Mezcal vs. Tequila: The Difference

Cinco de Mayo is approaching quickly, so what better way to celebrate than with some authentic Mexican liquor! Before you break open that bottle with “the worm” in it, you should understand exactly what it is you’re about to drink.

Chances are you have come to the perception that the bottle containing the worm is tequila; unfortunately you’re wrong. Mezcal is the only type of alcohol that can be bought containing a worm inside. To make matters more confusing, tequila is a type of mezcal, yet mezcal is not a type of tequila. To understand this concept, let’s get into some more detail and see exactly what goes into making the two products.

What is Mezcal?

Mezcal is a Mexican liquor that is created from a variety of up to 30 different types of agave plants. Traditionally mezcal is made solely with Agave Espadin, however in today’s market producers will try different blends of agave in order to create their own distinct taste. Mezcal has a distinct flavor difference from tequila. Generally, mezcal will be a little sweeter than tequila and will have a smoky flavor to it due to the baking process the agave undergoes. In creating mescal, a more traditional process is followed. To begin, the agave plants are stripped from their long pointy leaves. This allows for separation of the core (otherwise known as the piña or pineapple due to its shape and resemblance) which will then be used to create mezcal. From here the agave is put into an underground pit where a fire is used to heat up the plants. The pit is covered and the agave is allowed to cook and caramelize over the course of a few days. Once the process is over, the agave are then unearthed and crushed by a large stone wheel, which is traditionally dragged by donkey or horse. For this reason high end mezcal tends to be a lot more costly than tequila because of the amount of physical labor needed to create the spirit.

So what’s the Deal with the Worm?

Mezcal is the only type of alcohol you will find containing “a worm”. What you may not know is that this worm is actually a moth larva. The maguey worms (called gusano in Mexico) that live off of the agave plant are the popular choice for mezcal producers to use. Although some say that the worm can bring good luck, special powers, or even change the product’s flavor, the worm is primarily used in mezcal today as a way to market to tourists.

What is Tequila?

Tequila is a type of liquor that (by law) is solely made from the Blue Agave plant. Since there are no other plants that can be used to make tequila, the product can appear to be very limited compared to mezcal. Tequila is made in five separate regions of Mexico with Jalisco at the center of production. There is even a town named “Tequila” within the state of Jalisco! While tequila seems to be only a close subsidiary of mezcal, the main differences between the two are within the production process. Unlike mezcal, agave is usually baked in an above-ground industrial oven. Then the plants are crushed, shredded, and fermented. The fermentation process begins in a large steel vat and can take anywhere from 12 hours to several days. As a result, tequila can be considered an industrial product that can be pushed to stores at a mass production rate after they have reached their desired age and distillation. While on the other hand, mezcal is seen more as an artisan spirit, and can take longer to produce (also why the prices vary).

If you have any questions about mezcal or tequila, be sure to let us know! Before you start your Cinco de Mayo festivities remember that a bottle of tequila will never have a worm inside, and that it’s always 5 o’clock somewhere! To learn more, visit Julio’s Liquors in Westborough, MA, or give us a call at (508) 366-1942.

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