agave in open-pit fires, imparting a smoky essence, while tequila agave is typically steamed.

The nuances extend to their flavors and optimal enjoyment methods. Continue reading for essential insights into their unique characteristics.

Exploring Mezcal

Mezcal, a spirit distilled from the agave plant, is renowned for its smoky flavor profile. The agave’s core, or “piña,” is slow-cooked over flames, caramelizing it and infusing the spirit with its signature taste. Éva Pelczer, Del Maguey Mezcal’s Brand Education Director, refers to mezcal as tequila’s ancestral precursor, crafted by hand for over four centuries, resulting in highly expressive and distinctive spirits. Mezcal’s small-batch production contrasts with tequila’s more industrialized process, contributing to its growing popularity and presence, even in pre-mixed canned cocktails.

While Oaxaca is the primary mezcal producer, it can also be legally crafted in Durango, Guanajuato, Guerrero, Michoacán, Puebla, San Luís Potosí, Tamaulipas, and Zacatecas.

Discovering Tequila

Tequila, a mezcal variant, is also derived from agave. Chris Simmons, National Brand Ambassador for Tequila Ocho and Mezcal Vago, identifies three factors that set tequila apart from mezcal: location, agave type, and production techniques. Similar to how Champagne is to sparkling wine, tequila must come from specific Mexican states and use Blue Weber agave. Modernized production methods mean tequila is produced on a larger scale than mezcal.

Tequila Varieties

Tequila’s aging process influences its types, with longer aging imparting a darker hue from the barrel. Pelczer explains that wood aging softens and rounds tequila, akin to U.S. whiskey aging methods. While mezcal can age, it’s less common.

Tequila types include:

– Blanco: A clear, unaged (or up to 2 months) spirit, essential in classic cocktails and known for its fresh, grassy flavor with citrus and pepper notes.

– Joven: A blend of mostly blanco with some aged tequila, offering a light gold color. Authentic joven tequilas are 100% blue agave.

– Reposado: Aged 2 months to 1 year, this pale gold tequila balances brightness with emerging vanilla and spice notes.

– Añejo: Aged 1 to 3 years, this dark amber spirit develops rich vanilla, spice, and caramel flavors, ideal for sipping.

– Extra Añejo: Aged at least 3 years, this deep-hued tequila boasts intense caramel, vanilla, and spice flavors, reminiscent of aged whiskey.

Mezcal and Tequila Flavor Profiles

Mezcal generally offers a robust mouthfeel with a dominant roasted agave profile, complemented by notes of tropical fruits, caramels, chocolates, vanilla, and herbs. Tequila, by contrast, is lighter and citrus-oriented. Each bottle’s flavor varies with the producer, ensuring a unique tasting experience.

Understanding Tequila and Mezcal Through Agave and Terroir

Much like the grape variety and origin impart distinct flavors to wine, the agave type and its growing conditions profoundly affect the taste profiles of tequila and mezcal. “The concept of terroir is pivotal, offering a spectrum of aromas and flavors,” notes Simmons. He compares tequila to Pinot Noir, which, despite being produced in diverse regions like Willamette Valley, Sonoma County, and Burgundy, retains its identity while expressing unique regional characteristics.

Mezcal, however, boasts a vast diversity akin to the global wine scene. With over thirty-six agave varieties used in mezcal production, it’s comparable to the rich variety found in wines like Syrah from Rhone Valley, Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, and Malbec from Argentina, each bringing a distinct sensory experience.

Diverse Agave Varieties for Mezcal

Espadín: Dominating mezcal production, espadín is favored for its efficiency in fermentation and a more neutral flavor that captures the essence of its terroir and the maker’s craft. It shares a kinship with the agave used for tequila, often resulting in a similar taste profile.

Tobalá: Known for its earthy, nutty, and floral notes, tobalá is a less common agave that matures slowly and yields a more exquisite, and often costlier, mezcal.

Arroqueño: This scarce agave takes up to two decades to mature, producing a mezcal rich in complexity with layers of floral, earthy, and woody nuances.

Tepeztate: A low-alcohol yielding agave that matures over decades, tepeztate imparts a distinctively floral, vegetal, and ‘green’ flavor to its mezcal.

Cuishe: Part of the Karwinskii family, cuishe stands out for its pronounced vegetal, citrus, and tropical fruit characteristics.

Dispelling the Smoky Myth of Mezcal

Contrary to popular belief, not all mezcals are defined by smokiness. While smoke is an element, it’s not always predominant. Pelczer emphasizes mezcal’s vast flavor range, from roasted agave to tropical fruit and herbal notes, each batch reflecting the unique heritage of its producers. For those less fond of smoky spirits, Alvarado suggests exploring mezcals with profiles of ripe fruit, tropicality, chocolate richness, earthiness, or spice.

Regional Excellence of Mezcal

While Oaxaca is a major mezcal producer, Simmons refrains from labeling any region as the ‘best,’ acknowledging the diverse profiles resulting from Oaxaca’s varied geography and terroirs.

Savoring Tequila and Mezcal

Alvarado prefers sipping tequila at room temperature to fully appreciate its character, while Simmons endorses neat consumption to experience the spirit’s subtleties. He suggests avoiding chilling or dilution, which can diminish the sensory experience.

For mezcal, Simmons enjoys it neat or in cocktails, advising against ice to preserve the spirit’s integrity. He recommends cocktails as an approachable introduction for newcomers. Parker pairs artisanal mezcal with meals, favoring a neat serving in a wide-mouth glass cup, and finds it particularly complementary to Mexican and Japanese cuisine.

Versatility of Mezcal in Cocktails

Pelczer encourages experimenting with mezcal in place of tequila or other spirits in cocktails, suggesting a gradual introduction by partially substituting mezcal in familiar drinks or adding a small float to enhance flavor. Parker’s cocktail of choice, the ‘Sour Owl,’ creatively substitutes rum with mezcal in a daiquiri, balanced with lime juice and simple syrup.

Source: Good Housekeeping

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Source: México Daily Post from The México City Post on 2024-05-06 17:20:23

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