What is Mezcal

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

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Mezcal is a specialty agave-based spirit with an interesting production process and a long tradition.

What is Mezcal?

Mezcal is a distilled spirit made from any variety of agave plant, which is mainly found in Mexico. It is often associated with the other famous Mexican spirit, tequila; however, tequila is made specifically from the blue agave plant.

Mezcal is made from the ‘heart’ of the agave plant, also called as the piña, which is cooked underground, in small, rock-faced pits for over three days. This slow cooking process causes smoke to infuse the agave with a deep, woody, and earthen taste for which it is renowned.

Legally, this alcohol must be made with 100% agave, making it suitable for gluten-intolerant people and keeping it reassuringly free of artificial ingredients. It can only be made in allocated states in Mexico. Its alcohol content varies but can be as high as 55%. Like tequila, it may also contain worms, which some people actually eat.


As it can be made from over 30 different types of the agave plant, there are many different types and flavors. Mezcal production is a specialized, artisanal process that is reflected in its price. The companies producing and exporting the drink tend to be much smaller than those producing tequila.

  • The majority of this liquor is made from Espadín, and the flavor of this is most similar to tequila of all the mezcals.
  • Tobalá mezcal is made from a rare and wild-growing variety of agave and offers interesting, rich and fruity flavors.
  • Like tequila, mezcal comes in a freshly distilled ‘Blanco’ variation, or it can also be aged in wooden barrels.
  • An aging of two to nine months makes a Reposado variation of the spirit.
  • An aging of one to three years makes an Añejo.

Health Benefits 

There are a number of potential health benefits of this artisanal alcohol when consumed in moderation. These include the following:

  • Stimulating appetite
  • Promoting better digestion
  • Regulating blood sugar
  • Lowering cholesterol level

How to drink?

There are many different ways to drink mezcal, including the following:

  • Traditionally, in Mexico, this liquor is taken neat and at room temperature. Experts suggest that it is a drink to be savored.
  • As a dry drink, it can make a good aperitif or be added to cocktails. However, this might be considered a waste of the intense and complex flavor palate by some.
  • Common additions to neat mezcal include sliced lemon, orange or lime, ground-fried larvae, worm salt or ground chili peppers.

Word of Caution: As with any alcoholic beverage, consume mezcal in moderation to avoid side effects of intoxication, sickness, and headaches. Ensure your mezcal is from a registered and reputable distillery.

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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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