Mezcal vs tequila: what’s the difference between these agave-based liquors? When to use one or the other? Here’s what you need to know.

Mezcal

Mezcal vs tequila: what’s the difference? These two Mexican liquors are made from the same plant, but they have very different flavors. Mezcal has become very popular lately in the cocktail scene, while tequila maintains its position as one of the most popular liquors in the world. Which should you use in your margarita? Which is best as a slow sipper? We’ve got answers. Here’s what to know!

Mezcal vs tequila: what’s the difference?

Mezcal and tequila are both liquors made from agave, but they taste different and are used in different ways. Here’s a breakdown:

Mezcal overview

  • What it is: Mezcal is a Mexican spirit made from the agave plant, just like tequila. So tequila is a type of mezcal, but not all mezcal is tequila. Mezcal is made from 50 different varieties of agave, but only one type of agave plant (blue agave) makes tequila. Mezcal’s signature smoky flavor comes from cooking the agave in pits in the ground, which brings a depth and smokiness you don’t find in tequila.
  • What does mezcal taste like? Mezcal has a very strong smoky flavor, with lingering rich and sweet notes.
  • How much does mezcal cost? A 750 ml bottle of mezcal on average costs between $20 and $40, but high end brands can cost much more.
  • Alcohol content: Mezcal is 55% ABV (alcohol by volume), which is higher than tequila.

Tequila overview

  • What it is: Tequila is a Mexican distilled spirit made from the blue agave plant, or agave tequiliana. Tequila is a type of mezcal: any spirit made from any variety of agave.
  • What does tequila taste like: Tequila blanco is unaged tequila; it is agave forward, with notes of pepper and citrus with a spicy finish. Tequila reposado is rested 2 to 12 months in oak barrels; it has a smooth flavor and notes of oak, vanilla, and caramel. Tequila añejo, aged 1 to 4 years in oak, tastes richer, with notes of vanilla and cinnamon. Añejo is typically used for drinking straight and less for mixing in cocktails.
  • How much does tequila cost: The cost of tequila ranges widely based on how long its aged and its quality. A mid-range 750 ml bottle costs somewhere between $20 to $30; high end bottles can cost up to $150.
  • Alcohol content: Tequila is 40% ABV (alcohol by volume).

Mezcal vs tequila: when to use them?

In summary: Mezcal is a distilled spirit made from any variety of agave plant. Cooking the agave in pits in the ground gives it a strong smoky flavor. Tequila is a distilled spirit made only from the blue agave plant. It has an agave-forward flavor and has smoother, richer flavor when aged (labeled resposado or añejo).

  • Mezcal brings a smoky flavor to drinks. A little goes a long way! Often it’s used in combination with tequila to make smoky spins on classic drinks, like the Mezcal Margarita or Mezcal Paloma.
  • Tequila is a popular liquor that’s starred in classic cocktails for centuries. Popular cocktails include the Margarita, the Paloma and Tequila Sunrise.

Which popular cocktails use Mezcal or Tequila? Here are a few to try:

Some of the most popular tequila cocktails are:

  • Margarita The most popular tequila cocktail of all. Make it on the rocks with 3 simple ingredients: lime, tequila and Cointreau (or a very good Triple Sec).
  • Paloma Another classic Mexican cocktail, made with grapefruit soda and tequila.
  • Tequila Sunrise A 1970’s classic with tequila, orange juice and grenadine layered like colors of a summer sunrise.
  • Ranch Water This popular highball stars tequila, soda water and lime.

The most popular Mezcal cocktails are mostly spins on classics, like:

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Mezcal margarita

Mezcal Margarita


  • Author: Sonja Overhiser
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 0 minutes
  • Total Time: 5 minutes
  • Yield: 1 drink 1x
  • Diet: Vegan

Description

Make a mezcal margarita for a smoky spin on the classic! It’s tangy and smoke-forward, giving this popular cocktail a rich depth.


Ingredients

Scale
  • 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) mezcal
  • 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) tequila blanco or reposado
  • 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) Cointreau
  • 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) fresh lime juice
  • Kosher salt or flaky sea salt, for the rim
  • For the garnish: Lime circle

Instructions

  1. Cut a notch in a lime wedge, then run the lime around the rim of a glass. Dip the edge of the rim into a plate of flaky sea salt (or for a festive look, use Margarita Salt).
  2. Place the mezcal, tequila, Cointreau, and lime juice in a cocktail shaker with 4 ice cubes and shake until cold.
  3. Strain the margarita into the glass with the salted rim. Fill the glass with ice and serve.
  • Category: Cocktails
  • Method: Shaken
  • Cuisine: Mexican

Keywords: Mezcal vs tequila

About the authors

Sonja & Alex

Meet Sonja and Alex Overhiser: Husband and wife. Expert home cooks. Authors of recipes you'll want to make again and again.

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