Mezcal: A Journey Through Mexico’s Heritage Spirit

A Mezcal Cocktail with plant decoration in a pot
Nahima Aparicio - Unsplash

Mezcal, the vibrant soul of Mexico’s spirit tradition, uniquely stands out as an alcoholic beverage crafted from various Agave plants. Deeply rooted in Mexico, this distilled spirit boasts rich, complex flavors and carries a history stretching back to pre-colonial times. Renowned for its distinct production process, which involves earthen pits and the careful slow-roasting of agave hearts, mezcal proudly symbolizes the meticulous craftsmanship of its distillers, known as Mezcaleros.

What is Mezcal?

Mezcal, a traditional Mexican spirit, primarily comes from the core of the agave plant (the ‘piña’), combined with water and yeast. Distillers craft this beverage to exhibit a range of flavor profiles, from smoky and earthy to sweet and fruity, influenced by the type of agave and the production methods they use. Typically, mezcal features an alcohol content between 40% to 55%, characterizing it as both potent and rich in flavor.

Where is the spirit made? – Regions and Verietes

Mezcal is produced in various regions across Mexico, each contributing its unique flavor profile to this diverse spirit. These regions, with their distinct environmental conditions, shape the character of the mezcal they produce. Here, we delve into the notable flavor notes from each mezcal-producing area:

Region Flavor Notes
Oaxaca Rich, smoky, and earthy, with citrus and floral undertones.
Durango Known for mineral and herbaceous notes, often slightly sweeter.
Zacatecas Light and floral, accented with spice and peppery touches.
San Luis Potosí Fresh and vegetal, with green, leafy notes and mild citrus.
Guanajuato A balanced blend of sweet, spicy, and earthy tones.
Tamaulipas Unique, featuring sweet and fruity notes, sometimes with a salty nuance.
Michoacán Robust, woody, and earthy, offering a complex, layered experience.
Agave field
Photo from “House of Tequila”

How to drink Mezcal?

There are several enjoyable ways to savor mezcal, each offering a unique taste experience:

  • Shot: Drinking the spirit as a straight shot brings out its robust flavor profile directly.
  • On the Rocks: Enjoying this agave-based beverage over ice slightly mellows its potency, gradually revealing its complex notes.
  • Cocktail: Mixing mezcal in cocktails combines it with other flavors, enhancing its natural character for a nuanced taste.
  • Highball: For a lighter taste, mix mezcal with a non-alcoholic mixer, offering a refreshing flavor experience.
  • With Citrus: Serving this unique liquour with a slice of orange or lemon emphasizes its citrus undertones for a vibrant taste.
  • Sipping Slowly: Gradually sipping the Mexican distillate allows you to explore and appreciate the depth of flavors in each variety.
Agave production with a man and fire
Mary West – Unsplash
Harvesting agave for Mezcal
Photo from “House of Tequila”

Production Process – From Plant to Spirit

The creation of this traditional Mexican spirit is a meticulous process that involves traditional methods and skilled craftsmanship:


  • Agave Plant Core (Piña)
  • Water
  • Yeast (often naturally occurring)

Production Steps:

  1. Harvesting the Agave:
    • The process begins with ‘Jimadores’ skillfully harvesting mature agave plants.
    • They extract the piñas, which are then roasted in earthen pits to develop a smoky essence, a characteristic flavor of mezcal.
  2. Fermentation:
    • Next, the roasted piñas undergo fermentation.
    • In this critical stage, water and yeast are added, transforming the roasted agave into a fermenting liquid, setting the stage for mezcal’s unique flavor profile.
  3. Distillation:
    • The final step is distillation, which purifies and refines the spirit.
    • This phase demands patience and precision, ensuring the spirit embodies the rich character of Mexican tradition.

Unique Production Methods

Mezcal’s production involves a variety of unique methods, each contributing to its rich and diverse flavor profile. Here are some notable techniques:

  1. Pechuga: Involves a third distillation with raw chicken or turkey breast (pechuga), fruits, and spices, enriching the mezcal with a fuller, complex flavor.
  2. Ensamble: A blend of different agave types in one batch, aiming to create a layered flavor profile that celebrates agave diversity.
  3. Tobalá with Salmiana Blend: Combines Tobalá and Salmiana agaves, producing a mezcal with sweet, fruity, and mildly astringent notes.
  4. Tepextate: Utilizes the wild Tepextate agave, known for earthy and mineral-rich flavors due to the plant’s long maturation.
  5. Jabali: Employs Jabali agave, characterized by acidic and citrusy flavors, known for a labor-intensive, foaming fermentation process.
  6. Minero: Uses traditional clay pots in distillation, giving the mezcal an earthy flavor reminiscent of ancient techniques.

Additionally, while not a mezcal production method, Pulque—made from fermented agave sap—shares a historical connection with the beverage, enriching the narrative of Mexico’s alcoholic beverages.

Agave field with a town in the background
Zyanya BMO – Unsplash

Different Agave Varieties in Mezcal Production

Selecting the right agave variety is crucial in the production, with each type contributing distinct characteristics to the spirit. Here are several key agave varieties used in mezcal, each bringing its own attributes:

  1. Espadin: Widely used, Espadin agave imparts sweet and fruity flavors, making it a popular choice.
  2. Tobalá: This wild agave species is known for its intricate and floral flavor profile.
  3. Tepeztate: Celebrated for an earthy, mineral-rich taste, Tepeztate is a wild variety that matures slowly over many years.
  4. Arroqueño: A rarer agave type, Arroqueño is appreciated for its blend of sweet and citrusy flavors.
  5. Barril: This wild variety is notable for adding spicy and herbal elements to mezcal.
  6. Cuixe: Cuixe agave stands out with its distinctively vegetal and earthy tones.
  7. Madrecuixe: Known for producing mezcals with a robust and intricate flavor spectrum, Madrecuixe is another sought-after wild species.
Picture of the different available Bozal Mezcal Bottles
Bozal is a popular brand with several styles and flavors. Pic from: Untapped Media – Bozal

Tasting Notes and Food Pairings

Explore the flavor spectrum of Mezcal

Tasting Notes

  1. Smoky: Mezcal often exhibits a warm and earthy smokiness.
  2. Citrusy: Expect vibrant, tangy notes in many varieties.
  3. Herbaceous: Flavors that mirror the rich flora surrounding the agave.
  4. Spicy: A hint of heat adds complexity to the spirit.
  5. Floral: Delicate, fragrant notes are typical in mezcals from certain regions.

Food Pairings

  • Grilled Meats: They beautifully complement mezcal’s smoky essence.
  • Seafood: Seafood’s freshness pairs well with mezcal’s citrusy aspects.
  • Aged Cheeses: These cheeses can balance the robust nature of mezcal.
  • Chocolate: Surprisingly, chocolate highlights the spirit’s sweeter nuances.
  • Spicy Dishes: Spicy foods match mezcal’s own spicy notes, creating a balanced taste experience.

A Fusion of History and Tradition

Mezcal, blending its historical roots with enduring traditions, powerfully embodies Mexican heritage:

  • Historical Beginnings: Indigenous groups in Mexico initially used the maguey plant for various societal needs, setting the stage for mezcal’s unique development.
  • Evolution through Cultures: The arrival of Spanish colonization dramatically reshaped mezcal. It skillfully merged ancient indigenous methods with new techniques, thus enhancing its flavor complexities.
  • Regional Contributions: Regions like Oaxaca, Durango, and Zacatecas, each with their distinct environments, have become crucial to mezcal production, infusing the spirit with unique local flavors.
  • Family and Rituals: For generations, families have been handcrafting mezcal, often weaving it into spiritual ceremonies to honor nature and ancestral methods. Moreover, they continue the tradition of roasting agave hearts in earthen pits, imparting the signature smoky flavor that defines this smoky spirit.
  • Modern-Day Significance: Today, this unique liqour proudly represents the rich cultural mosaic of Mexico, mirroring the resilience and vibrancy of its history and people.

To dive deeper into mezcal’s captivating history, explore the detailed history of mezcal.

Explore Mexico’s Mezcal Distilleries

Discover the unique character and traditions of Mexico’s top mezcal distilleries:

Distillery Name Location Characteristic Flavors
Del Maguey Single Village Santa Catarina Minas, Oaxaca Complex, Multi-layered Flavors
Los Amantes Tlacolula, Oaxaca Rich, Earthy Profile
El Jardin de Agave Miahuatlán, Oaxaca Smoky, Citrus Notes
Mezcal Vago Candelaria Yegolé, Oaxaca Herbaceous, Minerally
Real Minero Santa Catarina Minas, Oaxaca Floral, Spicy Undertones
La Medida Mitla, Oaxaca Vegetal, Fresh Notes
Rey Campero Candelaria Yegolé, Oaxaca Rich, Complex Profile
Nuestra Soledad Santiago Matatlán, Oaxaca Earthy, Citrus Highlights
Mezcal Alipus San Juan del Rio, Oaxaca Fruity, Spicy Nuances
Marca Negra Ejutla, Oaxaca Complex, Smoky Notes


Mexican Flag
Alexander Schimmeck – Unsplash

What separates it from Tequila?

Mezcal and Tequila, both made from agave, have distinct differences. Mezcal is produced in various Mexican regions using over 30 types of agave and often features a smoky flavor due to earthen pit roasting. In contrast, Tequila, primarily made from blue agave, is typically produced in the Jalisco region with a smoother, sometimes herbal flavor profile. To understand their differences, including production processes, aging categories, and cultural perceptions, read our detailed comparison between Mezcal and Tequila.

Mezcal worm: Con Gusano

The “gusano,” or worm, found in some bottles is a larva from a moth that inhabits the agave plant. Initially introduced in the 1940s as a marketing strategy, it has become a topic of intrigue, although it does not enhance the mezcal’s flavor or potency. Learn more about the Mezcal Worm and its role in the traditional Mexican spirit culture.

Famous Mezcal Brands

For those interested in delving deeper into this smoky spirit’s diverse offerings, discover the famous mezcal brands that have earned acclaim for their exceptional quality and distinctive flavors.

Del Maguey Vida Mezcal
Photo from “House of Tequila”


Mezcal, deeply embedded in the rich tapestry of Mexican traditions, stands as a powerful symbol of history and spirituality. Moreover, this complex beverage, made from diverse agave types, presents a flavor profile that sets it apart significantly from tequila. Furthermore, selecting a premium variant involves actively considering its origin, production methods, and agave varieties. Additionally, exploring this smoky spirit can be an adventurous journey, whether savoring it in a cocktail or pairing it expertly with various foods. Also, the intriguing inclusion of a “gusano,” or worm, in some mezcal bottles, initially a marketing strategy from the 1940s, continues to spark discussion and curiosity among mezcal enthusiasts.