If you’re new to mezcal, you need to know a few things. First off, all tequila is mezcal, but not all mezcal is tequila. Technically speaking, mezcal is the term used to define any agave spirit; tequila can only be made using Blue Weber agave. Also, tequila must be made in Jalisco and a few other Mexican states while mezcal can be made pretty much anywhere (although it’s mostly made in Oaxaca).
Like tequila, there are various terms used to explain how long mezcals have been aged. Those aged for the longest amount of time are known as extra-añejo, expressions aged for one to three years are añejo, mezcals simply rested for two months or more are reposado and unaged mezcal is called joven.
Today is all about the latter entry as it’s, in my opinion, the best way to get to know this slightly smoky Mexican spirit. Without aging, you truly get to zero in on the sweet vegetal, fruity, slightly smoky flavor of the agave itself.
Part 1: The Taste
If you truly want to understand the subtle nuances of mezcals, you need to do a blind taste test. This is the only way to guarantee the most accurate results. Without seeing a flashy label or a well-known brand name, you use nothing but your senses of smell and taste to judge each mezcal.
Smoky, sweet, vegetal, spicy — without aging, a good mezcal is truly a matter of taste. Speaking personally, I’m looking for a nice combination of those qualities that doesn’t veer too wildly in any direction. Also, I definitely want to sense plenty of that grassy and mineral-y agave — it’s crucial to the experience.
To that end, I selected eight joven mezcals and blindly nosed and tasted each one to truly determine which is the best. Here’s the lineup:
- Montelobos Mezcal Joven
- Ilegal Mezcal Joven
- Del Maguey Vida Mezcal Joven
- Sombra Mezcal Joven
- Dos Hombres Mezcal Joven
- Casamigos Mezcal Joven
- Susto Mezcal Joven
- 400 Conejos Mezcal Joven
Let’s get tasting!
I took a moment to breathe in the subtle aromas of citrus peels, vanilla beans, and slight smoke. Sadly, those were the only scents I found. Sipping it revealed more citrus, vanilla, and subtle caramel that paired with the agave sweetness and more smoke.
It’s not a terrible mezcal by any account, it just has limited flavors.
The nose is filled with aromas of ripe berries, vegetal agave, and just a wisp of smoke. Not much else though. The palate is more of the same with the addition of a hint of orange peel and a nice spiciness that pairs with the smoke.
All in all an okay sipper, but nothing too exciting.
The nose is filled with aromas of tropical fruits, crisp apples, ripe agave, vanilla, butterscotch, and pleasing smoke. The palate is centered around vegetal agave but also features vanilla beans, orange peels, and warming, enjoyable smoke at the very finish.
This mezcal is an absolute smoke bomb and that’s not such a bad thing. This is because, on top of smoke, there are also prevalent aromas of vanilla, citrus, and pipe tobacco. The flavor is agave-forward with nice fruitiness, subtle herbal qualities, more vanilla, and a healthy dose of smoke.
This mezcal’s nose is pretty light. There are tropical fruits, dried fruits, and a little smoke. Otherwise, it’s fairly lackluster. The palate is a little hotter than I’d hope with notes of citrus, ripe agave, vanilla, cracked black pepper, and more smoke.
It’s fairly flavorful, but the heat and alcohol flavor is a little too bold for my liking.
This mezcal’s nose is surprisingly bland. There’s a strong ethanol smell along with agave, an herbal quality, and slight smoke. Literally nothing else. The palate is pretty thin with some vanilla, vegetal agave, and more smoke.
Overall, an absolutely forgettable mezcal.
The nose is filled with freshly cut grass, sweet agave, vanilla, caramel, and slightly smoke aromas. Sipping it brought more ripe agave, earthy, herbal flavors, tropical fruits, vanilla, and more smoke.
All in all a pretty well-rounded sipper.
This is a smoky mezcal for sure. The first aromas I found were those of a smoky agave. They were followed by tropical fruits and slight vanilla. The palate is pretty much just campfire smoke and vegetal, sweet agave. There isn’t much else.
Overall, a fairly one-dimensional sipper.
Part 2: The Ranking
When it comes to alcohol writing, there are few stories more fun to write (and research) than an alcohol blind taste test. This is especially true with flavorful, slightly smoky, sweet mezcal. I blindly smell and then taste each unmarked sample and give my unbridled opinion of the aromas and flavors. There’s no telling how everything will turn out. There are sure to be surprises and that’s always exciting and fun.
Keep reading to see how everything panned out.
8) Casamigos Mezcal Joven (Taste #6)
Average Price: $65
Another celebrity-based brand (with George Clooney at the forefront), Casamigos tequila has gained quite a following in the last decade. Its joven mezcal was launched back in 2018. It’s small-batch and known for its smooth, sweet flavor.
I doubt I’ll taste any mezcals worse than this one today. It tastes like alcohol with a little agave and smoke and really nothing else. I wouldn’t even want to mix with this one.
7) Dos Hombres Mezcal Joven (Taste #2)
Average Price: $65
The dos hombres associated with this fairly new mezcal brand are non-other than the co-stars of Breaking Bad, Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul. Surprisingly, this isn’t just a gimmicky celebrity brand without a soul. It’s actually pretty good and that extends to the brand’s unaged joven.
Made from hand-picked Espadin agave, it’s known for its mellow, sweet, easy-drinking flavor.
This is a fairly muted mezcal. It’s not harsh and overly hot. It’s just sort of bland and fairly low in the flavor department.
6) Ilegal Mezcal Joven (Taste #1)
Average Price: $41
Ilegal Mezcal got its name because founder John Rexer spent years smuggling mezcal to his bar in Guatemala. This eventually led to the mezcal fan launching his own brand in 2005. This unaged mezcal begins as 100% Espadin agave that’s roasted, crushed, and then fermented in oak vats before distilling in copper pot stills.
This isn’t the worst mezcal I’ve ever tasted, but it’s certainly not the best either. If I was going to drink this again, I’d more likely use it as a mixer than a sipper.
5) 400 Conejos Mezcal Joven (Taste #8)
Average Price: $30
Made by mezcalero Don Tacho in Santiago Matatlan, Oaxaca, this joven is made from 8-10 year-old Espadin agave. It’s roasted and then crushed using a horse-drawn tahona before being distilled in copper pot stills.
This woody, smoky mezcal isn’t for everyone. If you enjoy smoke being the highlight then this mezcal is for you. If you’re looking for more flavors, look elsewhere.
4) Sombra Mezcal Artesenal Joven (Taste #5)
Average Price: $39
This award-winning 90 proof mezcal is made from 7-9 year-old Espadin agave from Santiago Matatlán, Oaxaca, México. The agave is roasted, crushed using a traditional tahona, fermented with local yeast, and distilled in pot stills. It’s well-known for its fruit-forward, slightly spicy, smoky flavor.
This mezcal is complex and flavorful, but its overwhelming heat and spice might be a little too much for some drinkers.
3) Montelobos Mezcal Joven (Taste #7)
Average Price: $42
This artisanal mezcal is produced in Santiago, Matatlán, Mexico, and is made using only 100% organically certified Espadin agave. This traditionally made mezcal is made with slow-roasted agave and distilled in small batches to guarantee the smoothest, freshest, perfectly smoky sipper.
There are no dramatic, over-the-top flavors in this mezcal, but that’s great for me. It also has a nice fruit sweetness and pleasing smoke.
2) Susto Mezcal Joven (Taste #3)
Average Price: $45
Susto Mezcal has a pretty cool story. Back in the late 90s, founder Crispin Perez worked as a dishwasher to host a party for his daughter’s baptism and buy his own copper still. His mezcal (including Susto Mezcal Joven) is made in San Dionisio Ocotepec, Oaxaca using traditional methods.
This is a memorable mezcal that, even unaged, is so complex and flavorful, I would drink it on its own to warm up on a cool, fall evening.
1) Del Maguey Vida Mezcal Joven (Taste #4)
Average Price: $38
When it comes to price to value ratio, it’s pretty hard to beat this joven from well-known mezcal producers Del Maguey. This artisanal, organic mezcal was launched in 2010 and has become a favorite of drinkers and bartenders alike. It’s known as both a great sipper as well as a bold mixer.
Some mezcals rely too heavily on smoke and don’t round out the palate with other flavors, this isn’t the case with Del Maguey Vida. It’s smoky-yet-fruity and manages to be sweet at the same time.
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