Tequila and Mezcal: Exploring the Drinks of Mexico

Alcohol in Mexico

We’ve all heard of Tequila. The highly exported drink is well-known to give headbanging hangovers and to come in shot glasses with salt and lime. Unbeknown to me, however, was Mezcal. This spirit was first introduced to us by our Airbnb hosts in Mexico City. From the first taste I had of it, I can’t say I was a big fan. It’s a drink made in Mexico and the locals love it. I knew somewhere down the line I’d probably try some more. This certainly happened.

Both Tequila and Mezcal are made from the Agave plant.

Mitch and I had the pleasure of visiting both a Tequila and a Mezcal distillery. They are in different regions of Mexico and our experiences at each could not have been more different. From a big international brand to a man on a farm, both trips have been highlights of my travels in Mexico so far.

Visiting Tequila, Mexico

Back in the UK, when somebody would hand me a shot of Tequila I would wince and say “Really?”

I hated Tequila.

But, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. During our stay in Guadalajara, we were an hour away from the hometown of Tequila: Tequila. We decided to go on a day trip to the charming little town. When we arrived, we realised that it would have been nice to spend a couple of days there, but, hey ho.

The town of Tequila is lovely

We headed to the original tequila distillery of Jose Cuervo, a Tequila brand known all over the world. They had a variety of tours and so we opted for the second cheapest option: the standard distillery tour plus a tasting afterwards. During the tour, you receive plenty of samples, so we were dubious about whether we should have booked the tasting. However, the tasting was our favourite part.

The select few of us who booked the tasting were taken into a room and we were greeted with three champagne classes full of three different types of Tequila. Next to it was some pallet-cleansing snacks and a glass of water. Our tour guide sat us down and we tried each Tequila while he told us about the differences between each one (basically how long each one had been in the barrel). It really tasted good. Strong, but good.

Tequila tasting

You see, the good Tequila is made from 100% Agave; the shit stuff we have in England is 50% Agave. The latter is meant to be used for mixing and for cocktails, not for slammers with lime and salt. When we told our guide this is how we drank Tequila in the UK, he frowned and said this is not what should be done. For him, Tequila is an aged drink which needs to be appreciated, like an old whisky. As we drank it, I did appreciate it and enjoy it a lot more.

It was his last tour of the day and so the half an hour tasting turned into an hour as we all chatted and enjoyed the Tequila. It was great. We were sad to get on the bus home later that evening.

Drinking Minero Mezcal, Oaxaca

I was soon to become very acquainted with mezcal. One sunny Sunday afternoon, we joined our Airbnb host and his girlfriend on the rooftop of their apartment. We chatted, drank beer, and tried some local mezcal. I didn’t like it so much; it was very strong. However, they told us that the next day they were going to visit a local distillery and asked us if we’d like to go. Of course, we said.

Tasting the mezcal during the fermentation process

Minero is a small village in Oaxaca. It’s about an hour outside of Oaxaca city and to get there we took a bus and then a taxi. After the taxi, we walked ten minutes down a dirt path until we came to a very rural farm. There were children running around, two cows munching on hay, a chicken coop, and some very loud goats. We wandered around and found the Mezcal distillery part of the farm. Of course, it was very small compared to anything we saw in Tequila. Rachel (our Airbnb host’s girlfriend) explained the process to us in English. This Mezcal of this region is famous as it’s all processed in clay, rather than copper.

The mezcal maker joined us later on, and we all sat in his hut where he keeps the mezcal in large plastic barrels. This guy is amazing. He could tell the percentage of the mezcal by looking at the bubbles which were made when you poured the mezcal into a glass (honestly). Depending on their size and how long they lasted, he could say “Hey, that’s 49.5%.” When the alcohol testers visited and tested the mezcal, sure enough, it was 49.5%.

He gave us samples, LOTS of samples. We arrived about 5.30pm and left about 10.30pm. We spent 5 hours on this farm. He even took us for a walk out into the fields where he grows the agave. We went out with our drinks and watched the sun go down over the fields. It was incredible.

Drinking mezcal in the fields

We bought a bottle from him for £20. In the USA it would probably go for $100. Always buy from the source!

His home was so simple, his family were very friendly and welcoming, and he seemed so happy. He didn’t have all the fancy machinery, and he didn’t charge people a few hundred pesos to look around. He just did what he loved, made some great mezcal, and earned a good amount from people coming to visit his distillery.

Which One is Best?

I was going to write Tequila. However, after Mitch, some new acquaintances in San Cristobal, and I finished off our bottle of mezcal from the farm, I felt sad that it was gone. Mitch and I both know that we will never drink Mezcal that good again. The UK hardly imports Mezcal and, even if we do find any, it’s not going to be as fresh or as local as what we had in Oaxaca.

Two very different drinks

I have a new found appreciation for Tequila. I still won’t enjoy drinking a shot of it in a bar because it’ll be the 50% agave stuff. If I’m in the UK and somebody gives me a 100% agave Tequila, then I will happily take it and sip it, without any salt or lime.

Have you tried mezcal or tequila while in Mexico?

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