What is mezcal and how is it different from tequila?
This Mexican spirit is one with the Earth
It feels like an eternity ago that I was in West Hollywood, California, kicking back in the famous and original Barney's Beanery on Santa Monica Boulevard. It was a packed house with classic rock music blaring, pool cues cracking off the billiard balls, and peppy patrons laughing the night away. Gosh, when will we ever see those days again?
For the first time that night, I enjoyed the Mexican spirit mezcal used in a margarita, instead of the usual tequila. Mezcal has been synonymous with tequila, and is often used as its alternative, but there are some distinct differences between them that make each unique.
Mezcal and tequila are both made from the agave plant, but different kinds. Tequila is primarily made of the blue agave plant, while mezcal can be made from over thirty types of agave plants.
Cheers to Hollywood
All about the process...
They're not processed alike either. The agave used in tequila is processed in a modern fashion – steamed or cooked in factory-made ovens and distilled with man-made tools. Mezcal's agave is smoked in "ovens" or pits dug in the natural dirt and the heat is fueled by lava rocks, charcoal, or wood. This is where it gets its prominent smoky flavor and punch.
Both spirits are fermented in wooden barrels, and usually distilled by modern methods. Some mezcal is still distilled the old way in clay pots, which adds to the strong bite... like that of a scorpion. (When I first had it, I thought that's what diesel probably tastes like, but it's important to note that I'm a basic girl who used to drink Fireball whiskey in my early 20's – you know, the one that was made with real anti-freeze ingredients, so I'm not the first person you should ask to describe the taste of spirits.)
The main 'obvious' difference in taste is that mezcal is smoky, compared to tequila.
Is mezcal stronger than tequila? Well, all tequila is mezcal, but not all mezcal is tequila. Maybe next time you go for a margarita or tequila shot, opt for mezcal and see how it you like it.
Mezcal is more expensive than tequila, which may be a reason it hasn't caught on too much here in the U.S. I wasn't in California long enough to get a grip on their alcohol culture, but with Mexico as their southern neighbor, mezcal was everywhere, unlike most bars back home in glorious, oh-so-fun Pennsylvania.
Because of the special, handmade crafting work that goes in to making mezcal, it is an important and well respected part of Mexican culture, one that Southern California embraces whole-heartedly, and so should more people around the world.