Tequila fans know that a classic Margarita cocktail is a delicious way to enjoy one of Mexico’s signature spirits. Those looking for something a little different, however, should consider trying a Mezcalita instead. A Mezcalita shares two of the three basic ingredients found in a Margarita – lime juice and triple sec – but is made with a Mexican spirit called Mezcal instead of Tequila. This begs the question “So what’s the difference?”
Like Tequila, Mezcal may only be produced in certain areas of Mexico. Tequila may only be made from one species of agave, Agave tequilana Weber, commonly referred to as blue agave. Mezcal, on the other hand, may be produced from any species, or maguey, of agave. There are about 50 species used, though the majority of Mezcal is made from Agave angustifolia Haw, more commonly known as agave espadín. Other common varieties include cenizo, tobalá, tepextate, and arroqueño.
Mezcal shares many of the aroma and flavor attributes found in Tequila, such as floral, citrus, vegetal and herbaceous, but Mezcal can often lend a distinct smokiness (depending on how it’s cooked) and richness that one simply won’t find in most Tequilas. Mezcals can be a touch earthier and less delicate than Tequila. Mezcal must be made from 100% agave sugars, while Tequila allows the addition of up to 49% non-agave sugars.
In common with Tequila, Mezcal is available in several quality categories. To experience true Mezcal character, look for the words ‘Mezcal Artesanal’ on the label. This middle category ensures that the Mezcal in the bottle was made by roasting the piñas (the heart of the agave plant) and was distilled in a pot still. The purest expressions come in bottles marked ‘Joven’ which are not altered in any way after distillation.
You don’t have to drink an agave spirit in cocktail form, as good quality Mezcal is also delicious neat or over ice. Some favorites of mine include bottlings from Legendario Domingo, Los Nahuales, and Montelobos.
To learn more about Mezcal, Tequila, and a wide range of other Spirits, join us for our next WSET Level 2 Spirits Course starting on September 8th, 2022
Michael Ahlborn, DipWSET