Ask a wine aficionado to talk about their favorite Cabernet or Beaujolais and they’ll tell you about the country, the grape varietal, the terroir, climate, or the maker.
To the scotch lover, the story is about the local peat and its unique smoke, the spring water or copper distillery pot.
Different drinks, different stories, all steeped in local history, geography, and craft. The same holds true for Mexico’s famous drinks, and not just tequila. The list of agave-based spirits and producers is as long as it is storied.
Mezcal Vs Tequila
Before one explores tequila, one must consider mezcal. Why? Mezcal represents an entire group of spirits. According to Cheers Magazine, a restaurant trade publication about food and beverages, “Mezcal is the over-arching category of Mexican spirits fermented and distilled from several varieties of the agave plant.”
Wikipedia explains it like this, “The agave was one of the most sacred plants in pre-Spanish Mexico, and had a privileged position in religious rituals, mythology and the economy. Cooking of the “piña” or heart of the agave and fermenting its juice was practiced. The origin of this drink has a myth. It is said that a lightning bolt struck an agave plant, cooking and opening it, releasing its juice.”
Tequila, by contrast, stands apart as a separate product because, by law, tequila producers can only use the blue agave plant. And Tequila is produced in a slightly different manner than most other mezcals.
Similar to a wine lover’s terroir or the scotch lover’s peat, some mezcal producers might use agave harvested on a hillside or grown near a stream or lake. That, combined with differences in soil and climate, and you’ve got vast varieties of nuance and flavor.
“Bottles labeled “mezcal” are usually from the state of Oaxaca and often have a smoky flavor because during production the agave hearts are roasted in rock-lined pits fired by mesquite.”
This incredible New Yorker story offers a rich and detailed history of mezcal and its place in history.
Despite its tequila-like look, taste and overall charm, Sotol is not an official agave-based drink. It is derived from a lesser known plant variety. The always-fantastic food and beverage site Wide Open Eats puts it best:
“The sotol plant is in the same family as agave, yet can flower multiple times, unlike the genus agave. It grows in the high desert Chihuahua – along with New Mexico and Texas – giving it the nickname Desert Spoon.
While the distilling process is similar to that of mezcal, the juices are double-distilled resulting in a smoky and slightly herbal flavor. The official spirit of the Chihuahua state, Sotol is hard to find but well worth the effort.