Tequila and Mezcal are synonymous with Mexico and of course, the agave plant from which they are both derived.
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Mexico almost has an exclusivity on the production of spirits derived from Agave – the waxy, spiky plant which grows throughout Central America.
The two types of Agave spirit are the well-known Tequila and the lesser-known Mezcal.
As well as differing flavour profiles, these drinks differ by which type of Agave they use, the production process and the states where they are produced.
As a starter for ten, think of Tequila as the more modern of the two, and Mezcal as the more traditional…
The waxy, spiky plant farmed for the spirit. The plants can live for several decades and only flower once. When they reach maturity, the core (piña) is harvested and cooked.
Tequila production is the largest of the two by far and is made only with the blue Agave plant. Blue Agave for tequila can only come from 5 Mexican states, with the most important being Jalisco.
The piña from the plant is cooked in a pressurised steam oven, or a brick steam oven. The cooked piña is then crushed to release the liquid which is then fermented and distilled.
Mescal mainly uses Agave espadin but can use many other species of the plant. Like Tequila, it’s production is limited to just several states, this time it is the southern state of Oaxaca which is the main production area.
The piña is cooked in stone-lined pits covered in earth. This imparts an earth, smokey character which Tequila doesn’t get from it’s steam ovens.
Tequila – the labelling ‘Tequila’ means only 51% of the sugars have come from agave. The remaining 49% can come from a non-agave source.
100% Agave – all the fermentable sugars have come from Agave.
Blanco (Silver)- No specified age requirements
Joven / Oro (Young / Gold) – No specified age requirements. If a Gold tequila carries colour, this will have been through an additive called abocado.
Reposado (Aged) – matured for at least 2 months, normally matured in large oak vats.
Añejo (Extra Aged) – At least one year maturing on oak barrels
Extra Añejo (Ultra Aged) – At least three years maturing on oak barrels
In 2016, legislation governing Mezcal was updated and tightened.
100% Agave – Since 2016, all Mezcal must be made with 100% Agave.
Joven – Unaged, This was replaced with Blanco in 2016.
Reposado – Aged for two months in a cask
Añejo – Aged for one year in oak barrels
Artisanal Mezcal – in production, the piña can only be roasted in pits or with brick ovens. There is a limit on mechanised mills which can be used for crushing. Fermentation must take place in stone pits or wooden / okay vessels. The fermentation process must include the agave fibres and distillers will be required to use directly heated clay or metal pot stills.
Ancestral Mezcal – As per Artisanal Mezcal, but with the additional restrictions/regulations; Only roasting pits are allowed, and no mechanised mills are allowed for crushing the piña. The agave fibres must be used during both fermentation and distillation. Still are to be clay only, and must be directly heated.
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