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  • Writer's pictureLucie

Tequila Today...Mezcal Tomorrow?

Updated: Feb 17, 2023


Tequila has been making quite the waves in recent years. From one celebrity endorsement to another, its publicity strategy has been more prominent than a Kardashian on a movie tour. Despite this flashier aspect of the category, Tequila is growing up in UK culture. We're moving away from shots gulped back quickly in bars with a hefty serving of salt and lime. The new Tequila kids on the block are making it all about cocktails, sipping moments and food. Much like Tequila is enjoyed in its homeland.


And with this growth of Tequila, the word 'Mezcal' has emerged. But what exactly is the difference between the two? Tequila is actually a form of Mezcal, just like Scotch and Bourbon are part of the Whisky family. And Tequila has specific restrictions around its production with a governing body. The Consejo Regulador de Tequila is responsible for the protection of Tequila. Here are two of the key regulations for Tequila below:

  • It can only be made from 100% blue agave

  • Made in only 5 specific regions in Mexico with a protected Denomination of Origin

Tequila also has two classifications of 100% Agave and Mixto. 100% Agave Tequilas are distilled from the agave sugars alone, and bottled in their region. Mixto Tequilas only require min. 51% of sugars distilled from the blue agave. As such, these styles tend to have softer agave notes. Unless stipulated 100% Agave on the label, Tequila will be a Mixto style.


Moving onto Mezcal, the key difference is that you can use any type of agave plant to create Mezcal. But whilst the base is a bit more flexible, the geography is still limited. Only 9 states in Mexico can legally produce Mezcal and it must be bottled where it's made. The Consejo Regulaor de Mezcal manages the protection of Mezcal production. They have outlined three key categories: Mezcal, Mezcal Artesanal and Mezcal Ancestral.

The methods of production largely affect how Mezcal is categorised. Mezcal can be aided along with more modern, high-tech equipment. Whereas, Mezcal Artesanal and Mezcal Ancestral, both look to more traditional methods. For example, to make Mezcal Ancestral, the roasting of the agave plant takes place only in traditional pit ovens. They will also ferment the liquid in natural vessels like hollowed out tree trunks.


Another more nuanced difference is the ageing process. Ageing is a key part of the process in Tequila but it's less important in Mezcal. Common age categories you might recognise include Joven, Reposado & Añejo. And there are varying degrees of time required to meet the regulations. The ageing styles are the same in Mezcal, but, historically, it has been more popular within Tequila.


And when it comes to taste? Tequila is labelled the sweeter of the two, with Mezcal known more for its slightly smoky notes. This smokiness in Mezcal is often attributed to the ovens used to cook the agave. In Tequila instead, the core of the blue agave plant is slow-roasted and baked in steam or brick ovens. The pulp is then pulverised to release the sweet juices for fermentation.


Widely available in the UK, Tequila has had a real rise in popularity in past years. Margaritas were one of the at-home bartending hits during lockdown. It was the fifth most googled cocktail in the UK in April 2020. But you will now spot a few major Tequila brands offering Mezcal to mix-up instead. Casamigos offers a delicious Mezcal and Clase Azul has a mighty Mezcal as part of its famous collection. But even with this growing category interest, it's still taking its time to tip over into mass availability. You won't find Mezcal on the shelves in supermarkets, but you can pick up interesting bottles in the likes of Selfridges Food Hall and spirits specialists.


It'll be interesting to see how these two categories grow and complement each other as the appetite for these Mexican spirits develop. We've been attached to Gin for many years in the UK and whilst that shows no sign of going away, could an M&T be the next big thing?

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