Both are made from agave, but the differences are huge.
Margarita Day is upon us and naturally, we couldn’t be more thrilled. And what better food holiday is there to learn once and for all what differentiates tequila and mezcal? Although they’re both perfectly delicious in a margarita (and other cocktails and mixed drinks) they have very different personalities.
Tequila is produced from the fermented sap of the blue agave plants grown in one of five Mexican states: Guanajuato, Jalisco, Michoacan, Mayarit, and Tamaulipas. It comes in a range of categories: Blanco tequila, gold tequila, and golden to dark tequila. Blanco tequila (which can also be found in silver or white) and has a smooth fresh flavor that goes incredibly well with a Paloma cocktail. Gold tequila is actually just blanco tequila, but with added coloring and flavoring. It doesn't have to be aged. Golden to dark tequila means it's usually aged in oak barrels. This kind is recommended to be sipped on its own rather than added to cocktails—these are labeled Reposado, which must be aged for at least two months, and Añejo, which has to age for one year. For the best all-around tequila, look for those labeled “100% Blue Agave.” With that label, you’ll be sure the tequila was distilled entirely from the plant and not mixed with other ingredients, like sugarcane.
While mezcal is also produced from the agave plant, it can be made from a variety of species of agave, not just blue agave. It also can be made anywhere in Mexico, not just in a specified area like tequila, similar to how Champagne must come from the Champagne region in France, otherwise it's just sparkling wine. But location isn't the only difference. They taste different, too. Mezcal is smoky with a presence you can't ignore. For mezcal, the agave is cooked in pits filled with wood and charcoal and then distilled in clay pots, creating a the distinct smokiness tequila doesn't have.
Though tequila might be a tried-and-true spirit, mezcal is catching on around the country, frequently being featured in cocktail menus. Need help trying it out? Swap the tequila for mezcal for a smoky kick in this Deviled Margarita, or, if you want to sip on a cocktail with benefits, sip on this Grapefruit Kombucha Margarita.
Put this new knowledge to good use and make one (or all!) of these irresistible cocktails.