Tequila and Mezcal are both spirits made from the agave plant, and both tend to come from Mexico, but we’ll leave the similarities there. Tequila is made from only the blue agave variety and takes its name from the region in which it’s made.
The blue agave is harvested, baked, then mashed into pulp and juiced, fermented and then distilled.
Tequila comes in several grades, including silver (or blanco), gold (or reposado), anejo tequila (or aged), and even a few varieties with added flavours.
Blanco tequila can be either 100% agave or mixto – which is when the product is blended with sugar and water during distillation. They are rested in stainless steel tanks for no more than 60 days, if at all, and have a notably earthy taste. It’s ideal for use in tequila-based cocktails.
Gold tequila is what you’re most likely to have for a shot. They’re primarily un-aged and usually mixtos which have been coloured and flavoured. Reposado tequila has been aged in wooden casks for up to nine months which helps to mellow the flavour and lightly colour the drink. They’re a great option for cocktail making.
Anejo is also aged but this time for longer – a minimum of one year which produces a dark, robust drink. These types tend to deliver a very smooth drinking experience, often with sweet undertones of butterscotch or caramel making them ideal for sipping neat. A newer type of tequila has also emerged in recent years – extra-anejo which has spent more than four years in barrels.
Mezcal can be produced in eight different regions of Mexico from over 30 different types of agave, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s any less special. After harvesting, the agave cores are slowly baked in underground earthen pits lined with volcanic rock, which imparts a smoky flavour that gives mezcal its characteristic depth after fermentation and distillation. Mexican tradition usually sees mezcal sipped neat or on the rocks, and rarely added to mixers.