If you're a fan of tequila, that also means you're a fan of mezcal. You may not have realized it at the time, but tequila is actually mezcal!
Have you ever seen a depiction of an alcoholic drink with a worm inside the bottle? Well, that's mezcal. Though the worm is no longer a staple in quality mezcals, this image has helped bring this drink into a global spotlight.
Nowadays, you're more likely to find worm salt to be served alongside your mezcal, than an actual worm inside of it. This spicy, salty condiment is made up of toasted, crushed worms. It is typically served with orange slices.
However, not all mezcal is tequila. All mezcals are produced from agave plants, which come from Mexico. Meanwhile, tequila is made from one specific type of agave, the blue agave.
On the other hand, the smokier, more robust mezcals can come from hundreds of other species of agave. The options are limitless with this plant.
Without a doubt, tequila has become the most widely recognized form of mezcal. Yet, the world of mezcal has so much more to offer. To learn how this wonderful drink is made, continue reading below!
Before getting into the production process, it's important to establish a firm understanding of the agave plant. This plant, also known as the "century plant" in English, is found all throughout Mexico, as well as the southwestern United States.
Agave can be used for a multitude of uses. Many people use it as a source of fiber. Its sap can also be used to make a sweetener called aguamiel. This sweetener contains a low glycemic index.
In ancient times, the thorns of the agave were used as needles. Back then, the agave was believed to have medicinal properties.
The Production Process
So how is mezcal made? The production process of this drink has changed significantly over the years, but some of the steps remain the same.
This drink, like all spirits, is distilled. Its distillation process is similar to that of other spirits. What truly makes mezcal unique though, is what it's made from.
Mezcal is made from the cooked hearts of agave. This is where the smokiness of mezcal comes from. The hearts of the agave, also known as piñas, are fired up in underground pits. The cooking process for agave is similar to that of barbacoa.
Afterward, the cooked agave is crushed and mixed with water. Then, it is left to ferment.
Most of the time, the agave used for mezcal grows in the wild in the countryside. However, some are cultivated. The Espadín agave is the most commonly found species found in the wild.
The production process of mezcal is similar to wine; so much so that the drink used to be called, "vino de mezcal" or "mezcal wine." Similarly to how wine is named by what grapes are used to make it, mezcal is named by what type of agave is used.
For example, in the wine world, you have Pinot Noir, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, and a million other varieties, based on grape content.
With mezcal, you have bottles like Madrecuixe, Tobalá, Espadín, Largo, Cirial, Tripón, and Barril. Since there are so many different types of agave, you can expect to find tons of different mezcals.
Unlike grapes though, agave can take decades to reach full maturity. Grapes are harvested every year. However, agave is not.
How to Enjoy Mezcal
The best way to enjoy mezcal is to sip it straight or with sangrita, a blend of tomato, orange juice, lime juice, and chili powder. True mezcal aficionados drink it without ice, but if you feel inclined, drop a few ice cubes into your glass!
You may be tempted to take shots of this delicious spirit. If you really want to get the most out of its taste though, you should sip it slowly. Some fans of mezcal consider it a waste to take shots of the drink.
Traditionally a Mexican drink, you can now find mezcal popping up at bars and restaurants all over America. Next time you're out, try swapping out your usual glass of tequila for some mezcal.
How Is Tequila Made?
Now that you know how mezcal is made, you may be left wondering how tequila is made. Since only blue agave can be used to make tequila, this spirit can only be made in Western Mexico, near the town of Santiago de Tequila, Jalisco.
This area is approximately 40 miles (65 km) northwest of Guadalajara. There are over 90,000 acres of blue agave being cultivated in this region. This area is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site