Breaking Down the Difference Between Mezcal and Tequila

From citrusy and bright to dark and brooding, to laden with cocoa counterspy and laced with mesquite, this heart class can have an about improbable range of descriptors. And promote spirit combinations can be flush more startling : ridicule kernel, rubber eraser and gasoline ; lychee, rosewater and burp mumble. such is the charming mystery of mescal. Mezcal is Mexico ’ s most traditional agave emotional state, and possibly its most nontraditional in terms of the toast experience. It can surprise and delight with its extreme image, and it can show terroir like few spirits can. For years, it was pigeon-holed as “ smoky, ” an slowly direction to differentiate its flavors from Tequila, which is besides distilled from agave. But in world, mescal is so much more.

As Americans discover the palate-thrilling curler coaster ride that it can be, the spirit ’ s star is undoubtedly on the rise. consumption of mescal in the U.S. grew by 32.4 % in 2018, according to UK based inquiry firm IWSR Drinks Market Analysis, representing the largest reach among all spirits categories. true, that leap is from a relatively little base of 261,000 nine-liter cases, but it ’ s a dizzy trajectory however, and experts suggest there ’ s tied more growth to come .

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Tequila sales remain sizzle hot and gnome those of mezcal— $ 3 billion in gross reported in 2018 compared to mescal ’ s $ 90 million—but the former ’ second rapid rise has surely helped to catapult the latter onto consumers ’ radars. And so it comes as no surprise that liquor conglomerates are jockeying to add mescal brands to their portfolios and get in on the action right field now. Constellation­ Brands acquired a minority bet on in Mezcal El Silencio earlier this year ; Diageo purchased Pierde Almas in 2018 ; and Bacardi ( minority stake in Ilegal Mezcal ) and Pernod Ricard ( Del Maguey ) entered the mescal grocery store in 2017. Bars, meanwhile, continue adding more and more mescal bottlings and mezcal-spiked cocktails to their line-ups. It ’ s impossible to ignore the groundswell of necessitate, peculiarly among those who have embraced Tequila and are eager give another agave spirit a sample .

It starts with agave

The term mescal is derived from the Nahuatl discussion for cook agave, the overriding plant involved in the spirit ’ randomness output. While its improbable, peaky green leaves are an iconic emblem of mescal, it ’ s the piña, the round stalk that resembles a pineapple, that ’ s used to make the spirit. once harvested, agave piña is cooked to soften the fibers and transform its starches into boodle. The agave is traditionally roasted, although some modern sidereal day producers choose to steam it to lessen the smoky character of the final spirit .

Mezcal vs. Tequila

Both mezcal and Tequila are made from agave, so what’s the difference between them? Basically, Tequila is a type of mezcal. While mezcal can be produced from up to 50 species of the agave plant, Tequila can be made from just one: agave tequilana Weber, or Weber blue agave. Additionally, agave that’s earmarked for Tequila is steamed in ovens, while the plant is often roasted in underground pits for mezcal, which can provide a distinctive smoky note.

The cook plant then gets pulverized. A tahona, a elephantine stone steering wheel frequently drawn by a domestic ass or mule, is the customary means to crush the agaves. A growing number of distilleries have mechanized this process, which is less romantic, but surely more efficient. other smaller producers may use a mallet or machete to smash the fudge piñas. careless of the compaction method, the resulting pulp is fermented and then distilled into mescal. A small phone number of mezcals are besides aged in barrels. How important is agave ? Look at the label of a mescal bottle. The floor of detail is unmatched by any other spirits class. In accession to the brand and the name of the mezcalero who makes the spirit, the agave variety ( or varieties ) used to make the mescal is frequently listed, deoxyadenosine monophosphate good as the submit or area where the agave was grown. It ’ sulfur slowly to draw parallels with wine grapes and regions .

Terroir in mezcal

While it ’ s tempting to hone in on a front-runner type of agave, experts point out that terroir matters, excessively. To be called mescal, the heart must be made in one of nine mexican states : Durango, Guerrero, Guanajuato, Michoacán, Oaxaca, Puebla, San Luis Potosí, Tamaulipas and Zacatecas. Some agave-based spirits are made in a mescal style outside the regulate Denominacións de Origens ( DOs ), but they can ’ t legally be labeled as mescal. Where the agave is grown and harvested matters, but where it ’ south fermented and distilled is just deoxyadenosine monophosphate authoritative. quality mezcals are besides always fermented with violent yeast, which can have a significant shock on its relish and complexity .

The pioneer

mescal ’ s inheritance is centuries old, but for many U.S. consumers, the story begins in the mid-1990s. That ’ second when Ron Cooper, founder of Del Maguey, began to export single-village mescal to America. other mescal producers soon besides entered the commercialize. Cooper, a California native who started his career as an artist, spent three months during 1990 in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, where he lived and made artwork. “ When not creating artwork during those three months, I traveled far into the countryside surrounding Oaxaca, ” says Cooper. “ About three days a week, I followed rumors of bang-up, saturated mezcals made by farmers, hours down dirt roads far from the das kapital. ” He loaded his pickup hand truck with mescal samples, but U.S. customs would alone allow one liter across the border. By 1995, Cooper had begun to import bottlings to the U.S. But it wasn ’ thymine precisely any mescal he was sourcing—these were artisanal spirits made by individual class palenqueros­ ( producers ) in old-style villages. Del Maguey became the first producer to credit the greenwich village where the mescal is made, effectively creating the “ single-village ” appointment for the spirit. Bartenders then helped spread the son of mescal through cocktails and directly tastings. In 2017, spirits giant Pernod-Ricard purchased a majority stake in Del Maguey .From left to right; Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal Espadin Especial (Mexico; Pernod Ricard, New York, NY); Creyente Mezcal Joven (Mexico; Proximo Spirits, Jersey City, NJ); and Montelobos Tobalá (Mexico; William Grant, New York, NY)L to R: Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal Espadin Especial, Creyente Mezcal Joven and Montelobos Tobalá / Photo by Jens Johnson

Anticipating an agave shortage

Mezcal is quickly becoming a staple at U.S. bars, but some experts worry that the industry is growing besides fast for nature to keep up. electric potential agave shortages are increasingly a concern, which could besides impact the Tequila industry. “ All alcohol starts life sentence as sugar, ” says Lou Bank, co-founder and executive conductor of SACRED, a Chicago-based nonprofit organization corporation that uses education, advocacy and fund-raise to increase awareness about mescal and those who make it. Compared to other ingredients used to make alcohol, like grapes, wheat or even sugarcane, agave takes the longest to grow. The establish takes an extra four years at minimum to mature, with some varieties requiring decades. “ During that time, it ’ s building up all those chemical deposits that have flavors and aromas that make the end spirit well more building complex, ” says Bank. No wonder a common formulation among distillers is that “ mescal tastes like meter. ” Danny Mena, a partner at Mezcales de Leyenda, an advocacy organization for mescal producers american samoa well as a producer in its own right, likens the surface of mescal to that of single-malt Scotch. Prior to the 1960s, few Americans drank single malts. That changed in 1963, when Glenfiddich began to market its single-malt Scotch outside of Scotland. But demand soon outstripped add, since good whiskey takes meter to age. A like fortune hasn ’ deoxythymidine monophosphate befallen mescal just yet, says Mena. “ We haven ’ thymine planted enough over the years, ” he says. “ It doesn ’ t beggarly we are decimating the species. But it means prices are going up. ”

Mezcal culture

While american consumers are unlikely to welcome higher prices for mescal, and such raises might slow the liveliness ’ second commercialize growth, an addition is estimable news for those who make Mexico ’ s autochthonal intent. The mescal boom in the U.S. has strengthened the economies of small communities in Mexico where family producers have made mescal for generations, says Francisco Javier Perez Cruz, founder of Unión de Productores Agropecuarios del Distrito de Ejutla de Crespo, a co-operative of small mescal producers located in the cardinal valley of Oaxaca. “ Mezcal is not alone an alcoholic beverage, ” says Perez via a interpreter. “ For us, it ’ randomness separate of the culture, character of the people, the history of Mexico. It ’ s an artisanal product. ” Like many, Bank frowns upon the alleged “ industrial ” producers that often employ mechanized processes. “ It ’ s arduous to find beautifully handmade spirits, ” he says. “ There ’ sulfur concern and purpose to them. There ’ sulfur a heartbeat to it that isn ’ t in spirits that are industrially made. ” Bank suggests that consumers note the mezcalero ’ randomness identify on the label of a favorite bottle and follow their work. To not know who makes your mescal, he says, “ is like raving about a restaurant and not knowing the chef. ” The popularity of Tequila may have helped crack the door open for mescal, but the hazardous nature of the spirit is what brings consumers back. “ It started with people who have thus a lot passion for the fluid, ” says Mena. “ People don ’ thymine want it to taste like a thwart between rummy and Tequila. People want it because it tastes like mescal. ”

A guide to agave varieties

Most mezcals tend to be made from a individual agave assortment, although a growing total of blends, or ensambles, appear on shelves. The follow smack notes, which span barely some of the most frequently seen agave types, come from the book Understanding Mezcal ( Prensa Press, 2019 ), by James Schroeder, besides a partner/beverage director at Chicago mezcaleria Todos Santos. “ Espadín comprises most mescal made for cocktails, a well as many excellent expressions for sipping, ” says Schroeder. By comparison, single-variety mezcals made from more rare agave types can be well pricier, and many collectors save them for special occasions. “ This wasn ’ deoxythymidine monophosphate constantly the event, ” he says. “ Palenqueros [ distillers ] create mescal to be enjoyed, to be shared and to be experienced. ” A final note : Flavors in finished mescal can vary wide, depending on where the agave is grown and how the mescal is made, so consider this a baseline steer .

Agave angustifolia

Names : bacanora, castile, espadílla, espadín, pacifica, Weber blue agave Regions : From Sonora across to Tamaulipas, all the way down to Costa Rica Flavors : Can vary wide, depending where it ’ sulfur adult, but broadly, the roasted piñas are rich and evocative of baking spices and squash .

Agave potatorum

Names: papalome, papalometl, tobalá Regions: Oaxaca and Puebla Flavors: Tends to produce mescal with dulcet, nutty and buttery flavors .

Agave karwinskii

Names : barril, bicuixe, cuixe, largo, madrecuixe, tobasiche Regions : southerly Mexico, specifically Oaxaca Flavors : Cuixe, largo and tobasiche turn quickly and produce fewer sugars, which offers bitter, coffee-like notes or tart/earthy flavors. Madrecuixe, bicuixe and barril grow more slowly and amass more carbohydrate, which produce bright, fruitier and sometimes nutty flavors .

Agave americana

Names : arroqueño, blanco, coyote, sierra negra Regions : Grows wide in Mexico, with concentrations along the South Pacific seashore Flavors : Can vary drastically. mescal made from the diminutive agave coyote can be deep and blue, while those produced from agave arroqueño, the largest and slowest turn of the bunch together, swerve toward piquant and k notes .

Agave durangensis

Names : blanco, cenizo, verde Regions : Northern and Central Mexico, specifically the states of Durango and Zacatecas Flavors : crude and mineral, which is indicative of the region ’ south arid climate .

Seven magnificent mezcals

Alipús San Juan (Mexico; T. Edward Wines & Spirits, New York, NY); $52, 94 points. This mescal made from 100 % espadín offers an invite light coconut olfactory property. A balmy and smoky effect of char pineapple, sunburn orange peel and coconut winds into cinnamon sizzle, hitting all the correct notes. Sip or mix into tiki-inspired cocktails. abv : 47.5 % Erstwhile Arroqueño (Mexico Erstwhile Mezcal, Brooklyn, NY); $123, 92 points. For those who prefer a smokier mescal profile, this bottling offers a fresh, lightly minty olfactory property, but it hits squarely on the palate with a darkness, moody mix of menthol, spearmint and smoke. The elongated finish is driven by licorice, star anise and black capsicum. abv : 44 % Bozal Tepeztate (Mexico; 3 Badge Beverage, Sonoma, CA); $80, 91 points. The balmy olfactory property entwines ripe pineapple and bell pepper. The notably satiny palate opens with a marked gasoline note, which fades to mellower tropical fruit and finishes with plenty of peppery sting. abv : 45 % Creyente Mezcal Joven (Mexico; Proximo Spirits, Jersey City, NJ); $50, 91 points. The aroma mixes honey and floral notes with a zestier dynamism. On the palate, the libra shifts, with bold zesty-savory notes coming ahead and floral and mineral notes taking a more elusive character. A ribbon of smoke ties it all together and wafts into the polish. abv : 40 %

Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal Espadin Especial (Mexico; Pernod Ricard, New York, NY); $90, 91 points. The noteworthy nose is jammed with pineapple and down-to-earth roasted notes, plus a dim touch of vanilla. This mouthwatering mescal mixes odoriferous and piquant sensations on the palate, along with fair the right total of smoke. It would be an challenging accession to cocktails. abv : 45 % Luminar Joven (Mexico; DWLL, Los Angeles, CA); $30, 91 points. Sweet almond leads the nose and palate. It opens with gentle cinnamon and almond soon accelerates to a blue rumble, as black pepper, habanero and cayenne singe the eat up. Put in concert, it makes for a surprisingly addictive sweet inflame. Best Buy. abv : 40 % Montelobos Tobalá (Mexico; William Grant, New York, NY); $100, 90 points. Delicate white flower and coconut aroma run into a jalapeño-laced palate overlay with nutty sweetness. The brace, citrusy finish is mouthwatering. abv : 46.8 %