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Tequila vs. Mezcal in History, Production, and Flavor Profile

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For Tequila vs. Mezcal, what are the differences and similarities between these types of alcohol? Both Tequila and Mezcal are created and distilled from processing the hailed agave plant, but they come with unique histories, production methods, and flavor signatures.

At first, it may be hard to distinguish between the two because of their shared, main ingredient. This would seem to produce two spirits with similar tastes and textures. But careful examination shows that while both are low-calorie and low-sugar alcohol options, there are many aspects where they differ and depart.

Dive into the differences through this guide to Tequila vs. Mezcal, and explore their history, unique production, as well as taste characteristics. In the end, you’ll see where to place each in your proverbial cabinet. 

Key Takeaway: In a point-by-point comparison, Tequila vs. Mezcal differ in their distinct history, production processes, and taste profiles, giving each a unique place in drinking culture.
Differentiate between Tequila vs. Mezcal, and use this guide to get your hands on unique cocktail recipes.

History and Origins: Tequila vs. Mezcal

To begin with the more popular spirit, Tequila is the well-known Mexican alcohol made from blue agave. In fact, it hails from the area surrounding the city of Tequila itself, located in the Jalisco state of Mexico. 

There, Tequila has been consumed since the 16th century where the first distillery of the spirit was built. And, in the 1500s, the Spanish government opened the initial trade route between Mexico and Manila, demanding larger distilleries for the drink as it gained favor and popularity. 

Officially, however, the name “Tequila” was only declared the intellectual property of Mexico in the 1970s. 

Popular Tequila vs. Mezcal, The Indigenous Spirit

Mezcal production, on the other hand, dates to 400 BC. At that time, indigenous people living in modern day Mexico discovered the fermentation of sap from agave produced intoxication. 

Despite its long history, Mezcal has remained relatively unknown outside the Mexican territory, compared to Tequila and until recently. Lately, Mezcal has seen a rise in demand similar to Tequila’s claim to fame: production of Mezcal jumped 10 percent between 2019 and 2020 alone. 

The major market for Mezcal’s earthy, indigenous spirit exists mostly in the United States and Japan. In the US, the market is valued at nearly $1 billion USD with a projected growth of 12 percent over the next five years.

Tequila vs. Mezcal Production Processes

Typically, Tequila production begins with harvesting the blue agave used to create the popular alcoholic variety. Unlike Tequila though, Mezcal is not necessarily made from just one type of agave. Many varieties of the agave plant might be used in concoctions of Mezcal. 

Cooking Differences: Tequila vs. Mezcal

When gathered, Tequila producers bake blue agave bulbs to extract the sugars used during fermentation. Clay ovens, called “hornos,” are traditionally used, but more modern processes use stainless steel ovens as well.

Distinctly, Mezcal cookery is traditionally conducted in an earthen pit where the natural sugars of agave are carmelized and smoked, adding to its unique, “grounding” flavor.

The sugars and agave components of both spirits are then fermented, distilled, and aged according to the manufacturer's standards or requirements. 

Flavor Profiles: Tequila vs. Mezcal

In Tequila vs. Mezcal, the agave spirits produced have very distinct notes and flavors, even when casually tasted by ordinary consumers. 

The differences come from Mezcal’s use of many agave varieties (rather than only blue agave bulbs) and traditional production method (an earthen pit to caramelize the sugars).

Tequila Flavor Profile

Most types of Tequila bring a crisper, sweeter taste out of the agave plant. Tasters of the best Tequila brands describe the flavor as clean and smooth, sometimes with lighter notes of vanilla and caramel. These are useful in Tequila for margaritas. Some may offer more complex descriptions associated with bourbon: tobacco, chocolate, or oak.

Largely, Tequila varieties rely on a profile more closely described as citrusy or sweet in taste. The aging and fermentation differences between producers may bring out these signature notes to varying degrees.

Mezcal Flavor Profile

Departing from Tequila in taste, Mezcal brings more complexity when it can be produced from more varieties of the agave plant. In addition, it contains the smokiness of an earthen pit because of its unique production method. 

Further than this heavier and sometimes ashen characteristic, many Mezcal varieties conjure up notes of more distinct fruits than citrus and lemon. For instance, Mezcal can signal pineapple and mango in addition to hinting at the complexity of spices like cinnamon and black pepper. 

Mezcal may even have a subtle sweetness as a backing to its earthy and herbal nature. Some tasters describe its shots as floral with a distinct salty, mineral quality. 

Tequila vs. Mezcal: Final Taste Comparison

When contrasting Tequila vs. Mezcal, it’s clear that each has a unique approach to bringing out the spirit of the rich textures and possible notes of miraculous agave. 

Tequila tends to be sweeter and smoother than its older cousin. Like an aged wine compared to a fresh splash of champagne, Mezcal distinguishes itself with complexity of more range and additional smokiness. 

If you are a bartender, bar owner, or simply an enthusiast of exquisite spirits, these differences make each suited to different classics in cocktail recipes. Mezcal may be the better choice for creations that need grounding warmth during the fall and winter seasons

Demo the beverage inventory software from Binwise as you craft drinks and stock made from Tequila or Mezcal.

Frequently Asked Questions about Tequila vs. Mezcal

Anyone headed for a Mezcal vs. Tequila tasting will want to clarify a few things for themselves before they jump into drink ideas or flavor discussions. 

Get the most common questions about Mezcal and Tequila answered before you choose between the two spirits produced from the agave plant. 

Is Mezcal more flavorful than Tequila?

Comparing Mezcal vs. Tequila, both share a kind of iconic and woody agave flavor which conjures up fragrances and notes associated with the wood and earth of the desert. While Mezcal may be more complex, containing many more flavor profiles hinting at rock and ash, Tequila is not necessarily less flavorful as a result.

Instead, Tequila offers a simpler, perhaps more produced and refined, approach to communicating and expressing the complexity of its agave base. Rather than being smoky and herby like Mezcal, Tequila brings forward salty licorice-like flavors combined with notes of citrus. These may make it more palatable for some drinks and consumers who will find it more similar to other, common spirits.

Why is Tequila more popular than Mezcal?

When comparing the popularity of Mezcal vs. Tequila, it’s important to realize that Tequila already has a certain clout and social prestige due to its early acceptance in North America. This favor puts a quiet over lesser-known Mezcal as a choice of spirit. 

Historically speaking, Tequila has been associated with more wealth since, in the past, Mezcal would have been considered an alcohol that only peasants and lower-class citizenry would choose. Due to more widespread marketing and social acceptance, Tequila maintains its greater popularity.

Is Mezcal or Tequila a healthy drink?

Mezcal, which goes through a traditional and strict production process, contains 100 percent agave. For this reason, many who are health conscious believe it’s a better choice of spirit because of its relatively “clean” profile which gives the feeling of being grounded from notes of smoke, wood, earth, and rock. 

Nevertheless, both Mezcal and Tequila are high-proof spirits or “hard” alcohol. While Mezcal may have a reputation for being healthier, both are potently dehydrating and can cause undue levels of intoxication if not consumed responsibly.

Charge past competitors with more knowledge of the difference between Tequila vs. Mezcal through these resources.
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