Whilst both are made from the same plant, that is about all these two Mexican spirits have in common.
Lets have a look at what makes these two amazing spirits so different.
1. They use different agave plants.
Both originating from the agave plant; however, there are some 50 types of agave plant which can produce mezcal versus the singular 'agave tequilana', also known as blue agave, that can produce tequila.
What this means is tequila is a type of mezcal but not all mezcal is tequila, very similar to how bourbon is a type of whisky.
2. They're made in different regions of Mexico.
Another difference between the two spirits is the regions in which they are grown and produced.
Whilst there is some overlap in regions tequila is produced in five places: Michoacán, Guanajuato, Nayarit, Tamaulipas and (primarily) Jalisco whilst mezcal is produce in nine: Durango, Guanajuato, Guerrero, San Luis Potosi, Tamaulipas, Zacatecas, Michoacán, Puebla and Oaxaca.
3. The agaves are cooked and distilled differently.
Tequila and mezcal also differ in how the agave they use is cooked to make the spirit. Whilst they are both made from the harvested core of the agave known as the "piña", their treatment is different.
Tequila is produced by steaming the piña above ground before distilling two or more times in copper pot stills.
Mezcal however is cooked in pits in the ground that are lined in heated rocks, wood and charcoal. This barbecuing drying process gives the spirit its smokey flavour. Once cooked the agave is then distilled in clay pots.
4. They have different flavour profiles.
The overall differences in the selection, processing and distilling of the agave plants is what gives the differing results in flavour profiles between tequila and mezcal.
Tequila tends to be sweeter than mezcal as well as fruity and toasty. Mezcal tastes of smoke and earth with vegetal, savoury notes to it.
5. Differing ABVs
Tequilas generally have an ABV of roughly 40% where as Mezcal generally is much higher around the 50-55% area.
So whilst these two amazing Mexican spirits derive from the same plant its clear that's the only similarity they share. It's amazing that such a different experience can come from the same origins, but that's truly the case when it comes to these spirits.
There's definitely room for both in your bar and I wouldn't be surprised if Mezcal cements itself as a spirit staple over the next decade much like its sibling Tequila. And by the way, the little invertebrate critter included as a novelty in some bottles? Despite the popular name of "tequila worm", it's only ever included in mezcal, and is the larva of a moth which feeds on agave.