Tequila, mezcal and agave spirit: what’s the difference?

  • Share this story
Tequila, mezcal and agave spirit: what's the difference?

Did you know there’s a burgeoning movement of small-batch distillers making the Mexican agave spirit locally? Only catch is, we can’t call it by its name…


Different types of agave are used to produce mezcal and tequila. Tequila may only be called tequila if it’s produced in the Jalisco state using blue agave, while mezcal can be made from any variety of agave and is largely produced around Oaxaca.

International Denomination of Origin laws prohibit any country outside Mexico from using the names tequila or mezcal, so SA distillers use the name agave spirit.

Taste wise, mezcal has a smoky, almost peaty, flavour with some sweet notes, while tequila is fruitier with a cleaner taste.

The making of a legend

Stop slamming your tequila in a shot glass like a brute. According to Mexican distillers Fortaleza, a lot of effort goes into making it the traditional way, so sip slo-o-owly.

– Blue agave is harvested when ripe after seven or eight years.
– Next, it’s steam-baked in a traditional small brick oven for about 30 hours.
– Then a large volcanic stone called a tahona is used to squeeze the juice from the agave.
– Water from the volcanic Tequila Mountain is added, and the fibres are separated from the liquid, or mosto.
– The mosto ferments in wooden open-air tanks and is then twice-distilled in copper-pot stills. Blanco is the unaged spirit, while reposado is oak-aged.

Tequila, mezcal and agave spirits that we’re loving right now

FORTALEZA BLANCO: This fruity spirit is produced by Guillermo Erickson Sauza, fifth-generation tequila maker, on the family estate in Tequila. Expect earthy aromas and a sweet taste imbued with cardamom, white pepper, citrus and a touch of minerality. tequilafortaleza.com. Distributed locally by trumanandorange.com.

HOPE ON HOPKINS ESPERANZA BLANCO: Made from crushed blue agave from the Karoo, this 100% agave spirit, made by the duo behind Cape Town’s first gin distillery, has bright agave flavours on the nose and distinct floral and butterscotch notes. hopeonhopkins.co.za

LEONISTA BLANCO KAROO AGAVE: Sarah Kennan learnt traditional techniques from master distillers in Mexico to produce this sipper. It’s distilled from blue agave, which is baked in a clay oven to produce a sexy smokiness. leonista.co.za


Cape Town bartender AJ Snetler from Twankey Bar came up with this stunner:

Combine 50 ml Fortaleza Blanco, 20 ml beetroot juice, 20 ml pineapple juice, 25 ml lime cordial and 20 ml cinnamon syrup* in a cocktail shaker with ice.

Shake, strain and serve immediately.

*To make the cinnamon syrup, simmer 1 cup sugar, 1 cup water and 1 cinnamon stick for 15 minutes.

Win one of two bottles of Fortaleza Blanco tequila, worth R750 each.

Competition closes 27 May 2018.
Enter here now.

TASTE Article by: TASTE

The TASTE team is a happy bunch of keen cooks and writers, always on the look out for the next food trend or the next piece of cake.

Social Media

You might be interested in...