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What Is Mezcal? 5 Things to Know About Mexico's Smoky Spirit

Say hello to your new friend, mezcal. Though we've long been a fan, we're just now starting to see mezcal pop up in bars across the U.S. and we're happy to introduce you. Mezcal is a close relation to tequila, made from the agave plant, roasted, and distilled and drank straight or mixed into cocktails. You might have seen it with the that worm, floating at the bottom. So here's everything you need to know and a few recipes to get you started at the bar. 

Related: 4 Mezcal Cocktails that Turn Up the Heat

Tequila vs. Mezcal

Like tequila, mezcal is made from agave. But unlike tequila, which is made with only one type of agave, mezcal can be made from a variety of agave plants. And though it’s mostly made in Oaxaca, it can also come from 8 other states in Mexico: Guanajuato, Guerrero, San Luis Potosi, Tamaulipas, Zacatecas, Michoacán, Durango, and Puebla. (It can’t be labeled 100 percent agave if it doesn’t come from those states.)

How It’s Made

Agave is harvested when it’s seven or eight years old, then cut to reveal the heart, called the piña. The piña, which can weigh up to 220 pounds, is then roasted in a pit underground (sometimes for days). This is where it gets its smoky flavor. It’s then crushed with a stone wheel (usually pulled by a horse or mule), then transferred to barrels, mixed with water, and left to ferment. After two distillations, the mezcal is blended and either bottled or left to age.

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