Tequila, mescal and charanda are three traditional Mexican spirits made by distilling and fermenting sap from the agave plant. The agave is often mistaken for a cactus because of its spiky leaves, but it is actually a member of the lily family. Tequila is the most well known of the agave spirits, and has been exported into the United States since the late 19th century.
Distillers can make mezcal from different types of mature agave plants. To prepare the agave plant, the farmer cuts the plants from their roots and removes their leaves. At the distillery, the plants are cut into quarters, baked in underground ovens and crushed and shredded to extract the agave’s sweet juice. Distillers then ferment and distill the juice to produce mezcal (also known as mescal). This liquor gets its smoky flavor from the wood charcoal used in the ovens.
Tequila is actually a type of mezcal, and is prepared similarly. Tequila is distinct from other mezcals, however, because it can only be made from blue agave, and can only be produced in specific places, such as Jalisco. Distillers bake agave in steam ovens or autoclaves until the starch is converted into sugars.
Charanda is commonly made from fermented sugarcane juice, but distillers sometimes use sweet fermented agave sap in its production. This beverage has a sweet, buttery flavor, similar to rum.