When we think of Mexico, one of the first things that come to mind is “Tequila.” Yes, that delicious alcoholic drink that is commonly served with a slice of lemon and salt, and that the bravest ones can drink all at once.
Tequila is a complex and delicious spirit that dates back to the 16th century, from pre-Hispanic times, when agave was already of great importance in the culture. However, it was not until the Spanish colonization (who brought the distillation process with them) that this spirit was born.
If you’re a Tequila lover, then I’m sure you’re no stranger to Mezcal. According to one of the leading news sites in Mexico, El Universal, “Any distillate derived from an agave plant is a mezcal, only mezcal that is made with 51% or more of blue agave can be called tequila.”
Although both drinks are obtained from the fermentation and distillation of agave, the key differentiators between Tequila and Mezcal are the raw materials and the production process. In the case of Tequila, only blue agave (known as "tequilana webber") can be used. On the other hand, Mezcal is made from different agave varieties and diverse processes.
Due to the differences in the manufacturing process and types of agave used, the taste profile changes from one another. One of the main characteristics of Mezcal is its smokiness as a result of how the agave plants are prepared before fermentation. The mezcal production process usually involves roasting maguey piña in earthen pits which give the drink a unique smoky flavor.
Nonetheless, there is another remarkable difference between these two spirits:
The Powerful Marketing Behind Them
Tequila is undoubtedly one of the most emblematic drinks that Mexico has ever created. This alcoholic drink is at its peak, with some major artists like George Clooney, Kendall Jenner, Adam Levine, and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson profiting from it.
Tequila’s marketing strategy is to promote tradition, culture, and the identity of Mexico. Digital marketing has become very important for this drink. For instance, let’s take a look at one of the most famous Tequilas in Mexico, Don Julio. According to the Brand Finance 2019 report, Tequila Don Julio “increased its market value 77% in the last year and went from 41st to 26th place among the most valuable in Mexico.” This brand changed its strategy into one that is looking to reconnect with its Mexican roots.
Mezcal has been around for a longer time than Tequila. This drink has gained popularity in recent years, thanks to its new marketing strategy. Mezcal protects its traditions and how people around the world perceive it: the ultimate handcrafted “artisanal” drink. One effective trick that sold its way to the top is with a hint of a little worm.
Wait, What… A Little Worm in my Drink?
Yes, my friend, you read that right! Many Tequila drinkers believe that a worm is added to this drink, however, this goes back to Mezcal's myths and legends.
Firstly, that “little worm” is called “Gusano de Maguey” (Maguey worm) and it grows in the roots of the Maguey or Agave. This worm is a typical insect from Oaxaca, the motherland of Mezcal. During the rainy season, they gnaw on the stems and the leaves. Fun fact: In Mexico, they like to cook these little worms and eat them in a taco with guacamole (and it’s delicious!)
The origin of this tradition remains uncertain. There are plenty of myths about how it began, but some people believe that it started when Mezcal distillers found a way to test if the drink was suitable for human consumption. They would drop the worm into the bottle, and if it's still wriggling when it hits the bottom, then the product is safe to drink. Others believe that a worm in their bottle causes the drink to have " magical and aphrodisiac properties" And a few think it was added to provide a unique and distinct flavor to the beverage.
As worms found their way into batches of Mezcal, Mezcal’s marketing trick was born: To deliberately include a worm in the bottles and spread an intriguing myth about why it was added. Today, we can all agree that this marketing strategy surely paid off. It gives Mezcal a distinct character and also helps distinguish it from Tequila.
Just as a note, don’t expect to find the little worm in all Mezcal bottles. This practice is mostly centered in the municipality of Santiago Matatlán, in Oaxaca.
In essence, all Tequilas variants are Mezcals, but not every Mezcal is a Tequila. You can begin drinking Mezcal and Tequila cocktails with confidence as you explore the variety of flavors that come with these spirits.
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