It’s safe to say nearly everyone is familiar with tequila, even if they haven’t had any intimate experiences with it. The same can’t be said, however, for tequila’s cousin, mezcal. Let’s compare and contrast:
- Both are produced from the heart of the agave plant (though see below on how this is also a difference).
- Both count pulque, an alcoholic beverage of the Aztecs, as an ancestor/predecessor/inspiration, and were first created by Spanish conquistadors and early colonists who had run out of brandy.
- Both use the same basic historic grading system: blanco (unaged), reposado (aged two months to a year), and añejo (aged over a year).
- Both can be distilled up to 110 proof.
- Tequila is made from blue agave (Agave tequilana) and mezcal can be made from several different types of agave (including, confusingly, blue agave, but most frequently maguey, Agave americana).
- Tequila is, technically speaking, a type of mezcal produced from a specific plant in a specific region.
- Tequila is produced mainly in Jalisco (and select areas of surrounding states), while the majority of mezcal is made further east and south in Oaxaca.
- Tequila is generally distilled twice, mezcal only once.
- Tequila is big business, with notable names like Cuervo, Sauza, and Patron. Mezcal is usually handcrafted by small scale producers or villages.
- Mezcal, and not tequila, sometimes has a worm added to the bottle. This probably began as a marketing ploy.
- While both are traditionally drank neat in Mexico, there are countless cocktails around for tequila. Mezcal? Not so much.
- As far as flavor goes, mezcal is said to be at the same time sweeter and smokier.
Both spirits have their supporters, some fiercely loyal. At this point we are middle-of-the-roaders when it comes to this debate. As for you, there’s only one way to know which side you are on.