If you're relatively new to the world of agave-derived alcohol and want to learn more about the differences and similarities between Tequila and Mezcal, you're at the right place.
The internet can make it a bit complicated, so this post will keep it simple and discuss the similarities, differences, and when and how to use each for the ultimate sipping and drinking experience.
I mean... at the end of the day, we all want a great drink!
What is Mezcal
Mezcal is made from the hearts of the agave plant, which look like pineapples (piñas) once the branches (arms) have been hacked off. Mezcal can be made from many or a combination of a variety of agave plants (there are more than 50!).
These pineapple-looking hearts, which are high in sugar content, are then slow-roasted in buried clay ovens. This is what gives the Mezcal its distinct smoky flavor.
While Mezcal can be made from one or many agave plant varieties, tequila can only be made from the blue Weber variety.
Is Mezcal Just Fancy Tequila
Mezcal is not considered a type of tequila but has its own liquor category. And, since there are many varieties of agave plants, the rarer the plant, the more expensive the mezcal.
On the other hand, tequila can be considered a type of mezcal since it comes from an agave plant, but unlike mezcal, tequila is made by steaming the agave hearts, not roasting them in smoky clay ovens.
Does Tequila Taste Different than Mezcal
There is a very distinct flavor difference between tequila and mezcal, the main difference is that mezcal has a smoky aftertaste, and tequila has none.
In food terms, think of smoking meats vs roasting the same cut of meat in the oven.
Within the tequila varieties, there are distinct aftertastes from the tequila's aging process, like Reposado tequila with hints of vanilla and oak from the barrels it sits to age in.
Beyond the infusion of flavors into the alcohol, which is done after the distilling process, tequila tends to be a "cleaner" tasting alcohol for most people.
At the end of the day, it's a matter of preference, like whether you enjoy smoked meats or not.
Some examples of flavored infused tequilas are cucumber-habanero tequila or citrus-infused tequila.
When to Use Mezcal vs Tequila
Since mezcal brings a smoky flavor to any drink, a little goes a long way! It's often used in combination with tequila to cut down the smoky flavor or to bring a full-on smoky experience to classic tequila drinks like Margaritas and Palomas.
On the other hand, tequila mixes well with everything.! So when it comes to using tequila in a drink, you can't go wrong.
Correction: you can. You can use cheap (and I mean cheap) tequila on drinks without added flavors to mask the cheapness, and you end up with a diesel-fuel aftertaste
Best Mezcal Cocktails
Want to get started with mezcal cocktails? Here are some of my favorites to help you get started:
Best Tequila Cocktails
Grab your favorite bottle of tequila and make a plan for your nightly cocktails! here are some of the best tequila cocktails you can easily make at home:
Can You Substitute Mezcal for Tequila
While you can substitute mezcal for tequila in your favorite cocktails, keep in mind the smoky aftertaste that mezcal offers. So if you don't mind this and enjoy mezcal, you can use it in any and all tequila recipes.
Personally, I feel mezcal mixes well with sweeter tequila cocktails, those containing juice because the juice's sweetness tames down the smokiness. Vs. a margarita which tends to be a more pure drink.
Mezcal & Tequila Recommendations
You're probably here because you are a tequila drinker and are considering taking the leap into the world of mezcal -that was me as well! If Mezcal is new to you, here are some top picks to help you get started:
Which is Better?
Ultimately, the tequila vs mezcal "which is better" debate will always come down to personal preference. One can't rule out one or the other without the opportunity to taste them, both alone or mixed with a drink.
If you're new to mezcal, try one of the drinks above, which should help you experience what tequila's cousin is all about.