Synonymous to Mexico, tequila and mezcal are both produced from the fermentation and distillation of the core (the piña) of specific species of the agave plant, but that is where the similarities end.
All tequilas are mezcal,
but not all mezcal is tequila
A few other products are also produced from the juice of the agave plant, such as Pulque (or Octli), Raicilla, Bacanora and Sotol… but more about that later.
Here is a quick lesson in the differences between tequila and mezcal:
- Tequila is by law produced only from the Blue Agave (Agave Azul Tequilana), a grey-blue cactus which is most happy growing in hot, arid regions…, such as Mexico and the Karoo.
- Tequila is recognized as a Mexican Designation of Origin Product in over 40 countries worldwide which means that the spirit has to be produced in the Mexican state of Jalisco or the municipalities in the states of Guanajuato, Tamaulipas, Michoacán and Nayarit for it to be labelled tequila.
If not, it has to be labelled Agave spirit or something similar. But again… more about that later.
- The Blue Agave plant for the production of tequila was originally found primarily in the area surrounding the city of Tequila 65 km northwest of Guadalajara, and in the central western Mexican state of Jalisco. The red volcanic soils in the region of Tequila are well suited to growing the blue agave, and more than 300 million of the plants are harvested there each year!
So… what about mezcal?
- Mezcal may be produced from any of the 30 distillable types of agave found all over Mexico. (There are about 120 known types of agave, but only approximately 30 of these are used in the production of mezcal.) Since 2005, mezcal has been produced under Mexican law which determines that agave spirit may only be labelled Mezcal if it is 100% agave.
This may be of no consequence for South Africans, but there is as third agave product… yes, Pulque
- Pulque: While mezcal and tequila are derived from the piña—or heart – of the maguey plant (a member of the agave family and a cousin of the Tequila blue agave), pulque is made by fermenting the sap of the plant, which is known as aguamiel (honey water). This results in a sweet, milky and quite viscous liquid with a characteristic sour, slightly yeasty nose, effectively making it “agave beer”.
This ancient Mexican drink is today still consumed in parts of central and northern Mexico – mainly in rural areas where it is home made.
- It is also often pointed out that, to produce mezcal or tequila, the agave plant has to be killed, whereas only the aguamiel is taken from the plant for the production of pulque.