So, what’s the big difference between Mezcal and Tequila?

The Bottom Line:

Mezcal is not tequila. In fact, sometimes referred to as the “mother of Tequila”, Mezcal is the first spirit to be made from the agave plant. It boils down to this: Tequila can be made from only one varietal of agave plant, the Blue Weber. Mezcal, though typically made from Espadin agave, can be made from a much larger variety of agave plant types.

Pina or the "core" of the agave being cooked
The piña, or "core" of the agave, is cooked to unlock its flavor

It’s All About Production

The biggest difference between Mezcal and Tequila is that while both are made from extracting juices from the agave plant, the way the plant is treated differs greatly. Tequila is generally produced by steaming the plant, while Mezcal gets its smokier, complex flavor profile from cooking the plant in earthen pits lined with lava rocks. While the fire-roasting specifics can change from distiller to distiller, the method of cooking the agave’s piña (core) to unlock its smoky and floral qualities is what makes Mezcal an unmistakable sip.

Even through a recent explosion in popularity, Mezcal production has largely stayed true to its roots, employing methods based on tradition and rituals.

Mexican map highlighting the location of Oaxaca
Oaxaca is the origin and most popular state for Mezcal production

Regions

Tracing the origins of Mezcal and its most-loved distillations will typically lead you to Oaxaca. But Oaxaca is only one of 9 states in Mexico where Mezcal is legally and popularly produced. Durango, Guanajuato, Guerrero, San Luis Potosí, Tamaulipas, Zacatecas, and Michoacán are also home to traditional and newer Mezcal productions.

A pile of verdant agave plant after being fire-roasted
The verdant agave plant is fire-roasted to achieve Mezcal's 
smoky and spicy profile

The Smoke

You’ve probably heard it from everyone you’ve ever asked about Mezcal. You’ve heard it on this website. The smoke. While it’s not the be-all and end-all of what makes Mezcal so special, you just can’t deny the smoky, woody, sensation that comes with every sip. This comes from the way the core of the agave is fire-roasted. And every distiller can make Mezcal with different levels and profiles of smoke. Some are more mild, some are spicy, and some are intense. The best part, though, is that they all blend well with cocktails and still let the floral and fruity flavors shine.