The main difference between tequila and mezcal is the method of production. Mezcal dates back almost 500 years to the arrival of the Spaniards, who brought the art of distillation to Mexico. Tequila came later. Originally it was called "mezcal produced in the town of Tequila," which is far north of Oaxaca, in the state of Jalisco. Today, tequila is made in factories, in high volume, and known around the world.I haven't noticied any mezcal for sale in liquor stores around here, but I'll probably be checking into that in the near future. The mezcal cocktails we had last night at Frontera were pretty spectacular - they had a powerful smokiness that reminded me of some scotches I've had.
But mezcal is still hand-crafted and rustic. Like tequila, it starts with the hearts of the agave plant, known as pinas because they look like enormous green and white pineapples. For mezcal, the pinas are roasted in a pit dug in the ground. A wood fire heats a layer of rocks, and the pinas go on top, protected from direct contact with the rocks by a layer of agave fiber. Covered with more fiber, and then woven mats or canvas and earth, the pinas roast for several days and are then crushed, fermented in wood tanks and distilled, usually in a copper still.
May 14, 2003