With Halloween and Día De Muertos basically falling on a weekend this year, parties abound. That means it’s time to stock up on some mezcals (and a few Irish whiskeys) for your days and nights of reveling. Día De Muertos is about celebrating the lives of those who’ve passed on, keeping their memories alive generation after generation. It’s also a time to celebrate, eat copious amounts of food (and sugar), and get down.
Or maybe you’ll just throw on Coco and have a good, long cry. Either way, a nice bottle of mezcal is a solid call.
Mezcal is currently surging in the spirits world. The agave-based drink is often hand-made, with traditional techniques and high-level distillery skills. It’s hard harvested, roasted underground, ground by stone, fermented with wild yeasts, twice distilled, and sometimes aged in wood barrels for various lengths of time before bottling. That’s a lot of craft, right there.
Keywords to know as we kick this list off: Joven means young or un-aged. Reposado is aged anywhere from two to nine months. Añejo is aged at least 12 months. You’ll also find words on the label like “espadín,” “arroqueño,” or “tobalá” (along with several others), these designate which breed of agave was used to make the mezcal. Another very common term is “pechuga.” That denotes a mezcal that’s been cut with aromatics or botanicals and distilled with chicken, duck, or turkey. There are, of course, other phrases to know, but this baseline should help you decipher the basics.
The ten mezcal bottles below span joven to añejo. Some of these bottles are going to be available at most (good) liquor stores, others will take a little effort to track down. Either way, it’ll be worth the effort to enjoy these smoky and funky sips. Check ’em out!
Sombra Mezcal is the brainchild of a wine negociant and sommelier. That gives a very distinct pedigree to the inception of this spirit. The mezcal is made from 100-percent espadín agave that’s first grown in the lowlands and then replanted on the highland slopes of Oaxaca to mature. The piñas are harvested and roasted very slowly for two days in a stone pit over oak. The roasted agave hearts are then crushed with a stone and allowed to ferment for eight days with the yeasts coming from the Oaxacan air.
This is a great gateway mezcal that works wonders in cocktails. Translation: it’s great for a party.
Fresh honeycomb, cracked black pepper, buttery toffee, and sweetpea vines open this sip up. Notes of fatty nuts sit next to a green vegetal nature while hints of lemon marmalade and more black pepper pop off. The sweetness of the toffee returns as the sharp pepper and wisp of smoke lead towards a fully-formed finish that warms the body.
CASAMIGOS MEZCAL JOVEN
George Clooney’s Casamigos Mezcal is another great gateway sip. The mezcal is rendered from 100-percent espadín agave grown in Santiago Matatlán, Oaxaca. The master distillers start off by lining an earthen pit with fiery volcanic rocks and then fill the pit with the agave piñas and oak wood. The hearts roast for up to six days before getting crushed and wild fermented. That’s then twice distilled in copper pot stills and mellowed on wood for 30 days before bottling.
You’re greeted with gentle billows of smoke and black pepper sharpness. There’s a slight funk that leans towards sour Belgian beer via a fruit orchard on a sunny day. The vegetal nature of the agave is ever-so present inside the smokiness. On the end, the pepper comes back into the play with a hint of wildflowers hiding behind one last puff of smokiness.
MEZCAL LOS SIETE MISTERIOS PECHUGA
Pechuga mezcals are made especially for celebrations. They include fruits from seasonal harvests with spices that feel like autumn and holidays in a bottle. This expression is a shockingly great bottle of booze, mezcal or not. Los Siete Misterios’ mezcal is distilled according to traditional methods mentioned above and then infused with locally harvested seasonal fruits before a third distillation that uses turkey breast in the neck of the still.
This adds a softer, fatty depth to the spirit that’s enchanting.
Juicy orange, fatty papaya, ripe melon, and fresh sprigs of mint stand alongside a clear sense of cloves. Fresh hoja santa leaves (pepper leaf) and freshly harvested honey mingle with green agave syrup, woody plantains, and ripe pear. There’s a velvet texture to the end as a light spice kicks back in amongst the sweet fruits, bringing a warmth to the sip.
DEL MAGUEY ARROQUEÑO MEZCAL
Okay, now we’re getting into some heavy-duty mezcal. Del Maguey’s Arroqueño is a wild bottle of booze. The base of this mezcal is the semi-wild arroqueño agave which is around 25 years old at harvest. The piñas are buried in ancient, conical pits with hot rocks for three to five days. They’re then crushed by a wooden bat and fermented with wild yeast from the Oaxacan air for 30 days. Next, the fluid goes into centuries-old clay and bamboo stills where it’s twice distilled by hand. This is the real deal, folks.
There’s a lot going on in this sip. Melon and agave dominate the opening. Notes of fresh-cut green grass sit next to roasted corn cobs, spicy red chili peppers, smoked salt, and cinnamon-heavy baking spices. Dried lime leaves arrive with notes of sharp citrus, cedar bark, and vegetal agave notes.
Finally, the sip leans back into the grassy nature with a hint of sour yogurt and smoked chili peppers.
MEZCAL PIERDE ALMAS WILD TEPEXTATE
This “wild” mezcal is just that. Pierde Almas Wild Tepextate mezcal starts off with 100 percent wild-grown tepextate agave. The hearts are harvested and roasted in clay ovens for five days before going through wild fermentation. That’s then distilled twice in a “serpentine” still — that’s a copper still with a long, winding snake-like neck between the pot and the cooling coil. This extra length and shape help give the spirit an extra oomph by lengthening the distance the mezcal travels before cooling.
There’s a savory nature to the opening whiff of smoke on this sip. Tropical fruits are cut by coarse salt and sharp smoked chili powder. Fennel bulbs and herbaceous notes of green grass and agave ears arrive to carry the sip towards the svelte finish. The smoky roasted agave nature lingers as warmth builds on the palate.
MEZCAL VAGO CUIXE
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Some rarified gems hanging out on the back bar at @mmmtacospdx! Stop in and give them the honorable death they deserve! Also, Judah screwed up the label and accidentally put clay as the distillation method on the Cuixe/Espadín blend. #drinkyourmezcal #soyelvago #oldiesbutgoodies #alwaysgrindithard
Mezcal Vago is a southern Oaxacan masterpiece spirit in its standard forms. Their Cuixe expression is a high-end treat that leans into wild Oaxacan roots. The Cuixe agave has to grow for at least 15 years, get at least ten feet tall, and is completely wild. The old, wild agave is then hand-processed and distilled according to Vago’s traditional methods: Stonepit roasting, wooden vat fermenting, stone grinding, and ancient clay pot distillation.
Vivid. That’s not hyperbole. This is a wild drink of booze with full billows of tobacco smoke intertwining with heavily salted and spiced rips of dried beef. Cedar bark sits next to big notes of vegetal agave with a dirty earthiness underpinning the sip. Tart fruit notes marry with lacto-forward sourness, not unlike ripe buttermilk cut with pineapple.
A hint of bitterness comes into play as the smoky agave takes over with an echo of deeply roasted dried chili on the mellowed finish.
MEZCAL GRACIAS A DIOS ESPADÍN REPOSADO
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Ven a conocer el proceso del mezcal. Conoce nuestros campos de agave y disfruta de un buen trago, todo de la mano del Maestro Mezcalero Oscar Hernández. Te esperamos en el Palenque GAD en Santiago Matatlán, Oaxaca. #GraciasaDiosMezcal #ThankGAD #Mezcal #Tour #Oaxaca #Mexico #handmade #VisitMexico #VisitOaxaca #Travel
Getting into aged mezcal is the next logical step after mastering the young ones. Gracias A Dios Reposado is a great entry point for just that. The mezcal is made with farmed eight-year-old agave. The hearts are treated with a traditional process and twice distilled before going into ex-bourbon barrels for four months to mellow.
The smokiness of this mezcal leans into a briny nature — kind of like a campfire on a beach. Oily rosemary, fresh mint, pipe tobacco smoke, and green herbs arrive next to juicy tropical fruits, buttery caramel, and baking spices. The end carries those spices back into the smokiness with a velvet and warm finish.
ILEGAL MEZCAL REPOSADO
Ilegal Mezcal is all about sustainable craft spirit-making in the Oaxacan mountains. Their mezcal is made from 100-percent espadín agave which is slow-roasted in an earthen pit for five to seven days. The roasted hearts are ground by stone and then wild fermented in pinewood vats for up to ten days. Finally, the spirit is double distilled in an antique copper pot still before going into both new and used American oak with a medium char for four months.
Rich and buttery caramelized pears and apples alongside fresh orange zest greet you. Butterscotch comes into play with hints of vanilla as a nice dose of clove and cracked red peppercorns arrive. The smoke draws a line through the whole sip, leading towards a sharp end with spice, juicy fruit, and earthiness coming together.
DON AMADO AÑEJO MEZCAL
Don Amado’s Añejo is a masterclass in making great aged mezcal. The spirit starts with 100-percent highland-grown espadín agave. They are roasted for four days in earthen pits with mesquite and guamúchil firewood. After shredding the roasted agave, it’s wild fermented in pinewood vats before being double distilled on old clay and bamboo stills. Finally, the distillate is aged for at least 18 months in used American oak that aged Pedro Domecq Mexican Brandy.
Imagine a barbecue on a hot, sun-kissed beach and you’ll start to get an idea of this sip. There is a clear sense of the mesquite smoke that feels like it’s roasting peaches and pears on the flame with the sugars caramelizing on the sweet fruit. Good doses of smoky and sharp chili powder cut in with an umami edge that leads to a brininess.
That salt-brine, caramelized fruit, spice, and smoke all come together for a finish that’s like fireworks going off across all of your senses.
ESPÍRITU LAURO AÑEJO MEZCAL
Espíritu Lauro uses a unique process of blending both wild and cultivated agave into their mash. They use 70 percent wild espadín and 30 percent Karwinskii of San Martín agave. The hearts are roasted in the earth and then mashed by hand and horse-drawn stone before going into wood barrels for wild fermentation. The mezcal is distilled once in copper before going into used, re-charred Jack Daniel’s barrels for 13 months.
Hints of bitter dark cacao link with smoked chili peppers and large crystals of sea salt with a buttery edge. Wildflowers come into play with a clear sense of that rich butter and cacao. Finally, the smoke and pepper peak with hints of caramelized sugar as a warm finish lingers on the palate, beckoning that you come back for more.