Mezcal Versus Tequila
Mezcal is Having a Moment, But Don’t Count Tequila Out Just Yet
No other spirit in the world is enjoying a resurgence quite like mezcal, the agave-based booze from Mexico. Known as tequila’s predecessor, the smoky, rustic and mysteriously sexy liquor has been around for more than 400 years, but never got its due. Until now.
From coast to coast, mezcalerias, or places specializing in the spirit, have been popping up in recent years. In Los Angeles, there’s Las Perlas, which opened in 2010 and is considered the country’s first-ever mezcal cocktail lounge. New York boasts Masa y Agave in the trendy TriBeca neighborhood. And in 2016 alone, four prominent mezcal bars debuted (editor’s note: all will be open by press time) in Chicago: Broken English Taco Pub, Leña Brava, Mezcal Lounge and Mezcaleria Las Flores.
A concept by former Rick Bayless acolyte Jay Schroeder, Mezcaleria Las Flores features one of the most extensive mezcal collections in the country. You’ll find only one tequila cocktail on the menu, and that’s because Schroeder wants to celebrate mezcal in all its glory.
“Mezcal veers to the left with rusticity, bolder flavors and bigger, broader flavor profiles.”
– Jay Schroeder, Mezcaleria Las Flores
“There are enough tequila bars around,” he says. “By being a very specialized place (for mezcal), we will get people to pay attention to this program. We’re kind of forcing people’s hand at that. The presentations are also over the top.”
But back to mezcal. Schroeder says that to discovered the spirit from tequila, it’s best to paint with broad strokes and then define from there.
“They’re both more or less the same thing and made in the same way,” he explains. “Every single turning point for tequila goes to the right for industrialization, towards commercialization, towards the path of cleanliness, palatability and efficient production, whereas mezcal veers to the left with rusticity, bolder flavors and bigger, broader flavor profiles.”
Tequila’s surge in popularity, he continues, is due to more corporate backing while mezcal has always been more of a grassroots effort. “The producers of tequila also had more workforce behind them to produce the spirit at a larger pace,” he says. “Mezcal is produced with rustic equipment in a rustic way” for small-batch productions.
David Ravandi, founder of 123 Organic Tequila, says that it was only a matter of time before consumers rediscovered mezcal. Ultra-premium tequila brands such as his had been growing in popularity for a number of years, while mezcal had maintained somewhat of a cult status.
“Once consumers discovered sipping tequilas like anejo, and anejo was as enjoyable as any fine, aged brown spirit, they embraced those styles, which extended awareness of the category considerably,” explains Ravandi. “Until the last decade, mezcal hadn’t been widely marketed outside of Mexico, but it’s growing as new products enter the market.”
To better educate staffers on the differences between mezcal and tequila, Ravandi recommends conducting a comparative tasting across a range of unaged and aged tequila and mezcal styles.
“Using an analogy to wine is helpful,” he suggests. “Different varieties of agave result in different flavor profiles just as different grape varieties produce very different wines. By learning to taste those differences, bartenders can create cocktails that showcase the spirit, and in turn educate their customers.”