As one of the most regulated spirits in the world, tequila and mezcal have gained increasing popularity in recent years. In fact, tequila is known as the first product to receive a denomination of origin outside of Europe.
Co-founder of COA in Hong Kong (Asia’s Best Bar 2021), Jay Khan has passionately been educating the market on 100 per cent agave tequila and traditional mezcal, helping put these spirits on the map in Southeast Asia. We talk to him to learn more about these hot-topic tipples.
“One special characteristic about both tequila and mezcal is the amount of time it requires to make them. Just the raw ingredient for tequila (blue agave) takes an average of six to eight years to mature before it is ready to harvest,” he remarks, underscoring the delicacy and nuances attributed to the production process of what is often called one of the least understood spirits. “Some varieties of agave used for Mezcal can take as long as 30 years,” he adds, saying that “they are very terroir driven, just like wine.” The liquor’s flavour profile often reflects the terrain that it’s produced in ways that not many others are able to.
Clearly region and terroir are key to not only the natural materials, but also the name for each of these spirits. However, remember that all tequilas are mezcal, but not all mezals are tequilas.
While both are made from the fermented juices of the agave plant, for tequila location is everything. This beverage is only allowed to be produced in Mexico, in five specific states: Jalisco, Nayarit, Michoacan, Guanajuato, Tamaulipas. Khan tells us that Jalisco is the dominant state responsible for 90% of all tequila exports today. For Mezcal, Oaxaca is currently responsible for a majority of today’s product. Much like Champange, these too are region-specific. “If a spirit is made outside [of the area] it needs to be called something else. Most often [they are] called Agave spirits,” he says.
The many fans of the more notable smokey, deep, caramel flavours of agave liquors remain unsure of the exact differences between tequila and mezcal, but a key bit of information to take note of is that tequila is only allowed to be produced from a single variety (blue agave), while mezcal can be made from a variety of agave variants. “As many as 40 or more,” Khan comments. Out of 166 agave variants, 125 come from Mexico, and tequila can only be made from one.