Close Menu

Tequila and Mezcal

How to Taste and Enjoy these Spirits

Tequila is just for shots and mezcal is just smoky, right? Nope. Tequila and mezcal, tequila’s scorned cousin, are delicious–if you know how to select, taste and pair them. Let’s learn how to taste and enjoy these spirits and taste the difference.


Do you know the difference between tequila and mezcal? We had an opportunity to learn about the difference between the two at a guided tequila and mezcal tasting in Isla Mujeres, Mexico on our small group tour to the Yucatan. Mixologist Alan Avalos and his business partner Cristobal from Projecto Mayahuel led us through a delicious and fun educational tasting of the tequila and mezcal, talked about pairing the spirits with fruits and then created delicious cocktails using the spirits.

Alan and Cristobal from Projecto Mayahuel

If you are like most people, your introduction to tequila (and perhaps continued experience) is throwing back shots as quickly as possible, chasing them with lime, and feeling like crap the next day. 

And often mezcal is cast aside as being too smoky.

But when you taste good quality spirits, there is a lot more to them than the burn and smoke.


Both mezcal and tequila are made from the agave plant. Both are produced in Mexico. However, tequila is only made from the blue agave in certain regions of Mexico-it is in fact a type of mezcal. Mezcal is made from the agave as well, but can be made from over 100 types of agave, and is made is 9 different regions of Mexico.

Mezcal is made by smoking the agave hearts (or pineapple as it is called) in a pit for several days. After that the pulp is smashed and fermented before being distilled. This yields the smoky flavor. 

The selection

For both tequila and mezcal the aging process and distilling process also affect the final flavor and result. In some cases the spirit is aged in bourbon barrels or distilled with different fruits, insects, or even meat, yielding more complex flavors. 

The other HUGE difference which is really important is that tequila is unrestricted in labeling, in other words tequila only has to be 51% blue agave tequila to be labeled 100% tequila. Mezcal has stricter labeling regulations and has to be 100% agave mezcal to be labeled as such. In addition it is made entirely by hand, which means it is artisanal. 

That is also why mezcal is more expensive.

Cocktails made with Mezcal


In sum: sip, swish, swallow. Before you start–don’t drink the whole shot at once!

Each 2 oz. shot served should be tasted in the following way:

  1. Smell the spirit by holding the glass by your chin and inhaling. What do you smell?
  2. Take a small sip and swish it around your mouth. How does the feeling and taste change in your mouth?
  3. After it sits in your mouth for a few seconds, swallow it. How do the flavors change as your mouth becomes accustomed to the alcohol?

Repeat the process 2 more times for each shot and after the third time, try any combination of fruit and companions mentioned below – or make up your own!

In general, start with the youngest spirits before moving to the more aged ones.

WHERE’S THE LIME? (hint, not on the table)

Palate Pairings

Like fine wine, the flavor of the spirit changes depending on what you eat with it. The most important thing I learned is that you should not take a shot and chase with lime. It kills the flavors!

Here are some things you might like on a board to go with the tasting:

  1. Pears and Cinnamon/sugar
  2. Chili lime crickets (try these)
  3. Oranges and chili lime seasoning
  4. Apple and coffee
  5. Be creative! How about dark chocolate and cherries? Or grapefruit and burnt tortilla ash?


After your first sip, your palate should be opening. Just enjoy that sensation. Take the second sip and see how you can experience the flavor differently. Try a bite of fruit dipped in one of the spices. How did the fruit taste? Now take your final sip of the liquor, sipping, swishing and swallowing. How did the taste of the spirit change after you ate the fruit? Or chili lime seasoning?

Most importantly in a tasting is that we are giving our full attention and respect to the process and artistry that went into crafting the spirit. So enjoy! I hope you like your experience.

Otehlia on the Beach

Want my essential carry-on list for warm-weather locations?

Sign up for my travel e-newsletter and get access right away!

Thanks, travel friends, for signing up for my newsletter! Follow me on Instagram to enjoy some virtual adventures together!