From coast to coast, people are getting excited about mezcal, the smokier alternative to tequila. Enjoyed by itself or mixed into a cocktail, this agave-based alcohol has become extremely popular in the past few years. Since tequila is considered to be a type of mezcal, you’ve most likely already experienced this flavorful drink in one way or another. From how it’s made to how it’s served, mezcal is a versatile distilled alcohol that is easy to enjoy. Keep reading to learn more about this unique spirit!
What is Mezcal?
Originally made in Mexico, mezcal is the official name for any agave-based liquor with an alcohol content ranging from 40 to 55 percent. Mezcal is made in only nine specific regions of Mexico, including Oaxaca, Durango, Guerrero, Guanajuato, Tamaulipas, San Luis Potosi, Puebla, Michoaca and Zacatecas.
Mezcal vs. Tequila
As the saying goes, “All tequilas are mezcal, but not all mezcals are tequila.” While both share similar qualities, they also have several differences that make them easy to tell them apart! Differences include the type of agave each drink is made with and what region they are produced in.
Tequila is made using only blue agave, a succulent which takes about eight years to mature. Quality tequila has a smooth, subtle taste.
Almost all tequila is produced mostly in Jalisco and in smaller designated areas of four other Mexican states, including Michoacan, Guanajuato, Nayarit and Tamaulipas.
Mezcal can be made from a variety of agave plants, including Blue Agave. Espadín is the most common type of agave used in mezcal production. It is known for its signature smokey flavor, and tends to be sweeter than tequila.
Mezcal is primarily produced in Oaxaca, though it is also made in Puebla, Durango, Michoacan, Guanajuato, Guerrero, San Luis Potosi, Zacatecas and Tamaulipas.
Types of Agave Used in Mezcal
Mezcal can be made using either one type of agave or a combination of different types, as long as the blend is 100% pure agave with no added fillers. The flavor is described as smoky, sweet and earthy depending on the agave used. The varieties of agave that are used the most for mezcal are:
Espadín: This type of agave is used in 90% of mezcal varieties. Since it’s closely related to blue agave, mezcal made with Espadín tastes very similar to tequila.
Tobalá: Due to its small size and long growing period (12-15 years), this agave is considered to be very rare. Mezcal made with Tobalá is known for its light, floral and sweet taste.
Tepeztate: Considered a wild agave, this plant can be found hanging off mountain cliffs and nestled in rocky soil. The taste of mezcal made with Tepeztate is said to be earthy and herbal.
Tobaziche: This agave plant can look and taste very different depending on where it is grown. It’s often harvested wild and is easily recognized by its savory flavor.
Arroqueño: While most agaves used for mezcal are found in Mexico, this plant has started popping up all over the United States. The flavor is described as floral, but can also have a spicy, bitter note.
How to Make Mezcal
It takes time and patience to create the perfect batch of mezcal. The craftsmen who make mezcal are known as Maestro Mezcaleros—a term used as a sign of respect due to the delicate process of making mezcal.
Although the production is similar to making wine, making mezcal takes more time and practice. Grapes can be harvested every year, but many types of agave plants take years to mature.
When it comes to the mezcal process, it’s the simple ingredients that make it so special. The piñas, also known as the heart of the agave plants, are cooked in an in-ground pit, crushed, mixed with water and left to ferment. It’s the process, rarity and age of the plant that make mezcal such a treasure.
How to Enjoy Mezcal
According to experienced mezcal drinkers, the agave drink is made to be sipped. It’s typically served in a small shot glass and slowly enjoyed. It can be served at room-temperature or chilled and garnished with a lime wedge or an orange slice.
In a cocktail
The smoky aroma of mezcal pairs perfectly with a number of flavors, especially those that typically go well with tequila. Use tangy juices such as pineapple or lime to shake up your tastebuds with only a few ingredients, or dress up a simple serving of mezcal with fresh fruit like raspberries.
Mezcal Drink Recipes
Mezcal is a great substitute for tequila and other liquors in a cocktail. Daiquiris and negronis are just a few of the traditional cocktails getting upgraded with mezcal. Here are fun drink recipes to help you find some inspiration before creating your own mezcal cocktail!
Grilled Pineapple Margarita
Amp up the savoriness of your favorite cocktail with a splash of mezcal and a grilled pineapple. This tangy margarita is the perfect combination of fruit and spice!
-1 part mezcal
-2 parts pineapple juice
-Chili lime seasoning
Basil Cranberry Julep
Enjoy a delicious spin on a classic julep by combining some basil, a splash of cranberry juice and mezcal. The tart fruit flavor and smokiness is perfect for sipping and enjoying slowly.
-1 part mezcal
-1 part cranberry juice
-Basil for garnish
Tip: Muddle the basil before adding the other ingredients for added flavor.
Mezcal Mai Tai
Add a unique spin to your favorite tropical drink with the addition of mezcal. Don’t forget to slip in a colorful mini umbrella!
-1 part mezcal
-1 part rum
-2 parts pineapple juice
-1 part cherry juice
Enjoy a twist on this refreshing cocktail by swapping out the vodka for mezcal. Mint, combined with lime and ginger ale, are the perfect additions to this flavorful drink.
-1 part mezcal
-3 parts ginger beer
-Splash of lime juice
The next time you’re in the mood to stray from your usual drink order, ask for a glass of mezcal! This agave-flavored alcohol is perfect to sip from shot glasses during a night in at home with friends or mixed into a refreshing drink on a night on the town. You can find your new favorite type based on whether you prefer smoky or sweet. With over 30 types of agave, there are so many options to see and sip!
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