Food and Drink

The Difference Between Tequila, Mezcal, and Pulque

Tequilas by the beach

Tequila, Mezcal, and Pulque are traditional Mexican drinks made using agave succulent plant varieties—but each beverage is quite distinct and offers very different taste experiences.

Tequila

Tequila is Mexico’s national drink, and one of the icons synonymous with the country. The ‘Tequila’ marque is now protected world-wide, and production of the drink is tightly regulated: only a handful of Mexican states have production rights, and the best Tequilas emanate from Blue Agave grown in the rich volcanic soils situated in the state of Jalisco. Tequila is made by harvesting the hearts (known in Spanish as piñas) of the Blue Agave (ah-gah-veh) plant, slowly baking them in large ovens, and then pressing the pulp into a sweet liquid that is passed through a prescribed distillation process.  Afterwards, the Tequila is transferred into specially-prepared wood barrels and left to age.  The precise process and aging time determines the Tequila’s classification, and strict labeling regulations enable buyers to know what type they are paying for.  The highest quality Tequilas are made from 100% agave, whereas less expensive varieties use a mixture of agave and sugar cane.  Tequila can be enjoyed straight or mixed into a variety of cocktails, the most of popular of which is the Margarita.   You can find tequila cocktail recipes on the Mexican Bar here on Mexperience.

Mezcal

Mezcal is distilled using a similar production process to tequila, but the tastes and nuances of the final blend are quite distinct.  As Mezcal recently regained widespread popularity, the Mexican government acted to regulate its production, helping to improve the quality of mass-produced varieties and thus giving confidence to the wider market.  As with Tequila, Mezcal is produced by baking the hearts (piñas) of the agave; but unlike Tequila, which is made exclusively from Blue Agave, Mezcal may be produced from nearly 30 different varieties of agave.  Most Mezcals are made using the espadín agave, although distillers also blend different varieties of the plant with the intention of creating unique flavors.  The drink undergoes an aging process and, like Tequila, the aged Mezcals feel more robust and often smoother on the palate than the younger alternatives.  The best Mezcal, like the best Tequila, is made from 100% agave; and like Tequila, less expensive varieties use cane sugars and contain other flavorings.  Mezcal has a distinctively smoky flavor which for many is an acquired taste.  Purists assert that Mezcal doesn’t lend itself to being mixed in cocktails, although there are plenty of Mezcal cocktail recipes to choose from.  Traditionally, Mezcal is taken straight with a pinch of sal de gusano: a condiment made by grinding together dried larvae, chiles, and salt. Mezcal may also contain a ‘worm’ (larvae) at the base of the bottle—this is a ploy concerned with marketing and does not alter the taste.  Tequila never has a ‘worm’ in the bottle.

Pulque

Pulque is an ancient beverage dating back to Mesoamerican times. Like chocolate in that era it was an élite beverage used in ritualistic ceremonies and was later used by indigenous tribes as a form of medicinal tonic.  While Pulque is also made from the heart of the agave, the plant is not baked and distilled; instead the plant’s sap is fermented. The sap is extracted by cutting a cavity into the heart of the agave, and the sweet liquid that comes out is called aguamiel (honey water). Once extracted, the sap is fermented to create a milky-colored and viscous beverage which creates a slight foam when it’s poured. Its taste is often likened to fermented oatmeal with a yeast undertone. Pulque can be taken straight, but is more often served as a long drink — termed ‘curado‘ in Spanish — prepared by blending the fermented sap with any combination of fruit pulp, nuts and spices, or sweeteners.  Connoisseurs assert that the blend should only be taken fresh and that you should ask the vendor whether the batch you are being served was prepared today.  Pulque is a low-alcohol beverage (typically 2-6%), whereas Tequila and Mezcal distillations typically contain around 40% alcohol.  Beware, notwithstanding its low alcohol content, Pulque can creep-up on you: a long afternoon whiled away taking this ancient beverage with your companions can leave your head clear and your legs confused when you eventually stand-up to walk.

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4 Comments

  1. Jeff says

    You need to add Bavanora, made in Sonora.

  2. Bud Johnson says

    Pulque and Mezcal taste terrible. The only reason to drink either of them is you can not afford even inexpensive Tequila.

  3. Tina Ernspiker says

    I don’t know if I have tasted Pulque or not… I will have to put it on my to-do list!

  4. Greta Green says

    Espadín Mescal makes a fabulous mescal margarita!

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