Tequila vs Mezcal: And Should You Be Worried about the Mezcal Worm?

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mezcal vs tequila

So you’re thinking of having some Tequila or maybe Mezcal? But what’s the difference between the two? The only similarity is that they are both made from cactus. And why does my drink have a Mezcal worm? Probably just to make you buy it.

Mezcal vs Tequila: What the heck is the difference?

At first glance mezcal and tequila seem to be the same. They’re both harvested from the core of the agave cactus, called the pina. But at that point they both change into different products.

Tequila is made when the inside of the plant is steamed inside big industrial ovens and then distilled. Mezcal is actually cooked inside the earth. Large pits are lined with rocks and filled with charcoal. The mezcal is distilled in clay pots. This is the traditional method which creates the smoky flavor of mezcal. It’s preferable to the modern methods of large mezcal producers.

Mezcal is a different sort of agave cactus

Although Tequila generally is made from the blue agave cactus, Mezcal can be made from over 25 different varieties of the agave plant. The espadín cactus is the most popular plant used for mezcal and creates almost 85-90% of all mezcal. However different cactuses also used to create mezcal are called tobalá, tobaziche, tepeztate.

Does Mezcal have more alcohol content than Tequila?

Although Mezcal probably tastes stronger than Tequila it doesn’t necessarily mean that it has more alcohol. Due to the smoky flavor of the way it is distilled it does taste a bit stronger. However Tequila and Mezcal are pretty similar in alcohol content. Both range in the 35% to 58% range of alcohol by volume. So generally both tequila and mezcal are loaded with booze. Drink carefully and moderately or you’ll be sleeping on the floor sooner than you think!

Is Mezcal More Expensive Than Tequila?

Generally Mezcal is more expensive than even some premium tequilas. Mezcal can be even double the cost depending on what kind you choose. That being said there really is a reason for the high cost. In the case of Mezcal you really are getting what you pay for and by looking for a bargain you may not end up with a quality product.

mezcal vs tequila
mezcal vs tequila

Agave for Mezcal Can Take a Lot of Time to Grow to Maturity

Mezcal is definitely a slow growing process. The fastest agave called the espadín still takes minimum 7 years to grow to its adult level. Some agaves called Tepeztate can take up to 25 years to grow to maturity.

Anything else where booze is made from will produce another crop the next year but not necessarily mezcal. Many different varieties of mezcal agave are grown only wild. That means that mezcal is not a reliable yearly product. The amount of mezcal that you can get from the plant also varies. One piña can produce 6-8 liters of mezcal while another one the same size might only make half a liter of mezcal.

Is Mezcal a Hallucinogenic?

Mezcal does not make you hallucinate. Unless of course you drink too much in which case, probably any alcohol may make you see things you’d rather not!

People do tend to get mezcal mixed up with mescaline which IS a hallucinogenic. This is a substance that is found in the peyote cactus, specifically. The part of the cactus that is above ground is called the crown and has round-shaped “leaves” or “buttons” that are generally soaked in water to produce this hallucinogenic. The natives of northern Mexico used the mescaline from peyote cactus for the purpose of hallucinogenics for religious ceremonies.

The confusion comes from the similarities between the names, mescaline and mezcal. Mezcal itself does not have any hallucinogenic qualities. 

Where is Mezcal grown?

Mezcal and Tequila are grown in completely different areas of Mexico. Tequila is basically produced only in a few places. Primarily the town called “Tequila” in Jalisco state. The other Mexican states its grown in are Guanajuato, Michoacán, Tamaulipas and Nayarit.

Mezcal however, is produced in more areas of Mexico including Guanajuato, Guerrero, Durango, Zacatecas, Tamaulipas, San Luis Potosi, Puebla, Michoacán and mostly Oaxaca, which is where mostly where 80% or more of the mezcal is made.

Similarities and Differences between Mezcal and Tequila

Both Tequila and Mezcal are aged inside oak barrels but they are defined a tiny bit differently in the aging process. Tequila has three categories: silver (blanco) which is very young tequila, resposado which is aged up to a year and anejo tequila which can be aged up to 3 years.

Mezcal is called joven, aged up to 2 months, reposado which is aged up to a year and anejo which is aged up to one year or possibly more.

Why is there a mezcal or tequila worm in the bottom of my bottle?

The worm at the bottom of the mezcal or tequila bottle is most likely just a way to market more alcohol. It only started being put in the bottle in the 1940’s or 1950’s. It is kind of a curiousity factor. Let’s face it , if you’re faced with two different alcohols that look exactly the same wouldn’t you be more inclined to purchase the one with the worm just for curiousity sake?

mezcal with worm

Will You Get Sick if you Eat the Worm?

I guess the answer to that question is, depends on you. The worm is pretty small and if you just swallow if with a glass of liquor chances are you won’t taste it. If you decide to chew it you might.

The worm itself isn’t poisonous and shouldn’t make you sick. That being said if you’re a little squeamish about eating a baby moth than you might physically get ill. Regardless, eating the worm is not mandatory so it’s entirely your choice whether you try it or not.

So there you have it. Enjoy your mezcal or tequila and for more other Mexico articles join us here. Or if Mexican beer is more your thing, check out the best Mexican beers!

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May 21, 2021 4:27 pm

Yummy post! Why do you think Mezcal is not as popular as Tequila? (I have read both sales are increasing)


May 22, 2021 3:17 am

Hey Paul,
I think you’re absolutely right and sales are increasing. I think tequila over all has been more well-known by Mezcal is definitely catching up. It’s worth a try (but maybe without the worm). That’s just my opinion!

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