What is the difference between Tequila and Mezcal?
Tequila is only made from on species of agave – the Blue Agave. Tequila has a denomination of origin which limits it to being produced in the areas:
The production process of tequila is often more industrialized than that of mezcal.
Mezcal can be produced on about 30 species of agave. As with tequila it has a denomination of origin and has to be produced in the areas of:
- San Luis Potosi,
Large scale mezcal production is still a rather new phenomenon which is why agaves used for mezcal are still both wild harvested and farmgrown. While the most common agave variety in mezcal is the Espadin Agave, there are other agave species which are equally popular. But which need to be very much older than the 6-8 years of an Espadin Agave. It is not uncommon for some species to be 10-15 years before reaching maturity.
Harvesting agave is a very manual and laborious process. The worker cutting down the agave is called a Jimador and the tool he uses is called a coa. The jimador goes from plant to plant and cuts off the long thorny leaves and leaves the trunk looking somewhat like a pineapple. The barbed down agave is called a piña.
Tequila agaves are cooked in ovens or steel containers (autoclaves) using steam. Mezcal agaves are cooked, or rather smoked in either pits or ovens using locally harvested wood. This where Mezcal gets its distinctive wooden characteristics.
Mezcal production can be categorized as ancestral, artisanal and mezcal. These categories have been created to protect the ancient production processes of mezcal. A lot of mezcal is produced in family owned companies and are quite often very small scale operations which have been passed on in many generations.
When the agaves are cooked the starches of the agaves have been transformed into sugar juices. In artisanal and ancestral productions the juices are extracted using a tahona (see above image) or a shredder. The tahona is a big rock which is slowly rolled over the caramelized agaves squeezing out the juices.
The type of yeast used and the nutrients added determine the flavor and characteristics of both Tequila and Mezcal.
There are different distillation techniques involved in making mezcal depending on whether it is ancestral, artisanal or simply mezcal. Some distillers are basically the same model which was imported to Mexico in the 14 th century. There is a lot of craft involved and a good mezcalero is worth his money.
Some mezcals are matured like tequila. The maturation categories are the same as for tequila, joven, reposado, anejo and extra anejo.
Bottling is generally the same, but worms (or other exoskeletons) are added to some Mezcal’s. This is forbidden for Tequila’s!