A Lesson in Agave


Tequila (Spanish pronunciation: [teˈkila]) is a distilled beverage made from the blue agave plant, primarily in the area surrounding the city of Tequila 65 km (40 mi) northwest of Guadalajara, and in the Jaliscan Highlands (Los Altos de Jalisco) of the central western Mexican state of Jalisco. Like mezcal, tequila is also made from the agave plant and originates from the same regions of Mexico. The distinction is that tequila is made only from blue agave and they are prepared in different ways. Tequila is commonly served neat in Mexico and as a shot with salt and lime around the world.


Mezcal (Spanish pronunciation: [mesˈkal]) is a Mexican distilled alcoholic beverage made from any type of agave. The word mezcal comes from Nahuatl mexcalli, which means "oven-cooked agave", from metl and ixcalli.

Agaves or magueys are found mainly in many parts of Mexico and south to the equator, though most mezcal is made in Oaxaca. It can also be made in Durango, Guanajuato, Guerrero, San Luis Potosí, Tamaulipas, Zacatecas, Michoacan, and the recently approved Puebla.

"Para todo mal, mezcal, y para todo bien, también"

("For everything bad, mezcal, and for everything good, as well")

AGAVE 101: Mezcal or Tequila?

Mezcal, often referred to as "tequila's smoky cousin", is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from ANY type of agave. Mezcal is the national spirit of Mexico. Many who claim to only like tequila may not realize that all tequilas are mezcals, but not all mezcals are tequilas. Tequila is a type of mezcal, similar to how bourbon is a type of whiskey. Mezcal is basically any agave-based liquor. This includes tequila. However tequila can only be made from one type of agave: blue agave.

On the other hand, Mezcal can be made from more than 30 varieties of agave. The most common varieties of agave used for mezcal are tobalá, tobaziche, and espadín (which is the most common agave and accounts for up to 90% of mezcal).

Tequila and Mezcal are made in different regions.

Tequila and mezcal primarily come from different regions of Mexico. Tequila is produced in five main areas. Mezcal is produced in nine different areas of Mexico, with Oaxaca being where almost of 85 percent of all mezcal is made.

To qualify as mezcal, it must be produced in one of the nine different areas of Mexico.

How Mezcal Is Made

The word "mezcal" comes from the term mexcalli, which roughly translates to "oven-cooked agave" and refers to the production process of mezcal. Traditionally, mezcal is produced in small-scale production houses called fábricas or palenques. Each batch is handcrafted based on different techniques that have often been passed down through generations.

In general, the hearts of the agave, known as the piñas, are chopped into small pieces. The pina is then cooked inside earthen pits that are lined with lava rocks and filled with wood and charcoal before being distilled in clay pots. While some large-scale mezcal producers have adopted modern methods, artisanal mezcal makers continue to use this more traditional method. The pits are then covered with a heavy coat of dirt, where the piñas sit and roast for 6-8 days, which is the source of the smokiness commonly associated with mezcal.

Both tequila and mezcal are made from the core of the agave. However, tequila is typically produced by steaming the agave inside industrial ovens before being distilled two or three times in copper pots.

Once the distillation process is over, both tequila and mezcal are aged inside oak barrels. Both spirits are defined by how long they age, or "rest". Tequila and Mezcal come in four main varieties: blanco (silver, joven or plato)/rested 0-2 months), reposado (rested 2-12 months) anejo (rested 1-3 years) and Extra Anejo (rested 3-6+ years).