Most bar visitors are certainly familiar with the agave liquor Tequila. Who doesn't remember the little ritual of tequila shot, lemon and salt? You have probably already enjoyed the popular Tequila Sunrise cocktail at a hotel bar. However, what still appears to be a new product for many people in this country is Mezcal. Some share their experiences from their last vacation in Mexico, others got to know this agave distillate in alternative bars. At least they know what the difference between tequila and mezcal is. This article would like to take you on an exciting journey into the world of Mexican distillery.
Mezcal vs. Tequila - what is the difference between Mezcal and Tequila?
"Mezcal vs. Tequila" is actually the wrong question. That's a bit like asking a wine connoisseur if red wine is better than Chianti. Because tequila is a specific type of mezcal.
Mezcal is the more original form of tequila and can be distilled from up to fifty different types of agave. In the rural regions of some Mexican states, agave schnapps is still sold in large plastic canisters - often from small distilleries of more or less private origin. This is also the reason for the enormous variety, which always brings surprising and stunning taste experiences for a Mezcal newcomer. The word mezcal comes from the Aztec and is made up of "ixcalli" for cooked and "metl" for agave. As exotic as the word mezcal may seem, it just means boiled agave!
Tequila, on the other hand, is made only from Blue Weber agaves. These were originally distributed around the city of Tequila and were mainly used as food. Because the sweet heart was considered particularly tasty and a real delicacy for a long time. Both use and consumption of Blue Weber agave have long been restricted to the Tequila region. It was not until the twentieth century that the crucial impulse that helped tequila achieve its status as the national drink of the Mexicans.
Mezcal and tequila difference in agave harvest
Agaves harvested for mezcal production come mostly from the state of Oaxaca. Harvested as soon as an agave is mature. In order to avoid the loss of valuable inulin, the shoots are separated from the flower stems. When harvesting, the leaves are removed so that the heart can be cut just above the ground. Its shape is similar to that of a pineapple, which is why it is also known as a piña.
Harvesting is done by hand, mostly with machetes or special knives, the coas. Smaller distilleries rely on the expert eye of their brand master, who personally selects the agaves. For this purpose, large distilleries employ specially trained skilled workers, the jimadores, who are paid per kilogram of harvested agave. This has a significant impact on the subsequent taste of the Mezcal, because unripe plant components release bitter substances when cooked.
In contrast to the wild Mezcal agaves, the Blue Weber agaves are cultivated in monocultures for the production of tequila. This means that these plants have very little genetic diversity and are therefore particularly susceptible to pest infestation. In addition, unusual cold snaps repeatedly led to larger agave deaths, which resulted in a real shortage of agaves. Many challenges are met today through targeted breeding programs. Whether the number of Blue Weber agaves can keep up with the increased consumption of tequila, especially in Asia, remains to be seen.
Mezcal vs Tequila - how does the production differ?
Mezcal and Tequila - the difference in baking
Mezcal is made by baking agave hearts in pits. The type of cooking is decisive for the taste. Especially with traditionally produced mezcal, baking in the ground contributes to the characteristic smoky aroma. The earth pits differ from distillery to distillery. Depending on the shape and size, different numbers of agaves can be baked at the same time. If the pits become less hot overall, aromas from earth and firewood can better penetrate the agave hearts and round off and refine the taste experience. The baking process is only complete when the agave hearts are completely caramelized.
Traditionally, the agave hearts used for tequila production were also baked in earth pits. In the last century, however, brick kilns have become increasingly popular. The hearts are now cooked in so-called autoclaves. These work like a pressure cooker and save manufacturers enormous amounts of time, because cooking in an autoclave takes only half as long as in a traditional burrow. An even more efficient method of cooking is becoming increasingly popular in tequila production: hydrolysis in the diffuser. The lengthy process of cooking is eliminated here, as the agave hearts are shredded and the sugar is extracted directly using steam and chemicals.
Mezcal or Tequila difference in fermentation
When mezcal is made, fermentation takes place in the open air using wild yeasts from the respective environment. Depending on the temperature and weather, the duration of fermentation can vary from a few days to several weeks. Factors such as humidity and geographic location also play a role in fermentation duration. Tequila production, on the other hand, relies on cultured yeasts and uses the addition of chemicals, which limits the process to a few hours.
The distillation: the subtle difference between mezcal and tequila
To be eligible for export, the mezcal is distilled twice. This is done in smaller batches using classic copper stills in the traditional pot still process. The separation of the first and last runnings determines the aroma. An experienced mezcalero does this solely with the help of their sense of smell and taste and uses no other tools to determine the ideal time.
Even if tequila is distilled industrially using the column still, double distillation is required. However, the proof is made more difficult by the column combustion process, since this process runs continuously. Therefore, in many cases, the pot still process is used, in which breaks are taken between the individual steps. Since tequila is produced in large quantities, this can only be done using industrial processes and chemical additives that speed up the respective work steps.
Maturities - Mezcal vs. Tequila
Both mezcal and tequila are available in varying degrees of maturity. From "Blanco" or "Joven" to "Reposado", the names denote different degrees of maturity between sixty days and one year.
In both cases, the longest type of maturation is called Añejo. However, since 2006 there has also been a tequila called Extra Añejo on the market.Unlike the traditional Añejo Tequila, this one has to mature in 200 liter barrels for at least three years before it can be sold
Basically, the aging of Mezcal is a phenomenon that not all experts consider traditionally considered. On the other hand, there is the maturing process of tequila, which has been an integral part of tequila production since the mid-nineteenth century at the latest.
Tequila and Mezcal with a worm – what it's all about
The worm is a phenomenon that has not been finally clarified to this day. In fact, it's often found in mezcals that tend to be inferior in quality. In addition, it is not a worm at all, but the larvae of butterflies or moths, which attack the agaves as pests. Some legends claim the worm was a marketing ploy to lure American tourists. Others, in turn, attribute mind-expanding properties to the small insects. What is certain is that mezcal from Oaxaca is traditionally enjoyed with the "sal de gusano": a salty mixture of chili peppers and powdered larvae. That doesn't explain the enjoyment of tequila or mezcal with a worm. However, it is up to your imagination which of the legends makes the most sense to you...!
If we have made you curious about our agave schnapps, take a look around our website. Our mezcal and tequila range has a wide range ready for you - see for yourself!