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Mezcal vs. Tequila: 5 Key Differences

typical mexican drink bottle filling a glass of mezcal (or mescal), a rare mexican distilled beverage that contains an aphrodisiac larva or worm inside

Mezcal vs. Tequila: 5 Key Differences

While mezcal and tequila are alcoholic spirits that find their roots deep in Mexican culture and life, both are growing in popularity in America. With this continuing popularity, many ask what exactly is the difference between mezcal and tequila. 

While they have similarities, the differences do set them apart. Technically, tequila is mezcal. However, not all mezcal is tequila. The differences include the type of agave each is made of, flavor, price, location of processing, and history. A mezcal is an alcoholic beverage that has been distilled from the fermented pinas of an agave plant. Let's take a look at each difference more in-depth below. 

Mezcal is Any Agave-Based Spirit 

Mezcal is an agave-based spirit. Still, are you asking yourself, what even is agave? Agave is a beautiful, flowering succulent primarily in Mexico and the southwestern parts of the United States. 

The agave plant is very special. It's a sacred plant with legends surrounding it, which we will discuss later. 

There are around 252 different types of agave. While it is true that mezcal could probably be made from any type of agave plant, only around 50 or so are used for this particular purpose. 

The most popular agave to make mezcal from is the Espadin. There are many specific requirements to be considered mezcal spirit; one, in particular, is while producing this spirit, it is always to be 100 percent agave.

Farmer on his horse walking in his agave seed. Agave landscape, Tequila, Jalisco, Mexico.
The agave plant grows in Mexico and is a sacred plant. It only blooms fully once in its life, and some take up to 30-plus years to reach maturity!

©Jesus Cervantes/Shutterstock.com

Differences in Flavors Between Tequila and Mezcal 

Another difference between these two popular spirits lies in their flavors. Most mezcal spirits will have a smoky flavor and are also savory. Tequila, on the other hand, is sweet and a lot smoother. 

Tequila is a Type of Mezcal

One similar characteristic of tequila and mezcal is that they are made from agave plants. However, when it comes to tequila, it can only be made from the blue Weber agave, whereas mezcal covers a variety of spirits that can come from any of the agave plants. 

Tequila Can Only Be Produced in Certain Areas

Like most spirits, there are specific rules that make tequila, well, tequila. One of those requirements is that it can only be produced in certain regions. These Mexican regions are Michoacan, Guanajuato, Nayarit, Jalisco, and Tamaulipas. Tequila cannot be produced anywhere else. 

Different Processing Methods

Another difference between tequila and mezcal is their processing methods. Both of these spirits require the cooking and fermenting of the agave hearts. From there, the differences begin. 

As stated, tequila can only come from the blue Weber agave plant. These agave plants first cook inside ovens: autoclaves. They are above-ground industrial ovens.

On the other hand, many other mezcal spirits cook in underground pits. A unique characteristic of this cooking process is that volcanic stone lines the oven.

glasses of tequila, gold tequila and silver tequila, typical mexican drink
Tequila can carry a sweeter taste than many other types of mezcal. Additionally, tequila can only come from one specific agave plant, the blue Weber agave.

©RHJPhtotos/Shutterstock.com

Mezcal is a Mexican Traditional Agave Spirit

Mezcal and tequila have deep roots in the Mexican tradition. The agave plant derives from Mexico and is a cactus-like plant. One unique aspect of the agave plant is that it only flowers once in its lifetime! 

Like most spirits, the flavor profiles will depend upon the fermentation circumstances and where the plant cultivates.

Both tequila and mezcal are predominately popular in Mexico. However, the popularity of both is climbing in America. In fact, as of 2022, they are both the fasted growing spirits in popularity in the United States. 

To be mezcal, it needs to be made in the following Mexican states:

Like tequila, mezcal also has requirements for where it can be made. There are only nine Mexican states that are legally allowed to make mezcal. These states are Guanajuato, Durango, Tamaulipas, San Luis Potosi, Oaxaca, Potosi, Guerrero, Puebla, and Zacatecas. 

The Price of Tequila and Mezcal 

Another difference between mezcal and tequila is in the price of both. A bottle of mezcal can sometimes be pricier than the latter. For starters, some agave plants can take many years to reach maturation. The blue Weber agave plant, on the other hand, only takes about seven years to reach maturity. Therefore, the production of tequila can be quicker. Mezcal can also be more expensive and time-consuming to produce. 

However, the prices between the two will honestly vary. Some of the most expensive mezcals reach up to just under $1,000. Although, it is common to find a bottle of mezcal for between $40 and $150, and sometimes less than $40. 

Tequila prices also vary depending on production, availability, and more factors. It is possible to find tequila between $20 and $125. However, prices will run even upward, depending on several factors. In fact, Ley Tequila 925 Diamante is the world's most expensive tequila and is 3.5 million

History of Mezcal and Tequila

Both mezcal and tequila have a deep history that is worth exploring! For starters, we talked about the agave plant earlier in this post. These plants are thought to be sacred. In fact, the legend surrounding them will pique your curiosity and may have you searching more in-depth about this myth's origin. The legend goes a long time ago, this sacred plant was hit by a lightning bolt. This bolt of lightning was so powerful that it cooked the plant and opened it! Upon opening, the juice was released, and it thus became the elixir of the gods. Regardless of the true origins of mezcal, this makes for a unique and interesting tale. 

Additionally, the true origins of mezcal production are thought to derive from two other possibilities. First, many think that around 400 years ago, Spanish conquerors brought distilling methods to Mexican natives. Another thought is that the galleon trade brought around stills. This, coupled with the Filipino sailors who wanted to produce coconut liquor, may have led to mezcal eventually being produced. 

The history of tequila is more straightforward. During the pre-colonial age, people had already started fermenting drinks from the agave plant. However, the process of distilling fermented drinks began during the colonization period. 

In the 1700s to the 1800s, the modern tequila drink that we now know and love was born. The birth of tequila, as we know it today, goes back to two specific families. The Cuervo and the Sauza family. In 1758 the Cuervo family began distilling tequila. Then in 1873, Don Cenobia Sauza discovered that the blue agave plant was the best to use while making modern tequila. 

bartender hand serving mexican mezcal shot drink in a traditional glass in Mexico city Latin America
Mezcal is a popular alcoholic spirit that many enjoy in several countries.

©Marcos Castillo/Shutterstock.com

One Last Note

Not all mezcal is indeed tequila, but tequila is mezcal. There are quite a few similarities between the spirits, but let's take a look at some of the differences:

  • Mezcal is well known to have a smokier, savory flavor; tequila has a sweeter and smoother taste.
  • Tequila is only made from the blue Weber agave plant, while a Mezcal can come from any agave plant.
  • Both Mezcal and tequila can only be produced in certain regions of Mexico. However, tequila can only be made in five regions, whereas mezcal can be produced in nine regions.

Both tequila and mezcal are excellent spirits that bring a lot to the table. For starters, the flavor profile is unique, offering both sweet and smoky flavors, depending on the one chosen to drink. 

Regardless of which one you prefer to drink, both mezcal and tequila have distinct characteristics that set them apart. Although tequila is a type of mezcal, not all mezcal is tequila. For starters, tequila can only come from one specific agave plant, the blue Weber agave plant. In addition, the flavors are different, from savory to sweet. The popularity of mezcal and tequila is rising for a good reason. The delectable taste and versatility of both and their deep history give each an edge and a delicious spirit. 

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