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Mezcal or Tequila: Exploring the Agave Spectrum and Finding Your Spirit

Mezcal or Tequila: Exploring the Agave Spectrum and Finding Your Spirit

Dive into the mesmerizing realm of agave spirits with Thirst’s captivating journey into mezcal and tequila. As we unravel their rich histories, diverse flavor profiles, and unique production methods, you’ll find yourself immersed in the intricacies of the agave spectrum. These iconic beverages have captured the hearts and palates of enthusiasts worldwide, and now it’s your turn to explore their allure. 

Whether you’re a seasoned connoisseur or a curious beginner, join Thirst in this exciting quest to uncover the nuances of mezcal and tequila, ultimately guiding you toward finding the perfect spirit to suit your taste.

What is Mezcal?

Mezcal is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from the agave plant, native to Mexico. With over 30 different species of agave used in its production, mezcal offers a wide range of flavors and complexities. 

Traditionally, the heart of the agave plant, known as the piña, is roasted in underground pits lined with volcanic rocks, giving mezcal its distinct smoky flavor. The roasted piñas are then crushed, fermented, and distilled to create the final product. 

Mezcal can be found in various forms, including blanco (unaged), reposado (aged in oak barrels for 2-12 months), and añejo (aged in oak barrels for over a year).

What is Tequila?

Tequila is a specific type of mezcal, produced primarily in the region surrounding the city of Tequila in the Mexican state of Jalisco. It is made exclusively from the blue agave plant and follows a strict production process regulated by the Mexican government. 

Unlike mezcal, tequila’s agave piñas are typically steamed in above-ground ovens before being crushed, fermented, and distilled. Tequila is also categorized into different aging classes: blanco (unaged), reposado (aged in oak barrels for 2-12 months), añejo (aged in oak barrels for 1-3 years), and extra añejo (aged in oak barrels for over 3 years).

Similarities

While mezcal and tequila have their differences, they share some key similarities. Both spirits are derived from the agave plant and are deeply rooted in Mexican culture and tradition. 

They follow a similar distillation process, which often involves copper pot stills, and both spirits offer various aging classifications that contribute to their unique flavor profiles. Additionally, mezcal and tequila are often enjoyed neat or as the base for a variety of cocktails, showcasing their versatility and wide appeal.

Differences

While mezcal and tequila share some similarities, there are distinct differences that set them apart. Let’s explore these differences in more detail.

1. Production Region

Tequila is primarily produced in the region surrounding the city of Tequila in the Mexican state of Jalisco, with a few other regions also allowed to produce tequila under strict regulations. Conversely, mezcal is mainly produced in the southern state of Oaxaca, although it can also be made in several other Mexican states. Each spirit’s production location contributes to its unique flavor profile.

2. Production Methods

The production methods for mezcal and tequila also differ. Mezcal’s agave piñas are traditionally roasted in underground pits lined with volcanic rocks, which imparts its signature smoky flavor. The piñas are then crushed, fermented, and distilled. 

On the other hand, tequila’s agave piñas are usually steamed in above-ground ovens before being crushed, fermented, and distilled. This method results in a cleaner, milder flavor compared to mezcal.

3. Agave Varieties

While both spirits are derived from the agave plant, tequila is made exclusively from the blue agave plant. In contrast, mezcal can be made from over 30 different species of agave, offering a wider range of flavors and complexities. Some of the most common agave varieties used for mezcal include Espadín, Tobalá, and Arroqueño.

4. Smokiness and Flavor Profiles

One of the most notable differences between mezcal and tequila is their flavor profiles. Mezcal is known for its smoky, earthy taste, which results from the traditional roasting process. Additionally, the variety of agave species used in mezcal production contributes to its diverse flavor profile.

Tequila, on the other hand, is typically cleaner and milder in taste, with flavors ranging from sweet and fruity to herbal and peppery, depending on the aging process and the specific blue agave used.

Finding Your Spirit – Discovering Personal Preferences

Choosing between mezcal and tequila is all about personal preference. To help you find your ideal spirit, consider these three easy tips:

1. Taste test and embrace exploration

Try different types of mezcal and tequila to discover your preference. Sample Blanco (unaged) varieties first, then explore reposado and añejo options. Don’t be afraid to try lesser-known brands or agave varieties.

2. Food Pairings

Pairing spirits with food can enhance flavors and deepen your understanding of their nuances. Try tequila with tacos, ceviche, or guacamole to experience its clean, bright flavors. Pair mezcal with grilled meats, rich cheeses, or chocolate to appreciate its smoky complexity. Experiment with different pairings to find which spirit complements your favorite foods.

3. Experiment with cocktails

Both mezcal and tequila are great for cocktails. Classic tequila drinks like the margarita or paloma highlight its fruity flavors, while mezcal-based cocktails such as the mezcal mule or Oaxacan old-fashioned showcase its smoky depth. Try different cocktail recipes to find the combinations that best suit your taste buds and appreciate the unique qualities of each spirit.

FAQs

How alcoholic is mezcal?

Mezcal typically has an alcohol content ranging from 40% to 55% ABV (alcohol by volume), although some artisanal mezcals can have higher percentages. The alcohol content depends on various factors, including the agave species, production methods, and the distiller’s preferences.

Is mezcal stronger than regular tequila?

While both mezcal and tequila can have similar alcohol contents, the term “stronger” can refer to either the alcohol percentage or the flavor intensity. In terms of alcohol content, mezcal, and tequila can be quite similar. However, when it comes to flavor, mezcal is often considered stronger due to its smoky, earthy taste, which is more pronounced compared to the milder flavors of tequila.

Can you drink mezcal by itself?

Yes, you can enjoy mezcal by itself, and it is often consumed neat or sipped slowly to appreciate its complex flavors fully. Drinking mezcal straight allows you to experience the diverse range of flavors and nuances that come from the different agave species and production methods. 

It’s also common to sip mezcal alongside a slice of orange and a pinch of sal de gusano (a salt made with ground, roasted agave worms and chili) to enhance the tasting experience.

Does mezcal go bad?

Mezcal, like other distilled spirits, has a long shelf life and does not spoil easily. When stored properly in a cool, dark place with the cap tightly sealed, mezcal can last indefinitely. However, once opened, the spirit may start to lose some of its flavors and aromas over time due to oxidation. 

To maintain the freshness and quality of your mezcal, it’s best to consume it within one to two years of opening the bottle.

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