Did you know that the first mezcal was created when a lightning bolt hit an agave plant, cracking it open and cooking the juices inside? This incident led to mezcal being dubbed the “elixir of the gods”, and the name mezcal itself has Aztec roots with the name originating from the word “Mexcalli” which means cooked agave in Aztec. With mezcal and tequila often being used interchangeably for cocktails, the truth is that both spirits are two very different drinks. Tequila is a mezcal, but mezcals is not a type of tequila. This is due to how mezcal can be made from many different types of agave, while tequila can only be made from blue agave. Thus, what are the main differences between these two Mexican spirits?
While there is some overlap between both spirits in the regions they are produced, the regions, in general, do differ between the two. Jalisco is the home of most of the tequila production, while mezcal is primarily produced in nine other states, Guanajuato, Oxaca, Durango, Michoacán, Puebla, San Luis Potosi, Tamaulipas, and Zacatecas. Of course, mezcal and tequila are made in these other states, but the primary location of production differs, and the blue agave required for tequila can only be produced in five regions.
The main difference between both liquors as defined above is in their production, with tequila being produced only by blue agave and mezcal being made from dozens of agave varieties. However, while both spirits are still made from the heart of this plant, the way both drinks are produced is vastly different. Tequila is made by cooking the heart of the agave plants in an oven. Afterward, the hearts are shredded and fermented before being distilled into copper pots. Mezcal however differs as it is cooked in an underground pit lined with volcanic rocks, wood, and charcoal. Distilled in clay pots after, both are usually aged in oak barrels whereby the length of the aging process defines the type of spirit it is categorized as, such as Blanco or Reposado. Agave needs to be cooked for the fermentable sugars to be created, and the cooking and distillation process results in different flavor profiles for each spirit.
So, as we discussed earlier, the different cooking processes for each spirit result in vastly different flavors for each drink. The smoke swirling around in the pit allows the mezcal to be infused with its iconic smoky depth, with the pit creating an earthy quality with deep, caramelized tones pushing through. Mezcal then ends up combining these different flavors and tones to create a smoky, earthy, and savory medley of flavors for you to enjoy. While the different types of tequila have different flavor profiles due to the different aging processes, the oven-baked agave results in the tequila sporting sweet, fruity, and complex tones with occasional hints of toastiness due to its aging process.
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