Mezcal vs. Tequila - das sind die Unterschiede | Pacific and Lime

Mezcal vs. Tequila - these are the differences

Surely, the agave liquor tequila is familiar to most bar guests. Who doesn't remember the little ritual of tequila shot, lemon and salt? You've probably also enjoyed the popular cocktail Tequila Sunrise at a hotel bar. However, what still seems to be a new product for many in this country is mezcal. Some share their experiences from their last Mexican vacation, others got to know this agave distillate in alternative bars. However, at least know what is the difference between tequila and mezcal. This post wants to take you on an exciting journey into the world of Mexican distilled spirits.




Mezcal vs. Tequila - what is the difference between mezcal and tequila?

"Mezcal vs. tequila" is actually the wrong question to ask. It's kind of like asking a wine connoisseur if red wine is better than Chianti. That's because tequila is a specific variety of mezcal.


Mezcal is the more original form of tequila and can be distilled from up to fifty different varieties of agave. In the rural regions of some Mexican states, the agave liquor is still sold in large plastic canisters - often from small distilleries of more or less private origin. This is also the reason for the immense variety, which always brings surprising and mind-blowing taste experiences for a mezcal novice. The word mezcal comes from the Aztec language and is composed of "ixcalli" for cooked and "metl" for agave. So as exotic as the word mezcal may seem, it simply means cooked agave!


Tequila, on the other hand, is only made from Blue Weber agaves. These were originally common in the surrounding area of the city of Tequila and were mainly used as food. This is because the sweet heart was considered particularly tasty and a real delicacy for a long time. Both the use and the consumption of the Blue Weber agave were for a long time limited to the Tequila region. It was not until the twentieth century that the decisive impetus was given that helped tequila achieve its status as the national drink of the Mexicans.


Mezcal and tequila difference in agave harvesting

 Agaves harvested for mezcal production are mostly from the state of Oaxaca. Harvesting takes place as soon as an agave has ripened. To avoid the loss of valuable inulin, the shoots of flower stems are cut off. During harvesting, the leaves are removed so that the heart can be cut off just above the ground. Its shape resembles that of a pineapple, which is why it is also called a piña.

Harvesting is done by hand, usually with the help of machetes or special knives called coas. Smaller distilleries rely on the expert eye of their master distiller, who personally selects the agaves. Large distilleries employ specially trained workers for this purpose, the jimadores, who are paid per kilogram of agave harvested. This has a considerable influence on the later taste of the mezcal, because unripe plant components release bitter substances during cooking.

For the production of Tequila, the Blue Weber agaves are grown in monocultures, in contrast to the wild Mezcal agaves. This means that these plants have very little genetic diversity and are therefore highly susceptible to pest infestation in particular. In addition, unusual cold spells have repeatedly caused major agave die-offs, resulting in a real agave shortage. Today, many challenges are being met through targeted breeding programs. However, it remains to be seen whether the number of Blue Weber agaves can keep pace with the increased consumption of tequila, especially in Asia.


Mezcal vs. Tequila - how does the production differ? 


Mezcal and tequila - the difference in baking

Mezcal is produced by baking the agave hearts in earth pits. The type of cooking is decisive for the taste. Especially with traditionally produced mezcal, baking in the earth contributes to the characteristic smoky aroma. The earth pits differ from distillery to distillery. Depending on their shape and size, different numbers of agaves can be baked at the same time. If the pits are less hot overall, aromas from the earth and firewood can better penetrate the agave hearts and round out and refine the flavor experience. The baking process is not complete until the agave hearts are fully caramelized.


Traditionally, the agave hearts used for tequila production were also baked in earth pits. In the past century, however, brick ovens increasingly prevailed. Nowadays, the hearts are cooked in so-called autoclaves. These function like pressure cookers and save producers an enormous amount of time, because cooking in an autoclave takes only half as long as in a traditional earth pit. Increasingly, an even more efficient method of cooking is gaining acceptance in tequila production: hydrolysis in the diffuser. Here, the lengthy process of boiling is eliminated, as the agave hearts are shredded and, under the action of steam and chemicals, the sugar is extracted directly.


Mezcal or tequila difference in fermentation

Fermentation takes place in the open air in the production of mezcal by wild yeasts of the respective environment. Depending on temperature and weather, the duration of fermentation can vary from a few days to several weeks. Furthermore, factors such as humidity and geographical location play a role in the duration of fermentation. Tequila production, on the other hand, relies on cultured yeasts and uses the addition of chemicals, which limits the process to a few hours.


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 pre- and post-distillation decides on the aroma. An experienced mezcalero does this solely with the help of his sense of smell and taste and does not use any other aids to determine the ideal moment.

Even though tequila is industrially distilled using the column still method, double distillation is mandatory. However, detection is made more difficult by the column distillation process, as this process is continuous. For this reason, the pot still method is also used in many cases, with pauses between the individual steps. Since tequila is produced in larger quantities, this can only be done using industrial processes and chemical additives that accelerate the respective steps.


Maturity levels - Mezcal vs. Tequila

Both mezcal and tequila are available in different degrees of maturity. From "Blanco" or "Joven" to "Reposado", the names denote different degrees of maturity ranging from sixty days to one year.

In both cases, the longest type of maturation is called Añejo. Since 2006, however, there has been an additional tequila on the market called Extra Añejo. Unlike the conventional Añejo Tequila, this one must mature for at least three years in 200-liter barrels before it goes on sale.

Basically, the aging of Mezcal is a phenomenon that is not considered traditional by all experts. This contrasts with the aging process of tequila, which can be considered 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 conclusively explained to date. The fact is that it is often found in mezcal varieties, which are rather inferior in quality. Moreover, it is not a worm at all, but the larva of butterflies or moths that infest agaves as pests. Some legends claim that the worm is a marketing stunt to attract American tourists. Others attribute mind-expanding properties to the tiny insects. It is known for certain that Mezcal from Oaxaca is traditionally enjoyed with "Sal de gusano": A salt mixture of chili peppers and powdered larvae. The consumption of tequila or mezcal with a worm is not yet explained. However, it is up to your imagination to decide which of the legends makes the most sense to you...!

If we have now made you curious about our agave spirits, take a look around our pages. Our Mezcal- und Tequila assortment holds a wide spectrum ready for you - convince yourself!