Tequila vs. mezcal: how are they different?

When it comes to spirits, tequila and mezcal, 2 Mexican drinks, have conquered the palate of many around the world. Although they come from the same raw material, a plant called agave or maguey, have different characteristics. In this article we will explain.

According to research published in the Revista Iberoamericana de Viticultura, Agroindustria y Ruralidad, in Mexico mezcal is defined as a strong artisan drink made from agave, while tequila also comes from agave and is used in celebrations, although already industrialized.

5 differences between tequila and mezcal

In Mexico there are two regulations that govern the production of mezcal and tequila. The official Mexican standard NOM-070-SCFI – 2016 specifies the sanitary, composition, production and marketing conditions that mezcal must have.

For its part, the Official Mexican Standard NOM-006-SCFI – 2012 provides such specifications for tequila. Next we will explain the main points in which tequila and mezcal differ.

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1. Their designations of origin are different

Although both are typical products of Mexico, the Denomination of Origin of Tequila (DOT) includes municipalities of the states of Guanajuato,

The agave is the plant that gives rise to these liqueurs. Its processing is a Mexican tradition.

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2. They come from different varieties of agave

The agave is a plant with long, fibrous, lance-shaped leaves. To produce tequila or mezcal, it is processed and cooked to extract its sugars and juices, which are then fermented, distilled, filtered and aged.

While mezcal can be made with any type of agave, tequila can only be produced with the variety Blue Agave Tequilana Weber. In addition, the plants must be cultivated in the territories determined by the designation of origin, as the case may be.

3. They have different categories

Another of the characteristics by which tequila and mezcal are different are their varieties. Tequila is classified according to the percentage of agave sugars it contains.

Therefore, it can be 100% agave or tequila tequila. The latter is the most popular, which in turn is classified as white, young or gold, reposado, añejo and extra añejo.

Mezcal only has 3 categories, according to the process used in its cooking, fermentation and distillation. It could be mezcal, artisanal mezcal and ancestral mezcal.

4. The percentages of its composition are different

The aforementioned regulations indicate how the composition of each of the two drinks should be. Mezcal must be produced 100% agave, while tequila can be produced 100% agave or contain a mixture of up to 49% other sugars.

5. Tequila has sweet notes and mezcal has smoky notes.

Tequila and mezcal differ in their taste. Tequila usually has sweet notes and citrus aromas that are granted in the process of cooking, distillation and aging.

For its part, mezcal tends to have smoky notes, because in its cooking process wood and underground ovens are used that give it this characteristic.

3 similarities between tequila and mezcal

As we already discussed, they both come from a plant called agave or maguey. Likewise, they are part of the Mexican identity and culture.

In addition, they have strict regulations in Mexico, led by the Mezcal Regulatory Council and the Tequila Regulatory Council. Next we will explain their main similarities

1. They have a common origin

The heart of the agave plants, similar to a large pineapple, was known as mezcal, that in language nahuatl means ‘house of the moon’ and refers to the core or essence. Over the years, distillation techniques began to be used to produce an alcoholic beverage from this raw material.

Said drink was called mezcal as well. However, it was accompanied with a surname that responded to the place where it occurred. Thus was born the emblematic mezcal of Oaxaca, for example.

One of those drinks, known as mezcal de tequila, in honor of a town near Guadalajara, became so popular that it became a badge of its own. That is how tequila, actually, is a variety of mezcal.

2. Its production process is the same

The processes of making tequila and mezcal have many similarities. It all starts with him jimar. That is, roughing the maguey leaves to be able to roast the agave pineapples and cook them to extract their sugars.

After this, the cooked pineapples are ground to produce the must, a juice with honeys and fiber. Subsequently, the fermentation process begins through the action of yeasts. At the end, by means of distillation, the alcohol is extracted, which is subjected to a filtration and aging process.

The percentages of alcohol are similar because the process is similar. In any case, it is not wrong to consider that tequila is a variety of mezcal.

3. They have the same percentages of alcohol

According to the regulations that dictate the physicochemical properties of these liquors, both tequila and mezcal can contain an alcohol percentage between 35% and 55%. The variation in the volume of alcohol depends on the producer and the brand of tequila or mezcal that is purchased.

However, it is common for mezcal to be stronger, exceeding 40%. As for tequilas, the most common on the market have a percentage of around 40%.

What is the drink with the worm?

The maguey worm is a larva that grows on this plant and has been used for millennia in the gastronomy of some regions of Mexico. Specifically, Mezcal from Oaxaca was characterized by having a small worm at the bottom of the bottle, what differentiated it from tequila and gave it a distinction compared to other mezcals.

However, not all mezcals contain this larva inside their bottle. So if you were wondering about their presence, you know that it is not always the regular.