Tequila Vs Mezcal What’s the Difference?
One of the “must do” items on our Mexican agenda was to take part in a Tequila tasting. I was really interested to learn the difference between a high quality Tequila and one that would give me a pounding headache the next day. I was also a little worried that being a “lightweight” the Tequila tasting may give me a pounding headache anyway… regardless of quality.
Then I started hearing about Mezcal!
What is Mezcal?
Mezcal is a Mexican spirit and it’s made from the Agave plant… Hmm, that sounds a lot like Tequila. Lets just say by the time I arrived in Mexico I was none the wiser. The only thing I knew for sure is that Mezcal is becoming one of those “trendy” drinks that bartenders are using more and more.
I decided the only way to get to the bottom of this question was time to sit down with a Mexican connoisseur, and compare and contrast the two spirits.
Does that sound dangerous to you?? It did to me also!
I participated in this exercise purely in the name of research.
Tequila Vs Mezcal – What is the same?
- Both Tequila and Mezcal spirits are made in Mexico
- Tequila & Mezcal are made from the Agave plant, although different varieties
- The production of both spirits utilises the bulb of the plant and extracts the liquid to distills into a spirit.
- Tequila and Mezcal are both available as Blanc (not aged), Reposalo (aged under 1 year) Anejo (aged 1-3 years)
- Tequila & Mezcal can be served with a worm.
Does it look to you like we are dealing with the same beast?
At this point in the tasting I was quite confused. To simplify things I had two shot glasses of spirit poured for me. The first was a Mezcal and the second a Tequila.
In the image above you can see I was poured a Mezcal Blanc & and Tequila Blanc. They looked exactly the same. Neither of the spirits had been aged and they both appeared clear and identical. The Mezcal is on the left with the orange and a package of worm salt. The Tequila is on the right with the lime.
Tequila Vs Mezcal – The Taste Test!
Serving: Mezcal is traditionally served with an orange slice and worm salt (more about that later).
Aroma: Smokey, heady, aromatic
Taste Alone: Oaky, smokey, smooth, buttery, strong
Taste Orange & Worm Salt: Much better balance of flavours, smoother on the palate.
Serving: Tequila is traditionally served with a lime slice and salt
Aroma: Clean crisp aroma
Taste Alone: peppery, clean, smooth flavour
Taste Lime & Salt: A better balance of flavours, smoother on the palate.
As a community service I went through and tasted the Reposalo and the Anejo in both the Mezcal and the Tequila. In all classes the Mezcal was a more complex spirit with an abundance of smokey flavours. The Tequila had a cleaner flavour which moved on to buttery and smooth as it aged.
So now we need to return to the original question!
Tequila Vs Mezcal – What’s the Difference?
We know there’s a BIG difference in the flavour profile of each spirit, but why?
There is really only one distinct reason why the spirits taste different, and that comes down to the cooking method. Before I enlighten you, I probably should point out all the differences between the Tequila and Mezcal.
Tequila Vs Mezcal – What’s Different
- Tequila is produced using the Blue Agave Mezcal can be produced from up to 30 different species of Agave.
- Tequila can only be produced in Jalisco or the approved plantations immediately surrounding that region. Mezcal can be produced anywhere suitable in Mexico.
- Worms are not put in Tequila only in Mezcal.
- Worms are found in both the Tequila plants (Blue Agave) and the Mezcal plants.
- Prior to Tequila production the Blue Agave bulb is steamed and then the plant is moved on to extraction and the distillation process. Prior to Mezcal production the Agave root is roasted with wood to produce a smokey flavour. It then moves on to extraction and distillation.
In that last point I discovered why there is such a flavour difference between the two spirits. As much as I adored the aroma of the Mezcal, it was the Tequila flavour I liked drinking. The Mezcal was not at all to my personal taste.
Just a few more interesting worm facts:
The worm is not a hallucinogenic, sorry to disappoint you.
The worm is not an aphrodisiac… bummer, kind of makes you wonder why they add the worm if it doesn’t serve either of the above purposes.
There are two types of worms used in Mezcal. The golden worm which lives in the leaves. The red worm which is only found in the roots. The Red worm is the more expensive worm so it’s only used in premium quality Mezcal.
The red worm is often sold dried and ground as salt which is bought with the Premium brand Mezcal.
So what does worm salt taste like? I knew you would ask so I had Anais (my all adventurous 8 year old) taste some worm salt on orange… for research purposes. Here’s the face?
In the worms defence, it actually tasted really nice with the Mezcal. The flavour of just worm salt and orange was also quite tasty on its own. If you can imagine an earthy anchovy flavour with orange you will have nailed the flavour profile.
So I guess that concludes my Tequila Vs Mezcal tasting adventure. I hope you found this as interesting as I did.