If you’re completely new to the world of mezcal, you’ve probably heard it described as “like tequila but smokier.” We understand where people are coming from with that description, but it does a complete disservice to mezcal’s complexity. Mezcal isn’t just a smokier tequila (in fact we could argue that it’s tequila that is actually a brighter mezcal, but we won’t), it inhabits its own world of flavor that is familiar to a tequila drinker, but wholly new. It’s robust, floral, sweet, vegetal, natural, and less often inhabits that ethereal vanilla and caramel world that great tequilas so often sit in, and delivering something more grounded, earthy, and yes, we’ll give it to you, smokey.
But the world of mezcal isn’t as accessible and present as the realm tequila resides in, so… where to start? We’ve tried to simplify the search for you by listing off some of our favorite bottles of mezcal and the occasions they work best for. From the most affordable labels to the most absurdly luxurious we’re sure that whatever bottle speaks most to your needs on in this list will serve as a great entryway into the deep and delicious world of mezcal.
The Best Mezcal For Sweet Sipping — Mezcal Alipus San Luis Del Rio (Zach Johnston)
Average Price: $52
Mezcal Alipús does everything just right down in Oaxaca. The high-altitude distillery slowly roasts their agave in earthen ovens after stone milling. Wild yeast starts the ferment in old pine vats. Old-school copper stills double distiller the spirit.
Everything is small-time and family-run but the highest standard.
There’s a nice backbone of smoked tropical fruits — think grilled pineapple, smoked mango, baked banana — on the nose next to a rich agave with a hint of spice. The palate has this enticing matrix of savory fruit next to dried cinnamon sticks, orange oils, smoked salt, and a touch of caramel sweetness. The end is short and sort of savory with a hint of spicy greens next to light cucumber slices.
While I like sipping this on the rocks, it really shines best in a highball with a touch of lime. The water brings out all those funky savory fruits, more spices, and a touch of dark cacao powder with a little more spice.
The Best Mezcal For Absolute Newbies — Cutwater Mezcal Joven (Dane Rivera)
Average Price: $54.99
Truly a beginner’s bottle, Cutwater gives you a good idea of what flavors to expect when drinking mezcal — a bounce between charred earthiness and sweet floral flavors— without overwhelming you with something that tastes like a far cry from the tequila you’re more familiar with.
Utilizing the wild maguey that grows in the rocky terrain of Durango Mexico, Cutwater’s Joven is distilled in volcanic pit ovens with an open fermentation process.
An initial hit of sweet cherry greets you and settles nicely into flavors of roasted caramel and vanilla before finishing with a sweet floral kiss. There are no harsh chemical flavors to turn you away from this one, and while the smokiness leaves a bit to be desired, it’s still present enough to satisfy expectations.
It’s not going to “wow” the snobby crowd out there, but it’ll give you a good starter course. It should be a journey of flavors and this delivers with something easy to drink that still offers complexity and a lot of flavor.
The Mezcal That Punches Above Its Price Tag — Lejana y Sola Mezcal Joven (Dane Rivera)
Average Price: $56.95
Lejana y Sola’s mezcal hails from Oaxaca and is produced using traditional electricity-free production methods like fire-pit roasting and horse-drawn Tahona extraction. Utilizing a mix of Espadin and Cuishe agave harvested from the Oaxacan hillsides and distilled at a family-owned palenque in Lachilá, Lejana y Sola truly exemplifies the artisanal tendencies of the mezcal producing scene.
Hearing about traditional production methods is cool and all, but it’s just lip service if it doesn’t have the flavor to back it up. Luckily it’s not all talk with Lejana y Sola thanks to its smokey bite that settles on the tongue in rich ribbons of vanilla and roasted agave. Fruity notes dusted with cracked black pepper linger on the backend.
From nose to the body, a pleasure to sip and the smoothest mezcal you’ll find at this price point.
The Easiest Mezcal To Fall In Love With — Del Maguey Chichicapa Mezcal (Dane Rivera)
Average Price: $75.78
Don Maguey makes some of the finest Mezcal you’ll ever have the pleasure of tasting, but before you drop $180+ on the brand’s excellent Pechuga mezcal (which, after experiencing this, you’ll want to do), you should start with the also excellent but much more affordable Chichicapa.
This expression is produced in the village of San Baltazar Chichicapa using espadín agave that is twice distilled in traditional wood-fired copper stills. The result is a light on the nose mezcal full of deep complexity that always leaves something for the palate to discover.
Chichicapa is a bouquet of flavors, ping-ponging between notes of rich toasted agave, soothing butterscotch, and chocolate smokiness, and tropical hints of citrus, juicy fruit with a delicate mint (almost chemical, but not quite) lift on the backend. Easily the most refreshing Mezcal I’ve ever had the pleasure of sipping.
You’re never going to go wrong with a bottle of Del Maguey, and Chichicapa is a perfect entry point to this rich and complex mezcal. Once you’re familiar with this, move on to the twice-as-expensive Pechuga and compare!
The Most Flexible Mezcal — Bozal Barril “Reserva” Mezcal (Zach Johnston)
Average Price: $96
Bozal is doing some of the best work in mezcal right now. This expression is made used Barril wild agave that was used as natural fencing on the borders of farms around Oaxaca. The hearts of the wild agave are slow roasted with a lot of smoke before the distillate is made while holding onto the wilder aspects of this truly Indigenous spirit.
The nose on this is so light with moments of burnt orange oils next to a singed burnt vanilla husk and dried jicama flowers. The taste is pure cream with dots of orange oils next to a bitter cacao bean, a little tobacco twinge, and a touch of banana bread with walnuts and brown spice. The finish holds onto the creamy nature while staying light with zero burn, leaving you with the baked banana, burnt vanilla, and a final touch of that dark citrus oil.
This is so easy to sip. It’ll really blow you away as a sipper while also shining as a cocktail base.
The Mezcal Best Reserved For Celebratory Toasting — Los Vecinos Del Campo Tobala Mezcal (Dane Rivera)
Average Price: $109.99
Los Vecinos del Campo is a special project crafted by Buffalo Trace Bourbon makers Sazerac Company and Casa San Matias, makers of the excellent Corazon de Agave, so you’re right to approach this bottle with high hopes and expectations. It absolutely delivers.
Made using Tobala, a species of agave that requires 12-15 years of maturation and yields a limited quality of mezcal (hence the price), Los Vecinos is the type of bottle that inspires chatter between respected drinkers steeped in that artisanal spirits world. Show up to the hangout with a bottle of Los Vecinos, and your snobbier set of friends will step to you with respect.
This leans on the smokier and earthier side of the Mezcal flavor spectrum hitting you with a sharp cactus bite that transitions into a heavy charred oak flavor tand finishes with a burn that bounces between harsh tar, roasted fruit, and spice.
You’ll never find a dull moment while drinking Los Vecinos del Campo. When it hits your palate it dances with contrasting and complimenting flavors that will always draw you in for another taste.
Our Desert Island Pick — Clase Azul Mezcal Guerrero (Zach Johnston)
Average Price: $999
Clase Azul is making some of the best juice in the game — tequila or mezcal. This expression is made from the very rare Papalote wild agave from Guerrero only. The hearts are very slowly roasted with the sea not too far away. Everything about the process is low and slow with wild fermentation, old-school distillation, and local spring water in the mix.
The nose on this is kind of mind-blowing with hints of hot peanut oil in a wok as it just starts to smoke next to oily yet fresh sprigs of rosemary, a touch of wet hibiscus flowers, the bitter pith of a grapefruit, and a bit of pitchy kindling. The palate builds on that pitchy kindling with a rush of the seaside with a bit of a nori edge next to pickled green peppercorns, a hint of grapefruit oils, and a warm and spicy tobacco chew. The end is short but pronounced, with the warmth from the tobacco lingering and leading back toward the bitter grapefruit and the resinous wood.
I don’t think I ever had “mezcal” before I tasted this. That’s not true at all. I’ve tasted well over 100 mezcals over the last couple of years. But all of them disappeared when I tasted this. Hell, every tequila I’ve ever tasted disappeared from my memory when this passed my lips. It’s just … divine. It’s like falling into a soft cloud of roasted agave spears and letting them hug you as you slowly fall asleep.
The Mezcal For The Smoke Averse — Madre Mezcal (Steve Bramucci)
Average Price: $47.99
Madre Mezcal almost has too perfect of a design sense for its own good. The red label that looks like the cover of a Hemingway novel and the poured glass bottle with tiny imperfections… Visit the company’s Instagram and you’d be forgiven for thinking you were on the page of a really savvy influencer (or graphic designer) rather than a booze brand. Surfing, mushrooms, block prints — the whole cultural zeitgeist of a certain type of stylish LA cool person is represented. But the brand’s marketing (which, to be clear, is insanely good and oozes cool, precisely why it might tempt a mezcal aficionado to look askance at the spirit behind the purposefully rudimentary-looking label) should not be allowed to distract from the fact that Madre is made right.
The mezcal I tried (the brand currently features two expressions) is distilled from espadin and cuishe agave and roasted underground before the agave hearts are ground by horse-drawn tahona (at three different family-owned Oaxacan distilleries). It’s specifically aimed at not blowing out your palate with smoke, allowing the vegetal notes of the agave to shine.
You do get smoke on the nose but it arrives paired with agave minerality. Cut wild sage and crushed seashells, if I had to put a finer point on the notes. The palate is distinctly un-smokey. It’s still mineral forward — not salty but certainly conjuring that — which is accented by fire-roasted green pepper that’s been spritzed with honey water. The finish is smooth and distinctly un-hot with a little grapefruit rind kicking up.
This is a wonderful starter mezcal for anyone who doesn’t want to go too HAM on the smoke. I also like it as a margarita base. While it’s common to do margaritas with mezcal these days, I find many expressions overpower the lime completely with smoke. Madre doesn’t have that problem.
The Mezcal That Is Actually Another Spirit Completely — Raicilla De Una (Steve Bramucci)
Average Price: $59.99
Raicilla is… not mezcal. It’s a different agave-based spirit that had been clandestinely produced for generations to avoid tariffs and was only recognized as an artisanal agave spirit by the Mexican government in June of 2019. Because it’s produced in Jalisco, which isn’t a mezcal-producing state, its designation would be different regardless of how it tasted, but make no mistake — it does taste different. The smokiness is far more subtle than most mezcals and the fruitiness is far more prominent.
Like Madre Mezcal, Raicilla de Una has a cool label and a great vibe — there’s even a backstory intertwined with Waves 4 Water, a longtime friend of Uproxx. But beyond the label and expert marketing, the brand’s co-founders, Amber Sellers and Ethan Lovell, have a passion for raicilla and have taken a ton of care to make this expression shine.
Made with 100% maximilliana agave grown in the mountains of Jalisco and double-distilled at Taberna Sierra Mascota after being roasted in an above-ground stone adobe oven — which creates a distinctly different flavor profile than a below-ground mezcal oven — the spirit is bright but retains a lovely earthiness.
There is smoke on the nose but it’s really light. Instead, you get peppercorns and a little grapefruit pith, plus some really nice cement-earthen hints turning into roasted cocoa nibs. By the time we get to the palate, we do get some sugars coming in. In this case, it’s more in the form of brown sugar-basted, roasted citrus fruits. It’s a nice punch of flavor right off the bat. Then things get a little funkier with a little salty Mexican cheese and more cocoa nibs that had touched wet cement as the mouth-coating finish fades.
I love this as a simple cocktail with a little grapefruit soda, basically a paloma riff. But to really enjoy the depth and complexity, I say try it straight then drop in an ice cube and a spritz of soda water — it’s interesting enough to be deeply engaging in both of those preparations.