This is the reasons why tequila and mezcal are so expensive
This is the reason why tequila And mezcal are so expensive. Mezcal is gaining more popularity now, but many people don’t seem to know what’s the difference between tequila and mezcal. So, let’s dig into the differences.
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This is the Reasons why tequila and mezcal are so expensive
Do you know the reasons why tequila and mezcal are so expensive? Both spirits use agave, that’s where the similarities end.
How about the taste? Mezcal has a lot of smokier nose than tequila.
How about the production? Mezcal takes a lot longer to grow. Additionally, it requires much more manual labor than tequila production. The higher price of mezcal is its reflections.
Let’s go into details:
There are so many reasons why tequila is expensive. Body, flavor intensity, and overall sophistication increase (along with the value) as the quality level rises. You should sip a high-quality tequila like whiskey – you need to enjoy the quality. Shot should be done by only a cheap one. The pricing continues to rise due to the agave shortage.
- All tequilas are mezcals: tequila is a type of mezcal, much like how scotch and bourbon are types of whiskey.
- To be qualified as tequila, tequila must come from Tequila regions in Mexico: Michoacán, Guanajuato, Nayarit, Tamaulipas, and Jalisco.
- Tequila use only blue agave (agave tequilana) with 7-10 years to mature: While grapes, wheat, or corn can be harvested a few months to a few years later before being processed and distilled into alcohol, the blue agave plants take about 10 years to grow before they’re ready to be harvested for tequila.
- Must use at least 51 % of agave sap sugar: Either corn or cane sugar would be the rest. The best are made with 100 % blue agave, so if the bottle in your hand isn’t bragging that fact, it’s a blend of agave and other sugars that’s been nicknamed a mixtos.
- Labor intensive: The labor-intensive harvesting is done by hand by agave farmers (“jimadores”).
- Aging in oak barrels: Age plays a big part in quality and cost.
“Mixto” and “100% agave”
Mixto tequilas: made with no less than 51% agave, with the other 49% usually being fermented sugar cane juice. It’s very sweet in both smell and taste. However, the flavor usually stops there: often harsh in flavor, burn on the way down, and thus are inferior to other tequilas – only good for cocktails.
Golden-colored mixtos are called joven (young) or oro (gold) tequilas and have oak flavoring and coloring added. The reason these are made in the first place is because they’re affordable to make for producers and, cheap for the consumers.
“100% agave:” this means that the tequila in question was made with only blue agave.
Super labor-intensive production
- Agave harvesting: When ready to be harvested, the spiny leaves and roots are cut off the main plant body, called the agave heart or piña, which goes to processing.
- Process the agave: The hearts are slowly baked, which can sometimes take days. The slow cooking reduces caramelization and prevents the juices from turning bitter, thus maintaining the flavor of the agave.
- Crush the agave: Afterwards, the cooked hearts are crushed to release their sugary juices. This can be done by a mechanical crusher and grinder, or by the traditional way using a volcanic stone wheel called a tahona. Historically, a mule pulled the tahona, but these days an electric motor does the job. In theory, this slower practice of extracting agave nectar that will be fermented and distilled creates a more robust and complex flavor.
- Ferment the agave into tequila: The extracted juices are then fermented and twice-distilled as dictated by regulations. The distilled alcohol can then be bottled straight away or aged in wooden containers.
- Blanco (silver or Plato): 0-2 months. Actually, the best to use in a margarita. “Joven” is a blanco that’s been flavored with caramel or other coloring sources. The flavors and aromas can be herbal, floral, citric, and a bit fruity. Vegetal notes of poblano and green pepper can predominate.
- Reposado: 2-12 months in oak barrels to gain its color. Their color is usually a softened, amber color. The flavors will be a bit woodier and less herbal, with hints of vanilla, butter, and brown sugar.
- Anejo: 1-3 years in small barrels. The colors will be darker and more golden from the extended time spent aging in wood. Expect a much smoother tequila with big notes of spice, earth, smoke, vanilla, caramel, and peat.
- Extra añejo (“extra aged”): at least 3 years. The flavor is intensely woody, with a more pronounced burnt caramel flavor similar to very aged whiskey or even rye.
Mezcal is one of the most difficult alcoholic products to make in the world. There are so many uncontrollable variables that affect the outcome of the spirit: weather, wild yeast for fermentation, the wood to cook the agave, the cooking time, etc.
- Any agave-based liquor, which includes tequila
- Not all mezcals are tequilas
- More than 30 varieties of agave: tobalá, tobaziche, tepeztate, arroqueño and espadín.
- Made in Durango, Guanajuato, Guerrero, San Luis Potosi, Tamaulipas, Zacatecas, Michoacán, Puebla and Oaxaca.
- Both use the harvested core of the agave plant.
- Cooked in earthen pits – lined with lava rocks. Wood and charcoal give the smokiness in mezcal. Some large mezcal producers have adopted modern methods.
- Aging in oak barrels
- Aging category: joven (blanco or abacado/0-2 months), reposado (2-12 months), anejo (at least one year), extra añejo: “extra aged”(at least 3 years)
Mezcal agave takes long time to grow
The agaves used to produce mezcal take a lot of time to grow.
- Espadín: the most common varietal and the easiest to grow takes from 7 to 14 years.
- Tobala: it takes an average of 17 years to mature.
- Tepeztate: it takes 30-35 years to grow.
Mezcal is hard to reach
Most of the Mexican states where mezcals are produced are some of the most remote in the country. When traveling to the distillery, there’s a point when you have to park your car and hike the rest of the way in. The terrain is so uneven that they don’t even have a tahona. Some producers only make a couple of hundred bottles, or fewer, at a time. So, they must be packed in a container with multiple brands of different mezcals to get them across the border, which drives up the cost.
- Many varieties currently only grow in the wild: a less reliable ingredient than any other ingredients for spirits – corn, barley, even tequila’s Blue Weber agave is much more predictable crops.
- Different agave plants yield wildly variable amounts of alcohol. While one espadín piña can yield approximately 7 liters of mezcal, a similarly sized tobala piña will make only a half a liter of mezcal.
Super labor-intensive production
- No machines involved in traditional harvesting: a machete and an ax.
- The heart of the agave plant (its piña) must be unearthed
- Each tenacious plant is removed from the ground by hand.
- The leaves of the plant are trimmed off by hand since it can have a big impact on the flavor.
- Donkeys and horses are often used to carry the heavy piñas from hard to reach spots, as many areas are not accessible by truck.
- The core of the agave plant roasted in an underground pit for more than 4 days to caramelize the sugars and proteins to make them into a fermentable product. Mezcaleros dig the pits.
- Then crushed either by a stone wheel (tahona) often pulled by burro or horse or with a machete.
- The cooked agave is transferred to large wooden vats for fermentation that lasts for several days, or even up to a week.
- After fermentation, the pulpy liquid is distilled in rudimentary stills often made by hand by the mezcalero. The stills are rustic and heated by wood fire. The mezcalero (distiller) does everything using intuition and the knowledge passed down from previous generations. Hardworking mezcaleros may actually be some of the most underpaid in the spirits world.
How should you drink?
Tequila has gained popularity as a margarita. The tequila shot became stable for college kids. I highly recommend you to sip some of the quality tequila like whiskey. You don’t want to miss the taste quality.
Traditionally, Mexican people enjoy it with a slice of orange and worm salt. Nowadays, you might find that “worm” – a caterpillar in some of the least expensive bottles. Lately, bartenders have embraced mezcal in traditional and modern recipes.
Long Island Lou Tequila
Conclusion: Now you know the differences between tequila and mezcal. Unlike other spirits, the productions require a lot more labors. You should drink high quality ones like whiskey, not chug like a college student! You can find so many different types of tequila and mezcal. Go to "Total wine" and ask the staff! I often try their advice and find some cool stuff. The price and varieties are amazing!
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