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Jul 1, 2004 04:07 PM

tequila vs mezcal?

  • d

What's the difference betwen mezcal and tequila? Are they both made from agave? Do you use them differently, and do they taste different from one another? Thanks!

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  1. All tequilas are mezcal. Tequila is traditionally from the town of Tequila and is made with 100% blue agave. There are now five Mexican states where Tequila can be produced, I am sure this really fills the people of Tequila with all kinds of joy that so many other people are benefiting from their ancestors hard work. But I digress, the agave used in Tequila is always steamed, the best producers of mezcal roast the agave. This gives it a much different flavor than the steamed Agave in Tequila. Not everyone likes the roasted flavor, personally I do, and favor a nice mezcal over tequila. Please beware that mezcal is a catch-all word for any liquor made from the agave, and can be quite ghastly (it is cheap mezcal that has the worm in the bottle).

    6 Replies
    1. re: Sthitch

      SThitch is correct; all tequila is mezcal--but not all mezcal is tequila. As SThitch said, tequila is made from the blue agave cactus--the blue Weber agave, to be exact. Mezcal, on the other hand, can be made from several (seven or eight, if I recall correctly) different types of maguey/agave cacti, including, most commonly, the Espadín variety. Mezcal is primarily produced in Oaxaca. Tequila is primarily produced in the state of Jalisco, where the town of Tequila is located, although it may be produced in several other states.

      Not all liquors labeled 'tequila' are in fact made of 100% blue agave; less expensive tequilas can contain up to 49% other sugars and chemical yeasts and may still be labeled 'tequila'. The 51% agave content MUST be blue Weber agave, not some other kind of agave. If the label says the tequila is 100% agave, you're looking at excellent (and usually quite expensive) sipping quality tequila.

      A Mexican associate of mine recently took several cases of tequila in trade for some expensive merchandise. My associate failed to look closely at the label prior to making the trade and discovered to his chagrin that the label (which he thought said 100% agave) in fact said *100% Mexican*. The ingredients list was deceptive and the stuff was 100% undrinkable. Caveat emptor!

      1. re: Cristina

        Mezcal is a term mean over cooked agave, which create a smoky flavor, when people asked me what is mezcal, i described it as smoky tequila. simple done, tequila also made from agave but not over heated, yes 4 type of tequila, blanco, reposado, anejo, but all 3 does not has the smokiness of mezcal cause they dont over heat the agave, NOW, it doesnt matter how they make it is the different, it is how they tasted, tequila, the more they aged the more it tend to get sweet, blanco (6 months to 1 year) reposado (1 year to 3 years of aged) anejo (3 years up) and their is extra anejo (6 years up), it is like saying about whiskey, rye, bourbon and yes, scotch, smokey of all whiskey while rye and bourbon tend to be more spicy, but their is more to it when you taste the different whiskeys, trace and elmer t lee, both bourbon, trace tend to be more smooth and light peppery while elmer t lee tend to be a little bit more sweet, but to the naked taste of non drinker, they all taste spicy and the same.

        MECAL, smokey tequila, best way to described

        1. re: NewYorkKid87

          I have a non-smoky mezcal, Fidencio sin humo, the agave is cooked in an autoclave, has a very different taste from tequila - made from a different species of agave and fermented using wild yeast.

          Your age descriptions are way off, blanco can be aged up to 60 days but only in stainless tanks, repos up to a year, anejos 1-3 yrs and extra anejos 3 yrs or more.

            1. re: ac106

              LOL didn't notice the date on the OP.

      2. re: Sthitch

        In the most generous light, much of the "information" in this thread is dated by 4 - 10 years, repetitious, erroneous, or non-responsive to the OP. I notice particlarly that there is little objective discussion of the taste differences between tequila and mezcal, or even what mezcal tastes like.

        Recommendation: Search instead for recent posts on this topic.

        Recommended reading:

      3. All liquors distilled from any agave plant are mezcal. The most famous mezcal is distilled from a variety of agave grown in the state of Oaxaca in southern Mexico. Technically, tequila is one type of mezcal.

        The official Mexican standard (NOM) defines Tequila as the product of fermentation and distillation of the blue agave juices obtained at the distillery from agave cores or piñas grown in the legally defined "Tequila Region" and allows for the addition of up to 49% sugars from sources other than the agave plant. However the NOM defines as Tequila 100% Agave as the one containing sugars exclusively from the blue agave plant and it must be bottled at the distillery. Alcohol content must be between to 35º and 55º Guy Lussac (70 to 110 Proof).

        Further Reading:
        Viva Tequila! -

        Ian's Tequila Pages -

        Michael's Tequila 101

        Michael's Tequila Ordering Advice

        The Tequila Lover's Guide to Mexico and Mezcal: Everything There Is to Know About Tequila and Mezcal, Including How to Get There by Lance Cutler

        3 Replies
        1. re: Pssst
          Michael Alderete

          > All liquors distilled from any agave plant are mezcal.
          > The most famous mezcal is distilled from a variety of
          > agave grown in the state of Oaxaca in southern Mexico.
          I do not believe this is (quite) true; I think the agave growth and the distillation into mezcal must be done in Mexico, or particular regions of Mexico. You couldn't grow an agave plant in your back yard, harvest/cook/ferment/distill it, and call it mezcal.

          Julio Bermejo at Tommy's explains that the only two Denomination of Origin spirits in North America are mezcal and tequila. So there is definitely a geographical aspect to the name.

          All the tequila information, of course, is correct.

          1. re: Michael Alderete

            Picky, picky - be careful or you'll be sleeping on the couch ;-)

            I pulled that info off without examining it carefully.

            Yes, mezcal is a DOM and you can't really make it yourself. Although recently someone (Julio?) was telling me that some other countries are not enforcing it. I think he said that some African nations (where apparently agave can grow) are producing and selling a liquor they are labeling "mezcal". I don't know if this African mezcal is sold in the U.S.

            I guess its similar to champagne, all producers in France respect their DOM and most reputable producers outside France use the term "sparkling wine" but there are some who mislead the public and use the term champagne. Its really up to the buyer to read the label.

            Below is another interesting article, it has more mezcal info usual (most articles focus entirely on tequila).


            1. re: Pssst

              I recently read that while the EU agreed to respect Mexico's claim for tequila's DOM, it has not enforced it, allowing several knockoffs to exist.

              Also, while it might be technically true that Tequila is North America's only EU-recognized DOM, it is worth noting that under NAFTA, the US (much more important market than the EU for tequila, I'd say) agreed to respect Mexico's geographic designation for tequila in exchange for Mexico's acceptance of the US restrictions on what can be called bourbon and Tennessee whiskey.

        2. m
          Michael Alderete

          > What's the difference betwen mezcal and tequila?
          > [...] Do you use them differently, and do they taste
          > different from one another?

          I don't know a lot of mixed drinks that use mezcal, while there are dozens that use tequila. That's probably ignorance on my part.

          Certainly, the best way to enjoy quality products of either type is to drink them neat, out of a snifter or wine glass or cordial glass.

          As for the taste, if you can taste the difference between two decent 100% agave tequilas (neat or in a cocktail), then you'll definitely taste the difference between nearly any tequila and mezcal.

          I personally don't care much for mezcal, but I haven't tasted a lot of it, and probably nothing quite as good as even the average tequila I'm drinking these days, so take that with a grain of salt.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Michael Alderete

            " take that with a grain of salt..."

            On the rim of the glass, or in the crease of your thumb? (g)

          2. Below is the link to Del Maguey Mezcal, located in Teotilan del Valle in Oaxaca. Del Maguey produces 5 single distilled mezcals and a crema mezcal. All are produced by indigenous communitities, by hand, donkey and still. The communities are located at various altitudes in the mountains of Southern Mexico in the State of Oaxaca. In a side by side taste test, it is possible to taste the nuances, differences and complexities that the differences in altitude imparts.

            Del Maguey offers a limited edition mezcal called "Pechuga", which is Spanish refers to a chicken breast. And believe it or not, a chicken breast (or multiple chicken breasts), are hung in the still during the final distillation process. The resulting liquor has no hints of chicken flavor at all, but is redolent of florals and spice. Pechuga in the U.S., if you can find it, retails for $200+ a bottle. It's very, very smooth and goes down like velvet. It's truly remarkable stuff.

            I have no connection with Del Maguey other than I've had two occasions to meet the American ex-pat (long term, 30+ years in Oaxaca) who has been working with and developing the indigenous communities mezcal cultivation and production. I've also been to their distribution center (i.e. an old barn/shed-like structure) and tasted all their products. The crema is fabulous as well. Del Maguey is not that hard to find in the U.S., especially on the West Coast, the Southwest or Chicago.

            The web site below has short essays about pulque, tequila and mezcal, which can probably answer the question.


            1. Mezcal has a kinda "artificial smoke" flavor, like tequila with bacon bits. But in the best of all possible ways - it's yummy. I can drink mezcal straight, but not tequila.