Both Tequila and Mezcal taste similar and come from the same part of the world as each other, and many people are confused what the difference is between to two liquors. Basically, tequila can only be called tequila if it is made in the Tequila area of Mexico. Whereas Mezcal can be made in any part of Mexico, but the best is produced in Oaxaca.

Mexican spirits are certainly growing in popularity all over the world, and not surprisingly the U.S is one of largest consumers of Mexican spirits in the world. According to the Distilled Spirits Council of America, in 2017 just over seventeen million cases of tequila were sold and is cousin mezcal also had sales of 360,000 cases during the same period. All tequila is mescal, but not all mezcal is tequila.

Tequila shot with lime and salt on vintage background.

How They are Made

Both liquors are made from the agave plant, but tequila is made only from the blue weber agave and it can only be called tequila if it is made in Tamaulipas, Nayarit, Michoacan, or Guanajuato. The heart of the plant is steamed in ovens and then the liquid is distilled in copper pots.

Mezcal can be made from any agave plant, and it achieves its distinctive smokey flavor by being cooked in underground pits that are made from local hot rocks. You can take an example of potatoes to understand the difference, a baked potato retains a full flavor unlike a boiled potato.

Aging Classifications

  • Blanco / Silver – Tequila bottled straight after distillation, aged two months or more.
  • Joven – Mezcal bottled straight after distillation aged less than two months.
  • Reposado – Either tequila or mezcal that has been rested in oak barrels for more than two months but under a year.
  • Anejo – Either tequila or mezcal that has been aged in oak barrels between one and three years.
  • Extra Anejo – Either tequila or mezcal that has been aged in oak barrels for over three years.

Obviously the older the tequila or mescal is the more expensive it becomes, also aging helps to make the liquor less fierce and it takes on the flavor from the oak barrels.

How to Drink Tequila and Mezcal

Firstly, you will never find a worm in a tequila bottle, and the correct way to drink good tequila is simply to sip it straight like a single malt whisky or a good brandy. Of course one of the major ways to consume tequila is in a Margarita cocktail, which is one of the most famous cocktail drinks in the world.

The traditional way to drink mezcal is to sip it with some worm salt and a slice of orange. And it is mezcal that you would associate with a worm in the bottle. It was an old mezcal distiller who found that putting a gusano (larve of the agave plant) into the bottle before pouring in the liquor gave the mezcal a particular flavor that drinkers took to immediately.

Nowadays only cheap mezcal has a worm put in the bottle, as mezcal lovers appreciate the delicate smokey flavor that true good mescal has and there is no need for any gimmicks. So take your pick, there are subtle differences between the two liquors and today mezcal has just as high a reputation as a good tequila.