Is Mezcal just a smoked Tequila?
Technically speaking Tequila is a type of Mezcal rather than the contrary.
Tequila and Mezcal have some similarities in terms of ingredients and country of origin but they’re actually much more different than we tend to think.
The key differences between Tequila and Mezcal are in the locations of production, types of agave, and methods of cooking the agave hearts. This final point of difference, roasting versus baking the agave hearts, is one of the fundamental reasons for the noticeable flavor variation between Tequilas and Mezcals. There is also quite a large difference within each category when it comes to small hand-crafted products (Nuestra Soledad, Grand Mayan) versus high volume production (Jose Cuervo, Patron).
Key Points on each category:
Mezcal (or Mescal)
Agave Used: From any of 28 different types of agave.
Where It’s Made: Traditionally from around the city of Oaxaca but also in some parts in the states of Guerrero, Durango, San Luis Potosi and Zacatecas
How It’s Made: Agave is harvested and leaves are shaved off leaving the agave heart. Agave hearts (aka “pina”) are cooked by roasting them in large underground pits that are full of earth and burning wood (see picture above). This imparts that distinct smoky flavor on the agave hearts. After being roasted the agave pina are traditionally transfered unto a shallow round stone trough with a large round stone for crushing the pina (see picture). After crushing fermentation and distillation follows.
Agave Used: One specific agave plant only: blue agave (aka agave tequilana)
Where It’s Made: Must be made in either the Mexican state of Jalisco or in a few areas within the states of Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas
How It’s Made: Agave is harvested and leaves are shaved off leaving the agave heart. Agave hearts (aka “pina”) are baked in large above ground ovens that are essentially large stainless steel pressure-cookers (see below). Once cooked the agave is shredded and fermented before being distilled. The type of still, and aging after distillation varies according to style and producer.
Aubrie Talarico is part of Eno’s team that answers your toughest questions or curiosities about wine, beer, spirits, sake, and cider. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org and read the answers in Eno’s E-newsletter!
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