A warm welcome to part two of our very Mexican story of spirit! In our last piece, we discussed the origins of Tequila and mezcal, diving into the deep and fascinating history of our friend and their beating heart, the agave. This time, we’re going to take a closer look at the two spirits themselves, unpacking both their intricate properties and how they are created to answer an interesting question…
What is the difference between Tequila and mezcal?
“All Tequila is mezcal, but not all mezcal is Tequila.” It’s a statement that gets tossed around a lot, and it is, in spirit, true: mezcal is any spirit distilled from agave, while Tequila is only made with the Blue Weber agave species.
As previously covered, Tequila and mezcal are both made with the hearts, or piñas, of the agave plant. The leaves of the plant are removed, and then the piñas are cooked and crushed before being fermented, distilled and possibly aged depending on the style of spirit being produced.
The key difference is in how the piñas are cooked: For mezcal, they are roasted in wood-fired rock-lined pits, which imparts the smoky notes many associate with the spirit. For Tequila, they are traditionally steamed in above-ground brick ovens. Autoclaves, essentially industrialized pressure cookers, are a flash contemporary alternative. And now, some large producers controversially employ diffusers as a shortcut, which many agave experts / connoisseurs liken to a microwave. After cooking, the piñas are crushed to extract the juice, and the liquid (or a mixture of liquid and fibers, in the case of mezcals) ferments in open containers, most often with airborne yeast for mezcal and commercial yeast for Tequila. The distillation process is nearly identical for both, although it will vary based on the producer of the spirit: The liquid might be distilled twice in a copper or clay pot or a continuous column still.
Both Tequila and mezcal can be aged in wooden barrels or other containers after distillation, but this extra step is much more common for Tequila. Tequila is classified into four types: Blanco is unaged; reposado rests in oak or steel barrels from two months to one year; añejo rests in oak for one to three years; and extra añejo rests in oak for at least three years. Joven is a blend of mostly blanco Tequila and some aged Tequila.
Generally speaking, in Mexico, the locals drink Tequila neat, in small sips, rather than using the “salt & lime shooter” technique. This ritual was actually created in the US and was designed to mask the taste of terrible quality mixto Tequila. Now it should probably go without saying, but we don’t offer ANY such terrible quality Tequilas, but this ritual has become ubiquitous and is something that people really enjoy, so of course, we offer this as an option for all our Tequilas and Tequila shot boards.
I would personally recommend that anyone who wants to get the full flavour of our Tequila range, to at least try a sip of one of these wonderful spirits, without salt and lime to allow the full flavour profile and texture to be enjoyed. You can also find mixed drinks such as the Paloma, Batanga, Sangrita and Verdita on our menu, all of which are smash hits over in their home country of Mexico too.
When it comes to Tequila’s smoky cousin, Mezcal, the locals also don’t drink it as a shot (we won’t judge if you do though) its usually taken and savoured in small sips, accompanied by fresh orange wedges and worm salt (Gusano). This is a salt made from the dried and ground up larvae that live inside agave plants, which when mixed with salt & chilli, creates the perfect accompaniment to the smoky flavour of Mezcal. We offer gusano on our Mezcal shot trays, as well an option for any shot of Mezcal ordered. But more on what we do later…
I hope you now feel enlightened and enwisened with your new alcoholic knowledge. Now we’ve got to the bottom of Tequila and mezcal, make sure to stay tuned for a delightfully detailed look into how we bring them to life as part of an outlandish Verve menu.