Like the relationship between French Brandies (not all brandy is Cognac, etc..)
All Tequila is Mezcal, but Mezcal is NOT Tequila.
Tequila: Is the much younger brother of Mezcal and can only come from the state of Jalisco and the 4 states surrounding (Nayarit, Guanajuato, Michoacán, and Tamaulipas). Tequila can only be considered such if it is made from at least 51% blue weber agave. When using Tequila, it is generally preferred among the purists to use 100% agave tequilas for sipping and mixing (meaning no other sugars besides agave sugars were used in the fermentation process). Anything not labeled 100% agave is known as a “Mixto” usually having the addition of cheaper cane sugar, caramel coloring, glycerin, or sugar syrup.
Mezcal: Hails mainly from the southern state of Oaxaca (60 – 80% of Mezcal comes from Oaxaca) but can also officially be produced in some areas of the states of Guerrero, Durango, San Luis Potosi, and Zacatecas. It is mainly made from the Espadin Agave (or Maguey, pronounced Muh-Gay), but can also be produced from 28 different varieties of Agave (including the blue-weber). Here is a great article about the types of Maguey that can be used for Mezcal.
Tequila: Quality Tequila is generally made from harvesting the Blue Weber agave once it has hit its peak sugar content (general maturity is about 10 years). A worker called a Jimador will use a bladed shovel called a coa to chop the leaves off the agave plant and uproot the pina. The pina will later be baked in an autoclave, fermented, and distilled.
Generally, tequila distillation has become a much more industrialized process using large scale ovens and machine shredders to hasten the process and produce more quantity.
Mezcal: Using natural processes over 500 years old, today Mezcal is a purely artisanal production. First, the leaves of the maguey are removed, leaving only the heart (pina), which is then roasted in a conical earthen pit for three to five days. The roasted maguey hearts are the ground to a mash in a horse powered mill called a tahona or by using a hand held mallet. The mash is then put into a large wooden vat and left to ferment naturally for 14 to 30 days. The fermentation is then distilled twice, very slowly, in wood-fired clay or copper pot still.
Some Mezcal makers have gone the way of becoming more industrialized and there is certainly an argument as to which is better. Our opinion is that personal preference be left to the taste and palate of the consumer but there is definitely something to be said for the magic of artisan Mezcal. For more information; here are some great links to check out…
Currently at Barrio, we have over 70 Tequila and 42 Mezcal options. Stop on by, pull up a barstool and sample your way through all of them…especially on Mondays where all are available at 50% off!