The difference between mezcal and tequila is the preparation ahead of fermentation and type of agave plant that is used. While mezcal (mescal) is a general term used for all agave-based spirits, it is commonly recognized as describing a singular style rather than an all encompassing term.
Mezcal can be made from a variety of agave (maguey) types, while tequila is made from only blue agave. Another difference is the state in which they are made. Proper mezcal, nowadays, is primarily a product of Oaxaca, while tequila hails from the small town of Tequila, close to the city of Guadalajara, Jalisco. While it is not a cut and dry fact, as other states have historically and still to this day produce both spirits at smaller capacities, it would be hard to find a tequila on our shelf not from Jalisco and a mezcal not from Oaxaca.
Mezcal’s agave is traditionally roasted in underground ovens before fermentation using wood charcoal, while blue agave is not, thus giving it a smoky, aromatic, tobacco-like quality tequila can mimic with certain techniques but not duplicate. For this reason, some mezcals more commonly align with single-malt scotch than tequila, a commonly overlooked aspect of the versatility of the agave plant, a true master fermentable.
This week’s mezcal of the moment is Sombra, a smoky, peaty joven (blanco) mezcal made from maguey espadin, a rather typical agave type of the mezcal distillers of Oaxaca. Espadin grows for nine years before it is harvested. However, once distilled, the mezcal is bottled, as aging is omitted. But no worries, Sombra is a complex creature in need of no oak and far more intricate than most blanco tequilas. On the nose, medicinal like and herbal qualities and a pleasant dose of tobacco can be found. Sipping gives way to tastes of strong peat. And the finish is smooth, with a slight sweetness as it makes its way down.
If you’ve only just begun your venture into the world of mezcal and want a truly unique first experience, this would be a good place to start. Sombra is moderately priced and comes in a handmade clear glass bottle wrapped with a label whose font screams East L.A. I’ve heard stories of people slipping this little number into single-malt scotch tastings, and after trying it I see why. Don’t let the lack of age fool you: this mezcal is a sipper’s delight.
Take it neat and savor the flavor.
Come grab a glass at the bar soon and we’ll talk more about it.