Have you ever wondered what the difference between tequila and mescal ACTUALLY is? Are they the same? Why is there a worm in my bottle?!
Quite simply the difference between the two is all in the agave. Tequila is made using a specific type of agave called Blue Agave, or to use its more technical name 'Weber Azul.' This agave is a sweeter option than the rest and fast to cultivate and distil. Mescal on the other hand is free from the restrictions placed on tequila and can be made from over 30 different types of agave plant, and typically has a smokier, earthier taste.
Whilst talking about these spirits, common terms are used to describe the presence of ageing and the length: blanco (or 'plata' or 'silver,' minimal ageing, clear liquid), joven ('young,' clear and unaged), reposado ('aged' or 'rested', this has had a minimum of two months ageing in oak barrels but less than a year) and anejo ('old' this is aged for a minimum of a year in oak barrels).
A fantastic example of a Plata tequila is El Rayo No.1 Plata, made by Peckham duo Tom Bishop and Jack Vereker. Made with the intention to challenge the ever-increasing G&T market in the UK, they have created a tequila that stands up on its own and can be used as an alternative highball option with tonic - a T&T. As this is a blanco tequila, this clear liquid has no hidden expressions and has a peppery, citrus hit on the palate with a buttery texture. Along with the No.2 Reposado released by the pair, these spirits are bringing a fresh perspective to the world of tequila.
In comparison, Pensador joven mescal is similarly un-aged and clear, however the flavour notes are completely different. Earthy with a smoky, ash aroma, there are touches of chilli and cracked pepper on the palate.
Looking at an anejo mescal, the liquid is a caramel, almost whisky-looking colour. Illegal anejo mescal; a dark-hued, rich mescal that really packs a flavour punch has won the Best of the Best award for Aged Mescal in 2012 and provides hints of honey and soft smoke on the nose and follows through with orange rind and peppermint oil on the palate. The barrel ageing really imparts flavour and texture, making it a truly sippable drink that needs no accompaniment.
At the end of day, tequila and mescal are Mexican brothers, and delicious in their own individual, quite varied ways.
And the worm? Apart from potentially being a cynical marketing ploy, the tasty little, mescal soaked morsels are considered a delicacy in Mexico. Salud!