Is mezcal and tequila the same thing?

Answered by Frank Schwing

Mezcal and tequila may seem similar, but they are not exactly the same thing. Mezcal is a broad category of agave-based spirits, while tequila is a specific type of mezcal that must meet certain criteria.

To understand the distinction, let’s start with mezcal. Mezcal can be made from various types of agave plants, whereas tequila must be made exclusively from blue agave, specifically the agave tequilana variety. This requirement is one of the key factors that sets tequila apart from other mezcals.

Another important distinction is the geographical origin. Tequila is produced in specific regions of Mexico, primarily in the state of Jalisco and some parts of a few neighboring states. Mezcal, on the other hand, can be made in several different regions across Mexico, including but not limited to Oaxaca, Durango, Guerrero, and Zacatecas.

The production processes of mezcal and tequila also differ. While both spirits involve harvesting agave plants, the methods of cooking, fermenting, and distilling can vary. Mezcal traditionally uses underground pit ovens to roast the agave hearts, imparting a smoky flavor, whereas tequila typically employs brick or masonry ovens for a different taste profile.

After cooking, the agave hearts are crushed to extract the juice, which is then fermented and distilled. Mezcal often undergoes a double distillation process, which can contribute to its unique character. Tequila, on the other hand, is typically distilled twice, but can also be distilled more times, depending on the desired style.

In terms of flavor, mezcal is known for its complex and diverse range of profiles. The use of different agave varieties and production methods can result in a wide array of flavors, ranging from smoky and earthy to fruity and floral. Tequila, specifically made from blue agave, tends to have a more consistent flavor profile, characterized by notes of citrus, pepper, and herbs.

It’s worth noting that the popularity of mezcal has been growing in recent years, as more people appreciate its artisanal production methods and unique flavors. Mezcal has also gained a reputation as a spirit that embodies Mexican culture and tradition.

While tequila is a type of mezcal, not all mezcals can be called tequila. Tequila is a specific mezcal made from blue agave in designated regions of Mexico, whereas mezcal encompasses a broader category of agave-based spirits made from various agave plants in different regions. The distinct production methods, agave types, and geographical origins contribute to the differences in flavor and character between mezcal and tequila.