Mezcal & Tequila
Finally, what are the important differences between Mezcal and Tequila? We refer to the formal framework first, determined by valid legislation. Then there are cultural distinctions which are very important concerning the product quality, on which we talk under “Cultural Differences” below.
Formal (i.e. legal) differences:
- Tequila is only allowed to be made from Agave tequilana Weber, which comes from intensively grown monocultures. Modern breeding techniques have strongly impoverished the gene pool of the agaves in the Tequila regions.
- Mezcal is allowed to be made from any species of agave including wild ones. The majority uses cultivated Agave angustifolia though, the archetype of A. tequilana Weber. They are bred and cultivated by local farmers in a small scale agricultural context.
Territory of production:
- Tequila must be made in Jalisco or a few municipalities in the states of Nayarit, Guanajuato, Michoacan or Tamaulipas.
- Mezcal must be made in the states of Oaxaca, Guerrero, Durango, San Luis Potosí, Zacatecas or a few municipalities in the states of Guanajuato und Tamaulipas.
100% Agave-Products and Mixtos:
In both catogories a product from 100% agave has to be labeled as such. If not it is a Mixto.
- Tequila can be made from up to 49% of foreign sugars (mostly from sugar cane) in the mash.
- Mezcal is allowed to made from a maximum of 20% of foreign sugars in the mash.
- Tequila in the mixto category can be exported as bulk. The product is shipped in stainless steel tanks and bottled in the country of destiny. It has to be emphasised that the regulatory authority for Tequila CRT has no legal hold about this process because it takes place outside of its area of application. This is rather unusual for a product with denomination of origin. 100%-Agave-Tequila has to be bottled in Mexico, though.
- Mezcal must only be bottled in Mexico, the maximum size of containers for export is 5 litres.
Actually these are the differences in production scale, i.e. artisanal small production for Mezcal and industrialised mass production for Tequila. There are mass produced Mezcals, though, while artesanal Tequila production has virtually died out.
Cooking or steaming og agaves:
- In mass production agaves get steam-cooked within a few hours in large autoclaves under high pressure. By this a full range of flavours cannot be obtained because many substances are not converted into aromas and convertible sugars.
- In artisanal production agaves are steam-cooked at low temperatures up to five days in natural underground ovens over wood and stone. In this way the entire resources of the plants become activated before getting mashed.
- Industrialised production uses cultivated yeast strains to achive a uniform flavour profile and a higher yield. Besides fermentation accelerators are used.
- Artisanal production utilises natural yeasts and microorganisms for fermentation, no accelerators are applied.
- Industrialised production uses continuous distillation in stainless steel production lines.
- Artisanal production uses discontinuous distillation in pot still made from copper, clay or other materials.