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Tequila and Mezcal
Manuel Vargas confirms what I suspected about the Mescal worm, but I am still puzzled by the snake in Chinese rice wine:
"The significance of the worm has everything to do with marketing. The worm that is (sometimes) put in a bottle of mezcal started out as a way of "proving" that the mezcal really came from a maguey, as the kind of worm originally put in mezcal is frequently found in and around maguey plants. Now, though, most high-end exported mezcals don't have a worm, and some low-end mezcal exports use plastic worms.
Mezcal and tequila differ in terms of the variety of maguey or agave that is used, and also in the distillation process. Additionally, there are legal restrictions on where the agave used for tequila is grown and where the tequila is produced. As far as I know, there are not similar restrictions on mezcal, though most mezcal is produced in Oaxaca, and to a lesser extent, Guerrero. Mezcal is considerably less complicated to produce, tends to have a "smokier" flavor, and unlike reposado and anejo tequilas, is not aged".
Ronald Hilton - 1/15/02