Mezcal is a distilled liquor made from a type of agave plant known as maguey. This plant is native to Mexico and mezcal is specifically made in the state of Oaxaca; it is only mezcal if it comes from Oaxaca.
Tequila is closely related to mezcal because they are both made from agave, just different varieties of the plant. However, they are processed in different ways so it makes them different liquors, and, all tequila is mezcal, but not all mezcal is tequila.
Because mezcal and tequila are both made from agave, they do have similar underlying flavors; however, mezcal has a much smokier and earthier taste. The taste of mezcal depends on the aging process—the flavor gets smokier and more intense as it ages.
There are three types of mezcal: white, which is not aged at all; reposado, which is aged two to nine months in wooden barrels; and, anejo, which is aged at least 12 months, if not longer. Some mezcals can be aged up to four years and the longer the aging process, the more intense the flavors and colors.
The most popular way to drink mezcal is as a shot with salt and limes, but recently mezcal has become popular in cocktails. It can be difficult to make mezcal cocktails because the smoky flavor can often overpower the other flavors in the drink. However, lime, strawberry, grapefruit, lemon, orange, and elderflower work well. Chili spices like ancho or cayenne are also a great pairing. Try as many different flavors as you can and you will find something you enjoy.
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