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Suzanne Barbezat

Tequila and Mezcal - What's the Difference?

By April 8, 2010

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A reader recently wrote to me asking this question: "What is the difference between tequila and mezcal?"

Tequila is a type of mezcal. The term "mezcal" is broader and encompasses tequila and other types of liquor made from the agave plant. A drink may only be labeled tequila if it is produced in a certain area of Mexico (in the state of Jalisco) and is made from the Agave Tequilana Weber, commonly known as "blue agave," and the process is regulated quite strictly. Mezcal on the other hand, is made in different areas of Mexico and from different types of agave. The process in which tequila is made also differs from how most mezcal is made. For tequila, the heart of the agave plant (called the piņa, because of its resemblance to a pineapple) is steamed before distillation, and for most mezcal it is roasted in an underground pit, giving it a smoky flavor.

Find out more about tequila and mezcal, or see how mezcal is made.

Photo by Eric Driggers, licensed under Creative Commons

April 12, 2010 at 10:46 am
(1) Leigh says:

You learn something new everyday. That’s one of those Trivial Pursuit kind of facts. Thank you.

April 13, 2010 at 11:44 am
(2) Travis says:

Mezcal is now a regulated product, and has regions it must be produced in. So the old saying of “all Tequilas are Mezcal” is no longer true.

April 14, 2010 at 12:18 am
(3) BajaBerger says:

Although the vast majority of tequila is produced in the state of Jalisco, Mexican law also permits tequila production in limited regions of Guanajuato, Michoacan, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas.

April 14, 2010 at 1:56 pm
(4) gomexico says:

Thanks so much Travis and BajaBerger for the great information about tequila and mezcal. I’ll be checking out your websites for more info. Cheers!

August 19, 2011 at 9:35 am
(5) Ramiro says:

Everyone almost has it right. Tequila is from an agave plant so is mezcal. If the agave plants are grown in tequila mexico or some surrounding (regulated) areas, only then can it be labeled Tequila. If the agave plant is grown out of this region it is then called mezcal. You can grow agave in China or in the US, but you have to call it mezcal you cannot call it Tequila. There is smooth mezcal and there is strong mezcal, just like in the Tequilas. I believe you can even mix a 50/50 mix of tequila and mezcal and still call it tequila. That is what alot of Tequila companies do now.

May 6, 2012 at 2:51 am
(6) nacho says:

Thank you for the clarification about tequila being a designation of origin, and controlled, while mezcal is a type of liquor made from the/any agave plant.
Personally, the pit roast makes all the difference between mezcal and tequila.
I have no doubt about the 50/50 blends in tequila, nor the cane alcohol blends, just give me mezcal from Oaxaca…

December 5, 2012 at 9:01 pm
(7) lia says:

My family makes Mezcal, they are from Oaxaca, which is the heart of this spirit. Mezcal and Tequila are made differently from the same plant. The taste is also different, Mezcal has more of a smokey taste because the pinas are roasted and not steamed like in tequila. I perfer Mezcal over tequila, any day.

May 1, 2013 at 8:43 pm
(8) Dan says:

I’m drinking Oaxaca Mezcal right now which a friend brought back for me. It arrived in a clear, slender, corked bottle of only 6 ounces. I will miss it when it’s gone in 20 minutes.

May 2, 2013 at 12:18 am
(9) Suzanne says:

Salud, Dan. Enjoy!

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