All Tequila is Mezcal, but Not All Mezcal is Tequila.
Thanks to Sarah Parniak at Quench Magazine and the spirit scholars at Mezcal PhD, we know now that all tequila is not created equal. Wait…what? Tequila is viewed by popular culture as the obnoxious friend you shouldn’t have brought with you to that party, and for good reason. The blackouts and regrettable decisions are a result of people pounding these drinks when they are made to be sipped, and the history and artistry that goes into making them has everything to do with why these spirits should be slowly appreciated. With Day of the Dead approaching, we think it’s important to break down the confusion between what tequila and mezcal are, and what they definitely are not (and of course, how to drink them, because we know that’s why you’re here).
All Tequilas Are Not Created Equal!
First things first—the term mezcal acts as an umbrella, encompassing every Mexican spirit with an agave base. Agave is a strange, spiky looking succulent that grows all over Mexico, but where it’s grown, who it’s grown by, how it’s cultivated, and how it’s cooked all play a factor in what makes tequila and mezcal two totally different beasts (tamable beasts, though, stay with us). Growing agave is not for the impatient, because a mature plant takes anywhere from 6-30 years to mature, and most farmers have been passing down their techniques for up to five generations. Great things come with trust and patience—we have learned this from better wines, whiskeys, and beers.
What makes tequila unique is that it is only authentic if it’s made from the blue agave plant, which originates from none other than Tequila, Mexico. When tequila is cooked, it is in large industrialized tanks, unlike mezcal, which is cooked in earthen pits. These earthen pits give mezcal that smoky flavor, and are only “officially” produced in eight regions of Mexico (unofficially, all over the country). The smokiness is versatile, though, and ranges anywhere from fruity, chocolaty, and even floral. You should be pairing your mezcal with things of higher acidity or bitterness, like ginger, limejuice, or sherry, so the smokiness is nicely evened out and you can actually enjoy it (instead of making those dumb, puckered faces).
Tequila has more citrusy, peppery, and vegetal notes, and you will know it’s real if there’s not a worm floating at the bottom of the bottle. Real tequila, we promise, doesn’t need that gimmick. So on this Day of the Dead, you can sip Heradura, El Jimador, and Don Eduardo in confidence – knowing you are drinking a product of patient and respectable craftsmanship, instead of the lowbrow college party fuel you once knew it to be.