What are Tequila & Mezcal?

Tequila and mezcal for sale in Mexico.

© Shutterstock


Tequila and mezcal for sale in Mexico.

© Shutterstock


Tequila is the most well-known version of the agave spirit mezcal, distilled from the succulent heart of the agave plant. Both must have an ABV of between 35-55%. The portion of agave has to be at least 51% – but the best Tequila is made from 100% agave.

The agave’s fleshy heart, or piña, is harvested, cooked in large ovens to make its sugars fermentable, then mashed into a pulp. The remaining fibre can be used as fuel or animal feed. The pulp is then fermented. The resulting alcoholic liquid is distilled into ordinario, and then distilled again into clear Tequila. This is sold as white or silver Tequila. Aged versions, like reposado, añejo or extra añejo are matured in barrel.

  • Blanco (white) or plata (silver) – unaged Reposado – aged for a minimum of two months but less than a year
  • Añejo – aged for a minimum of one year but less than three
  • Extra Añejo – aged for a minimum of three years but many exceed this


Mezcal must be made from 100% agave and more varieties of agave are permitted, resulting in much more varied flavour. Production is usually more artisanal, using traditional brick ovens, hornos, or clay ovens, hornos de tierra.

Mezcal must be bottled at the distillery, or palenque, where it is made. It can be produced in the Mexican states of Durango, Zacatecas, Michoacán, Puebla, Guerrero, Tamaulipas, San Luis Potosí, Guanajuato and Oaxaca – but most of it is made in Oaxaca.