Mezcal is a Mexican alcoholic beverage similar to tequila that is made from the fermented juice of agave plants. Its characteristic smoky flavor is imbued before fermentation when agave piñas are cooked underground. Mezcal can be made from many varieties of agave, and mezcal producers often distinguish their products by the type of agave used. \n\n\nIn pre-Columbian Mexico, indigenous people made pulque, an un-distilled alcoholic beverage from the fermented maguey plant, a member of the agave family. In the sixteenth century, Spanish colonizers distilled pulque to produce mezcal. The word “mezcal” comes from the Nahuatl word for agave plant, *mexcalmetl*. *Mezcal con gusano* (mezcal with a worm in the bottle) became common in the 1940s and ’50s, likely developed as a way to spark foreign interest in mezcal—the idea being that the strength of the liquor would keep the worm preserved. \n\n\nThe mezcal production process varies, but the traditional, artisanal process involves:\n\n1. __Harvest the agave heart or piña__: Agave plants are very large and can take up to 10 years to mature. When they’re ready for harvest, the outer leaves are cut away from the heart, which provides the *aguamiel* (honey water)—the agave juice that the palenques (distillers) use to make mezcal.\n2. __Cook the piña__: The piñas are placed in pits and covered with hot rocks and matting. The hearts are roasted underground for several days. Cooking the piña gives mezcal its characteristic smoky flavor. \n3. __Ferment__: Whole cooked agave hearts are fermented in wooden barrels for up to one month. \n4. __Distill__: The whole fermented piñas are distilled twice to create mezcal. For *mezcal de pechuga*, the second distillation process includes additional ingredients such as nuts and fruit, and a chicken breast hangs above the alcohol during the process, flavoring the spirit as it cooks.\n\nMezcal is a broad category that encompasses a variety of distilled spirits made from agave, [one of which is tequila](https://www.masterclass.com/articles/a-guide-to-types-of-tequila). There are several key differences, though, between tequila and the spirit referred to as mezcal.\n\n1. __Ingredients__: Tequila contains at least 51 percent juice from the blue agave plant (*Agave tequilana*). The other 49 percent can come from other varieties of maguey plants, cane syrup, or corn syrup. Mezcal can be made from a variety of different types of agave plants, including Espadín, blue agave from Zacatecas, Tobalá, and Arroqueño.\n2. __Location__: Tequila itself—as well as the plants that produce the blue agave juice from which it’s made—must come from the state of Jalisco or selected municipalities in the states of Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas. Mezcal can be made in any Mexican state, but Oaxaca is the center of production.\n3. __Production__: Tequila is distilled from fermented pressed piña juice. Mezcal is made from piñas that have been cooked in underground pits (which adds smokiness), then fermented and distilled whole.\n4. __Flavor__: Tequila has a mildly sweet agave flavor with a hint of earthiness. Aged tequila can take on more complex flavors, with notes of vanilla, berry, and oak. Mezcal has a potent smoky flavor with grassy, herbaceous undertones.\n\nLearn more about mixology from award-winning bartenders. Refine your palate, explore the world of spirits, and shake up the perfect cocktail for your next gathering with the [MasterClass Annual Membership](https://www.masterclass.com/). \nLike tequila, mezcal is a Mexican agave spirit that’s [perfect for margaritas](https://www.masterclass.com/articles/how-to-make-a-margarita)—but it brings a unique smokiness that’s unmatched by other spirits.