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Mezcal is a spirit distilled from one of many agave species within one of the eight approved Mexican states.
There are over forty different species of agave used to distill mezcal. COMERCAM is the Mexican Authority that oversees and protects the standards for all mezcal production. Due to the limited demand for mezcal, the majority of American imported mezcals are still produced in the traditional method, which dates back centuries.
Mezcal embodies a range of flavors consistent with the number of agave species, regions, and producers. Traditionally produced mezcals generally have varying notes of smoke and herbaceousness.
The most traditional way to drink mezcal is neat. As mezcal grows in popularity, it is increasingly used as a base in cocktails. Trendsetting chefs are beginning to use mezcal as an ingredient in their dishes.
Tequila is a mezcal from the state of Jalisco that has very specific rules regarding how it is produced. Similar to how America places strict rules around the process and ingredients used to produce certain spirits like Kentucky straight bourbon, or the way countries like France define their different wine regions with Appellation d’Origine Controlee (AOC), Tequila is governed by its own rules. It can only be made with the Azul agave (Weber), unlike mezcal which can be produced from a number of different agave species. Tequila has to be produced from a state sanctioned distillery, while mezcal is still often times made is small local distilleries by families who have produced mezcal for generations.
The main flavor profile difference between the two comes from the different processes used to convert the starches from the agave heart (pina) to sugars. Tequila uses an industrial oven that is basically a large pressure cooker which does not add any flavor to the agave. Mezcal is traditionally produced with a man made earth oven pit using mainly oak and sometimes mesquite as a fuel to cook the agave hearts. This adds the smoky characteristics that mezcal enthusiasts enjoy.
The largest markets for mezcal in the United States are New York, California, and Texas. Mezcal is found in many restaurants as well as retail shops in these states. There is also a growing number of online retailers that carry and ship mezcal throughout the US.