Chances are, when you think of Mexican liquor, you think of tequila, and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, tequila is not the only liquor made is Mexico – there is also what is considered tequila’s brother- mezcal.
Mezcal is made from the maguey plant, which is a form of agave. The reason mezcal is considered to be “related” to tequila is that tequila begins with the same agave plant, but the processes of making these two liquors differs a little bit. Tequila must be made with blue agave, and can only be produced in certain areas of Mexico, mainly the Jalisco region. Mezcal, on the other hand, is produced throughout the country.
The first difference in the processes comes with the piñas. This literally means pineapple, but it actually refers to a bulb cut from the maguey plant. For tequila, the piñas baked in steam ovens, while for mezcal they are baked in an underground oven over wood charcoal, which is why mezcal has a distinct smoky taste. The piñas are then crushed in order to extract the aguamiel, or sweet honey water.
Another big difference? Mezcal has a worm!
Well, not all Mezcals come with a worm, but many will have “con gusano” (with worm) written on the bottle. This worm is actually a larva of a moth that lives on the agave plant. There are many convoluted stories that try to explain the meaning behind the worm. My favorite is that if the worm is intact, it proves that the alcohol is of very high quality because it is strong enough to preserve the worm. Many people have consumed the worm (which won’t actually harm you) on a dare or simply as a bucket-list rite of passage. The worm is a fun tradition, but the highest quality mezcals will not contain the worm. However, they may be served with worm salt, which is made from ground worm!
Mezcal can be found throughout Mexico, but the Oaxaca region is known for its high quality Mezcal. So next time you are in Mexico, consider ordering a drink with mezcal instead of tequila. You’ll impress the locals, and you might find you prefer it- with or without the worm!
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Featured photo credit: by dbrekke via photo pin cc