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Agave's Gifts

April 01, 1998|CHARLES PERRY

All tequila is mezcal, but not all mezcal is tequila. And neither has anything to do with pulque. Or cactus, for that matter.

*Pulque is a sort of beer brewed from the sap of living agave (maguey) plants. Agaves are not cactuses but members of the lily family with broad, fleshy, sword-like leaves edged with spines.

*If the huge pineapple-shaped heart is cut out of an agave plant and baked, you can press out a sweet juice called aguamiel. Mezcal is the brandy distilled from aguamiel. Most of what is labeled mezcal is made in the state of Oaxaca from wild agave varieties. Some mezcals are bottled with a certain worm that lives on the plants.

*Tequila is distilled from the blue agave plant and only in a legally delimited area of the state of Jalisco. Mexican law allows the aguamiel to be supplemented with up to 49% brown sugar before fermentation. Tequila made from 100% agave is more expensive and has a stronger flavor.

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