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The Difference Between Tequila vs. Mezcal

Learn about the differences and similarities between tequila and mezcal.

Tequila is one of the most popular mixers in the world. It is used in the classic Mexican margarita and many other cocktails and is also consumed straight.

Girls making a toast with tequila shots

However, Mezcal has become an increasingly popular drink in the past few years. So what is the difference between the two, and why are they so confusing? 

Well, both Mezcal and tequila are made from agave nectar. Mezcal is the umbrella group that tequila fits under, so technically, tequila is a kind of mezcal.

However, not all mezcal is tequila. There are hundreds of different types of mezcal. 

Understandably, these two drinks are often confused— they are very similar. However, they have some key differences that bring a variety to the cocktails made with them.

For a complete profile on tequila and mezcal (and the differences between them), read on! 


What Is Tequila?

Tequila is one of the most popular liquors in the world.

It is an alcoholic spirit made out of blue agave nectar. Nectar taken from the blue agave plant and distilled becomes tequila, a certain type of mezcal. 

Tequila is labeled by age–Tequila Blanco is unaged, while tequila reposado has aged up to a year.

The highest quality of tequila is the most aged: tequila añejo.

While tequila Blanco is the cheapest and usually used in bars for mixed drinks, tequila añejo is top shelf and consumed smooth. 

A strong spirit, tequila is generally 40% ABV (alcohol by volume). 


What Is Mezcal? 

Mezcal is any liquor distilled from agave nectar. While tequila is a type of mezcal, it is only one of many kinds.

There are over two hundred varieties of the agave plant, which means there are just as many different kinds of mezcal. 

The best mezcals sold in stores has a distinct smoky flavor created by smoking the liquor in pits in the ground. This process generates a rich, smoked taste and makes for high alcohol content of 55% ABV. 

Mezcal is usually used in darker drinks and cocktails because of its richer flavor.

A mezcal margarita is an entirely different drink than a tequila margarita. Mezcal is a more niche flavor for many experienced drinkers. 


How Are Tequila and Mezcal Different? 

In a way, tequila and mezcal are not different. Tequila is, in fact, a kind of mezcal.

However, tequila is a specific type of mezcal made with blue agave. So, just like blue agave is a unique type of agave plant, tequila is that kind of mezcal. 

Mezcal, however, can be made out of any agave plant. Generally, we think of mezcal as a smoky liquor because a specific type of mezcal (the bottle most commonly sold in stores) is smoked in pits while prepared.

However, any alcoholic spirit distilled from agave nectar is technically mezcal. 


Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some frequently asked questions about tequila and mezcal–we hope they help! 

Is mezcal stronger than tequila?

Mezcal is stronger than tequila. Both of these drinks are pretty strong, with at least 40% ABV, but mezcal has a stronger concentration of alcohol. It measures at 55% ABV, 15% stronger than regular tequila. 

There are different strengths of tequila and mezcal, but the standards for each drink are 40% and 55% ABV. Mezcal is the stronger drink, and it shows in the smokiness and dark flavor of the liquor. 


Which is healthier: tequila or mezcal?

In reality, no hard alcohol is particularly healthy for you. However, if you’re going to drink something based on agave, you want to know what’s going into your body.

Tequila is lower in calories, with a shot being almost 30 calories less than a shot of mezcal. 

Many people say that mezcal is healthier because it’s always 100% agave nectar (by law). Tequila, however, is only required to be 51% agave.

The rest can be corn syrup or other fillers. High-end tequila might use 100% agave, but cheaper stuff probably mixes. So if you’re looking for purity, mezcal might be the way to go. 


Why is tequila more popular than mezcal?

Tequila is more popular than mezcal for a combination of reasons. First, it has a lighter, sweeter taste that’s easier to mix and appreciate (especially for beginning drinkers). Not everyone likes the smokey flavor of mezcal. 

Second, tequila can be made in huge quantities. Mezcal is created in small batches by artisans. It might not be a question of what’s more popular, but what’s more available.

And, of course, this availability makes tequila cheaper and easier to get a hold of–a sure way to gain popularity. There are, however, decent cheap mezcals you can find if you try!


Final Thoughts

Even though tequila and mezcal are different, they come from the same plant–an agave. The blue agave nectar provides the base for tequila, a specific type of mezcal.

So next time you’re at the bar, keep this in mind when ordering and impress the bartender with your liquor knowledge! 

Check out the highest quality tequila brands to make your favorite cocktails at home.

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Written by Erin B.

Erin lives in East Passyunk and enjoys checking out the local restaurants in South Philly and beyond. Her favorite restaurants are those with spicy food and outdoor seating so that she can bring along her dog, Miss Piggy.