Differences between Mezcal and Tequila.
Mezcal and tequila have the same origin, an agave distillate. In fact, tequila is the name of the most famous mezcal, but tequila’s popularity at the end of XIX century established the differences.
We @Agavache promote high quality Mexican distillates and do not recommend industrialized products. That said, you should know that some artisanal tequila brands have survived the industrializing rush and it is necessary to set them apart (or maybe rescue) them from the majority of the tequilas that overrun the market with low quality, big marketing budgets and decreasing popularity.
There are 3 main differences between mezcal and tequila:
- The agave: mezcal can be distilled from about 42 different species of agave. Tequila must be distilled only from Agave tequilana Weber.
- Denomination of origin: mezcal is produced in 9 states* (Oaxaca, Durango, Guanajuato, Guerrero, San Luis Potosí, Tamaulipas, Zacatecas, Michoacán and Puebla). Tequila is produced in 5 states (Jalisco, Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit y Tamaulipas).
- Production process: Most mezcal is made by the «artisanal process», while equila is made, more often than not, by industrial processes.
* Aguascalientes, Estado de México, Morelos & Sinaloa are other states that have requested the DO. Their incorporation has been controversial or contested.
These differences decide the liquor’s quality and flavors. And there is one more difference: the classification. A few years ago, the categories were very similar, but now, they are more descriptive:
- Tequila is classified as White or Silver, Young or Gold, Aged, Extra-aged and Ultra-aged (NOM 006). Mezcal is classified as White or Young, Aged (reposado), Extra-aged (añejo), Matured in glass, Abocado with and Distillated with (NOM 070).
Sarah Bowen in her book “Divided spirits, tequila, mezcal and the politics of production” summarized in an easy way the difference between mezcal and tequila: «Tequila is now largely made in modern, high-tech factories by multinational liquor companies. In contrast, most mezcal distilleries are nestled in remote rural areas and produce small batches for local markets». She also points out that some mezcal brands have begun copying the tequila model, adopting innovations and relying on multinational liquor companies to facilitate access to global markets.
The industrialization is consequence of the growing demand. In 2020, sales of tequila soared over 46%, despite the obstacles of the year. Tequila production reached 374 million of litres, the major production registered ever. In the other hand, mezcal production has increased by 40% since 2011 to 2019 and it reached 7.4 million of litres during 2019.
The increase in sale has generated popularity and many new brands, which has increased the difficulty for the consumers to select one at the point of purchase. But don’t worry, you can use these 3 things that should be found on the label to guide your next purchase.
- The legend «100% Agave». All mezcales are produced with sugars obtained 100% from the agave, but tequila doesn’t have the same practice. If the legend just says «Tequila» it means that it was enriched with others sugars and only 51% of total sugars were extracted from the Agave tequilana Weber.
- The information about the production process, «Artesanal or ancestral» for mezcal and «Artesanal» for tequila. If this information is not in the label, then it was produced in an industrial way and its organoleptic properties won’t be authentic or of good quality.
- The classification, White or Young for mezcal and White or Silver for tequila. They have the purest flavors because they were not in contact with wood or flavor enhancers. (CAUTION: Be aware that White or Silver Tequila is not the same that Tequila Joven, which is a mix of Tequila Silver with Tequila Gold or a mix of Tequila Silver with Tequila aged.)
Now, you have learnt how to identify a “good” mezcal or tequila by the content of the label. Keep in mind that it is more complex because there are more factors involved into the concept “good high quality” agave spirit and we recommed that you read our previous post “The 5 key elements to identify an honest mezcal”.
And finally, when you try to buy a “good” mezcal or “good” tequila, you will wonder why is a price difference between them. The simple answer is because of the production process. As the following images shows, producing tequila is cheaper than producing mezcal. You may spend more money buying mezcal but, you won’t regret it. You will expand your palate (sadly, as Sara Bowen says “tequila is a mezcal that has lost its complexity” ) and, most ot the time, your purchase will have a direct economic impact on a small producing community.
BOWEN, Sara (2015), Divine Spirits: Tequila, Mezcal and the politics of production, California, USA: University of California Press.
Consejo Regulador del Tequila, informes estadísticos: https://www.crt.org.mx/index.php/en/
Consejo Regulador del Mezcal, informe 2020
DINGWALL, Kate, Big sales, no Agave: a look at 2020 in the tequila industry (2020, December, 31), Forbes. Publised in: https://www.forbes.com/sites/katedingwall/2021/12/31/big-sales-no-agave-a-look-at-2020-in-the-tequila-industry/?sh=5d3f60dac088
Forbes Staff (2021, January, 13),Tequila rompe récords de producción y exportación en 2020, Forbes. Published in: https:// w ww.forbes.com.mx/negocios-tequila-rompe-records-de-produccion-y-exportacion-en-2020/
Norma Oficial Mexicana NOM 070 Mezcal: https://dof.gob.mx/nota_detalle.php?codigo=5472787&fecha=23/02/2017
Norma Oficial Mexican NOM 006 Tequila: http://www.dof.gob.mx/nota_detalle.php?codigo=5282165&fecha=13/12/2012