Everything you need to know about tequila & mezcal

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THIS CONTENT IS POWERED BY: VINEPAIR
WORDS: ERIC TWARDZIK
INFOGRAPHIC: DANIELLE GRINBERG

It may sometimes feel as if you need Spanish fluency to decipher a tequila menu, especially when terms like blanco, añejo and reposado start to pop up. Getting tongue tied is no reason to give up on the diverse and rewarding category of agave spirits, which includes tequila, as well as its smokier cousin, mezcal. Let us break down this agave spirit lineup and help you figure out the best for your palate.

First thing’s first. Technically, all tequila is mezcal. The term mezcal refers to spirits made from the agave plant, while tequila refers to a specific type of mezcal that can only be made from blue Weber agave in five Mexican states.

 

Mezcal can be made from a wide variety of agave varieties in nine Mexican states. It’s best known for the smoky flavor that emerges when a mezcal is made in the traditional way – roasting agave in underground pits.

Tequila and mezcal can be sorted into different age categories.

 

  • Blanco: Tequila or mezcal that is unaged.
  • Reposado: Tequila or mezcal that is aged between two and 12 months in oak.
  • Añejo: Tequila or mezcal aged for at least one year in oak (after three years aged, it becomes an extra añejo).

The general rule of thumb: when a spirit is unaged, it expresses the flavors of its ingredients. When it is aged, it takes on some of the flavors of its aging container.

 

  • Blanco tequilas are light, bright and juicy with a touch of pepper.
  • Reposado tequilas showcase the fresh flavors of agave, but add oak to the mix, deepening the body.
    • How it’s made: Distilled from 100% blue Weber agave and aged in oak for at least two months.
    • Where to get started: Don Julio Reposado
    • Popular cocktail: Paloma
  • Añejo tequilas spend more substantial time in oak which introduces flavors like vanilla, caramel and honey that might be familiar to (and enticing for) whiskey drinkers.
  • Mezcal has a different flavor profile from tequila, most typically characterized by smoke. If you’re the type of drinker who pulls for peated scotch, you may enjoy mezcal neat. Those who enjoy the smoke as more of an accent flavor might wish to contrast that quality with bright citrus juice or a sweet liqueur.
    • How it’s made: Distilled from agave plants that have been roasted underground in specially prepared pits prior to distillation.
    • Where to get started: Casamigos Mezcal
    • Popular cocktail: Oaxacan Negroni

There’s more to explore

A diverse selection of spirits, just waiting for you to give them as gifts.