All you need to know about mezcal and tequila

There is so much to learn about mezcal and tequila. One might think that all it involves is taking a shot and continuing to party, but it’s actually a very sophisticated thing, if one chooses to consume it in that way. That’s why I got together with some experts to get a better idea of what I should and should not order at a bar or buy before going back home.

By the way, do you know the differences between mezcal and tequila?

To start, they are two different kind of drinks. Both come from an agave plant, but from different kinds of agaves. Little did I know that there are over 28 different kinds of agave that are being distilled. Only one kind is used in tequila… that one is the blue agave (tequilana, weber). Mezcal can be done with a variety of agaves and the flavors will vary from one another.

Through the enforcement of the Protected Designation of Origin, Tequila can only be produced in the state of Jalisco and in small parts of four other states. Mezcal is made around the city of Oaxaca and, according to Protected Designation of Origin, can also officially be produced in some areas of the states of Guerrero, Michoacan, Durango, San Luis Potosi and Zacatecas.

Most mezcals are made from the Espadin agave, although some mezcal producers blend agave varieties to create a distinct flavor. Mezcal traditionally has a very unique, smoky flavor that makes it fairly easy to distinguish from tequila. It also tends to taste sweeter, or richer, than tequila.

The smoky flavor of the mezcal is due to the way it is made. The traditional method of making mezcal involves cooking the agave underground, making it really smoky (once it is cooked you can try it and you’ll find it really sweet and delicious). Its high concentrations of sugar is what makes it perfect for distilling. The next step is to distill it, either in clay pots or copper stills.

The process of making tequila is a bit different. First, the agave head (piña) is baked in an above-ground oven. The complexity of making tequila comes in the aging process and the kind of barrels that are used. While tequila does not require barrel aging, reposado may sit in oak barrels and añejos are often left in barrels previously used to age reposados. Many of the barrels come from whiskey distilleries in the US or Canada, and Jack Daniels barrels are especially popular!

You should know that genuine tequila never has a worm in the bottle;  neither do high quality mezcals. The worm is primarily a marketing gimmick to help boost sales, especially in the United States and in Asia. Some commercial brands have the worm in the bottle, my friends in México call them “cumplidores” (good enough to drink, but nothing special). The real good mezcal never has a worm.

There are some really special mezcals, that are artisanal o traditionally made and the bottles are numbered and limited because of the small quantity they produce. Once you try them, you’ll understand what I’m talking about, and once you try the different kinds of agave you’ll realize how complex and interesting is this spirits culture.

Ladies and gents Mexican wine on the table

I have found some great Mexican wine on this amazing trip, a very pleasant surprise. Wine has been in production in Mexico since the Spanish conquerors arrive. The problem that arose was that the crown ordered the productions to stop and only limited the production for the church. So the vineyards were only used for basic wine for centuries.

This has now changed, however, as Mexico now has some premium vineyards and wineries, both large and boutique. Nearly 2,500 hectares (6,200 acres) are planted to grapes in Mexico. The grapes grown by top producers, including Casa de Piedra, Viñas de Garza, Vinisterra, Rincón de Guadalupe, Hacienda La Lomita, Monte Xanic, Santo Tomas, Casa Madero, La Cetto and Viñas Pijoan, are a mixed bag of varieties that can handle warm conditions. The wine types most often produced are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Tempranillo, Dolcetto, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Grenache, Cabernet Franc and Nebbiolo among reds; Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Viognier among whites. Check this out to learn more: http://www.snooth.com/region/mexico/

So now you know you can find excellent local wine! Check my TIPs for more info on how to buy the best mezcal and tequila.