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Mezcal vs Agave: What’s the Difference? (2023 Guide)

Last Updated on August 2, 2023 by Lydia Martin

Mezcal and agave, both hailing from Mexico, share a profound connection rooted in their origins from the agave plant. Yet, they are as distinct as the diverse terrains that nurture these revered succulents.

As a fervent enthusiast of these spirited beverages, I have personally explored the intricacies of mezcal and agave, unearthing their fascinating characteristics, production methods, and cultural significance. 

So, let’s go on this delightful journey together in this mezcal vs agave comparison.

In-Depth Comparison Between Mezcal & Agave 

Bottles of Tequila

Mezcal and agave, two renowned Mexican treasures, showcase distinct qualities. 

Mezcal, derived from various agave species, delivers a smoky and robust flavor profile with artisanal production methods. 

“Mezcal’s fiery soul ignites a spirited journey through ancient traditions.” – Liquor Laboratory

Conversely, agave encompasses a broader spectrum of spirits, including tequila, characterized by its smoothness and versatility. 

Both embrace rich cultural heritage, but their divergent production processes and flavor profiles offer an array of sensory experiences to savor. 

Quick Reference Guide

Aspect

Agave Mezcal

Definition

Mainly used in tequila and mezcal production  Spirits made from various agave species
Origin Various Mexican regions

Oaxaca, Mexico

Agave types

Blue agave (for tequila) Various agave types (Espadin, Maguey, etc.)
Flavor Herbaceous, sweet, citrusy, and peppery 

Smoky, earthy, and complex 

Production

Traditional  Industrialized
Distillation Column stills

Traditional pot stills 

Alcohol

40-45% ABV 40-45% ABV
Market Wide market  

Small market

Use

Used in beverage, textile, and paper production Used primarily in cocktail mixing or for sipping

How Are They Different?

Definition

Mezcal refers specifically to a distilled spirit made from various agave species. 

Conversely, agave encompasses a broader category of plants that includes the source for mezcal, tequila, and other agave-based spirits.

Read: Agave & Maguey Compared

Production

Bottling of Tequila

Mezcal is traditionally produced through artisanal methods involving roasting and crushing the agave hearts, fermenting the juices, and distilling the resulting liquid. 

Agave-based spirits like tequila can have different production processes, including steaming the agave hearts and using industrial methods for mass production.

Origin

Mezcal originates primarily from the state of Oaxaca in Mexico, with a long-standing cultural heritage. 

Conversely, agave is native to various regions in Mexico, and different agave species are used to produce a wide range of spirits, including mezcal and tequila. 

Agave Types

Agave includes a diverse range of species, mainly blue agave [1], used for different purposes, including the production of tequila and even mezcal.

In comparison, mezcal can be made from various agave types, such as Espadín, Tobalá, and Madrecuixe, each lending unique flavors and characteristics to the final product. But what brands of tequila are 100% blue agave?

Flavor

Agave

Agave-based spirits, specifically tequila, exhibit various flavors—from herbal and citrusy to sweet and peppery, depending on the specific agave variety used.

As for mezcal, it often boasts smoky, earthy, and complex notes due to its different production processes. 

Production

Mezcal production involves a traditional and artisanal approach, including slow-roasting agave hearts, fermentation, and small-batch distillation. 

In contrast, agave-based spirits like tequila often employ more industrialized methods, including steam cooking of agave hearts and larger-scale production techniques.

Read: Affordable Mezcals Ranked

Distillation

Agave-based spirits, including mezcal and tequila, are typically distilled after fermentation. 

Mezcal is often distilled using traditional pot stills, while tequila is commonly produced using column stills for more efficient and consistent distillation. 

Alcohol

Woman Labeling Tequila

Agave-based spirits like mezcal and tequila generally have similar alcohol content. 

The alcohol by volume (ABV) for both can vary, but the standard range for mezcal and tequila is typically around 40% to 45%, although some variations may have higher or lower ABV levels.

Market

We’ve seen significant growth in the agave-based spirits market in recent years, driven by tequila’s popularity and the rising interest in mezcal. 

Agave-based tequila dominates the global market, with established brands and a broader consumer base. 

“Tequila. Straight. There’s a real polite drink. You keep drinking until you finally take one more, and it just won’t go down. Then you know you’ve reached your limit.”– Lee Marvin, American Film Actor

In comparison, mezcal occupies a smaller but expanding niche market, appreciated for its artisanal and unique qualities.

Use

Between the use of mezcal vs agave, the latter has versatile uses beyond spirits. Agave nectar is a popular natural sweetener, while agave fibers find application in textiles and paper production. 

Conversely, mezcal [2] is primarily enjoyed as a sipping spirit or used in cocktails, showcasing its distinct flavors.

FAQs 

Is mezcal the poor man’s tequila?

No, referring to mezcal as the “poor man’s tequila” would be an inaccurate and unfair characterization. Mezcal has distinct qualities and cultural significance separate from tequila, and both spirits have a unique appeal.

Is mezcal stronger than tequila?

Mezcal can be stronger than tequila, depending on the brand. Both can have varying alcohol content but are generally similar in strength. These spirits typically range from 40% to 45% ABV. The specific alcohol content can vary between brands and production methods.

Is mezcal 100% agave?

Yes, authentic mezcal is made from 100% agave. Mexican law mandates that mezcal must be produced using 100% agave, distinguishing it from other spirits like tequila, which has specific regulations and requirements.

Can you make mezcal from any agave?

Yes, mezcal can be made from various species of agave, but not all agave varieties are suitable for mezcal production. The most common agave varieties for mezcal production include agave marmorata, agave tequilana, maguey, and agave maximiliana.  

On A Final Note 

In the vibrant world of Mexican spirits, agave and mezcal have their own charm and cultural significance. The choice between mezcal vs agave ultimately comes down to personal preference. 

Agave spirits like tequila are smooth and versatile, making them a popular choice for many cocktails. On the other hand, mezcal boasts a distinct smoky and complex flavor profile, which will surely appeal to those seeking a unique experience.

But if we are to choose one, nothing beats the versatility of agave-based spirits like tequila compared to the smoky complexity of mezcal. 

References:

  1. https://www.kew.org/plants/blue-agave 
  2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/mezcal 

 

Lydia Martin

Lydia Martin hails from Redmond, Washington, where you’ll find some of the best cocktail bars and distilleries that offer a great mix of local drinks. She used to work as a bar manager in Paris and is a self-taught mixologist whose passion for crafting unique cocktails led her to create Liquor Laboratory. Lydia can whip up a mean Margarita in seconds! Contact at [email protected] or learn more about us here.

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