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Tequila Or Mezcal? How To Tell The Two Spirit Siblings Apart

tequila and mezcal

In Mexican spirit culture, both tequila and its elder cousin mezcal, figure prominently as popular spirits for crafting cocktails and are often used by mixologists to create different drink combinations. Tequila and mezcal are both crafted from agave but there are some variations that go into the process of crafting these liquors which alter their tastes and intensity. So, each spirit is used differently in making cocktails and renders something distinct to the flavour profile of the mix. Today, as mixologists across the world have been familiarising themselves with tequila and its use in cocktail recipes, they have also started taking a closer look at other Mexican spirits like mezcal which adds that extra spicy oomph to your drink. Now, what exactly are the differences between the two spirits?

Types Of Agave

Both mezcal and tequila are made from agave but the latter is made primarily from blue weber agave whereas mezcal can be crafted from any of the 40 varieties of the plant that grow in the wild. You can also cultivate the variant you require to make mezcal but for tequila, you necessarily require blue agave. So, as an article on Food And Wine suggests, while all tequila can be mezcal, all mezcal necessarily need not be tequila. While they belong to the same family, this difference in the plants required to make the spirit also translates into a bit of difference in the ways in which alcohol is extracted out of them.

tequila and mezcal contradictions

Making The Spirits

One of the key differences in the making of the two spirits has got to do with the slight smokiness that is more prominent in mezcal. This difference is the result of the cooking methods so that while making mezcal, the piña or the core of the agave plant is taken out and roasted in conical pits. This methodology follows fewer restraints than the process of crafting tequila which gives mezcal a heightened smokiness. So also, as mezcal can be crafted using varied varieties of agave, there is more potential to explore an array of tastes, a possibility that is limited when it comes to utilising blue agave to make tequila.

For crafting this spirit, distillers generally put the blue agave piña in a brick oven or autoclave. This process repeated over time introduces a consistency and uniformity in the making of the spirit rendering it suitable to commercial manufacturing. A connoisseur can also identify an identical taste in two batches of tequila, something that cannot be said for mezcal. Subtle taste differences definitely appear in the indigenous variations of this spirit because of the different kinds of agave used in the production process. So, while tequila is more standardised, mezcal remains quite individualistic and changeable.

mezcal and tequila contrast

Flavour Notes And Hues

Mezcal and tequila are both really old spirits with rich histories. The process of crafting a delectable mezcal is quite artisanal and involves very few manufacturing tricks. Tequila also carries an equally rich tradition but it has become rather popular because of the ease of production and its slightly more favourable taste. This means tequila packs less intensity and alcohol content than mezcal, making it more conducive to crafting cocktails. It is milder and smoother and carries hints of citruses and herbs that have led to the drink’s enduring popularity. 

Mezcal on the other hand, has a distinctly smoky flavour which is a result of the roasting process mentioned earlier but it includes a broader range of fruity and earthy flavours. Mixologists have begun to widely incorporate mezcal into their innovative cocktail recipes for these myriad flavour components the spirit offers.

The spirits appear clear when they are made and can be savoured immediately but if you age them, you would get a slightly more caramelised reposado variety, which picks up an amber hue and a bit of taste from the barrel in which it is stored. Age them further and you would get the añejo, resembling dark rum in its hues and intensity. 

Either way, the ageing intensifies the flavour notes of each spirit. And with this handy guide, you will now be able to identify subtle differences in the two spirits when you next go for a tasting.

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