Bartenders Share The One Mezcal They’d Drink For The Rest Of Their Lives

best mezcal
Getty Image

When it comes to summer spirits, mezcal often gets lost in the shuffle. If you’re not a connoisseur of Mexican spirits, you’re much more likely to grab for a bottle of tequila instead. But tequila’s smoky, unctuous cousin is a fascinating alternative to mix into you favorite tequila-based cocktails.

“Mezcal is tricky, for the most part, you either like it or you don’t,” says Shane DeForest, bar manager at The Spot in San Marcos, Texas. “The first time I tried it, I was thrown off.” Like many neophytes, DeForest wasn’t ready for the smoky flavors that come from the underground agave roasting process. He had to adjust his nose and palate, similar to a whiskey drinker getting used to Islay Scotch.

Eventually, DeForest fell in love with mezcal, as many bartenders — with their ever-deepening spirits acumen — often do. In fact, mezcal is having something of a moment right now, especially in refined, $20 cocktails. But in an increasinly crowded marketplace, which bottle should you buy? We asked some of our favorite bartenders to tell us the one mezcal they’d be thrilled to drink for the rest of their lives.

Wahaka Reposado con Gusano

Phil Testa, beverage manager at Dream Midtown in New York City

If I could choose one Mezcal brand to use for the rest of my life, I would choose Wahaka Reposado con Gusano. There are so many delicious Mezcals now, but this is a stand-alone tasty mezcal. It’s a reposado, so it’s aged in re-charred American oak barrels and the flavor is well-rounded. For me, it’s best enjoyed on the rocks – no lime!

Del Maguey Pechuga

Chris Heinrich, lead bartender at Tre Rivali in Milwaukee

Mezcal: Del Maguey’s Pechuga. They take an already stellar mezcal, shower it with wild apples and plums, more fruits, almonds, rice, and distill it a third time with a chicken breast hanging overhead in the still.

A savory opposition to the fruitiness, you’re left with an incredible, clean, and unique single village mezcal.

El Jolgorio Cuixe

Cameron Shaw, head bartender at The Lookup in New York City

El Jolgorio Cuixe would be my “desert island” Mezcal. Made from dense Cuishe pinas, it has an earthy intensity to it without being completely overrun by smoke. Definitely not one to mix, it’s perfect neat or on the rocks.

El Jolgorio Jabalí

Sam Garcia, head bartender at Boleo rooftop in Chicago

Mezcal? El Jolgorio Jabalí is a wild varietal and extremely hard to find now but one of my favorites. The agave takes 16-18 years to mature. It has a lot of tropical fruit on the nose and the smokiness that Mezcal is known for is secondary.

Del Maguey Chichicapa

Alli Torres, bartender at Refinery Rooftop in New York City

There are so many delicious mezcal variations on our radar these days, but I have to stay loyal to Del Maguey Chichicapa. It has the right amount of smoke and spice and drinks a little nutty. It’s just dependable and delicious without tasting manufactured and industrial, as some do.

Ilegal Mezcal

Mea Leech, bartender at El San Juan Hotel, Curio Collection by Hilton in Puerto Rico

Ilegal Mezcal — its light smoke and heavy agave characteristics (grassy, earthy, sweet) make it perfect fit mixing as well as perfect to sip in an Oaxacan Old Fashioned — mezcal, agave nectar, chocolate bitters, and an orange peel.

Mezcal Vago

Daniel Condliffe from JSix in San Diego

Mezcal is by far my favorite thing in the world so this is a hard one for me. I would have to say Mezcal Vago. They have a small team of mezcaleros they use (the majority of them directly related) and use what they can source as well as cultivate their own wild agaves without being tied down to replicating specific recipes.

Small productions plus amazing practices in sustainability create a recipe for success.

Casamigos Mezcal

Shane DeForest, bar manager at the SPOT in San Marcos, Texas

After trying a few different suggested mezcals, I landed on Casamigos. This first of what will be from a full line of mezcals, Casamigos’ introductory Joven class is the one for me. With a slightly sweet start and a non-overwhelming smoky finish, this is an all-night mezcal.

El Jolgorio Pechuga

Brett Jones, owner of Barracuda in New Orleans

This is an impossible question, so I’ll just toss it up and say…El Jolgorio Pechuga. It’s from Matatlan, Oaxaca from Espadin, pit-roasted, tahon crushed, open fermented with a dang Turkey Rooster breast in the still + lots of local spices, pineapple, etc.

Full-bodied, spicy, with lots of botanicals too. I love it.

Bozal Coyote Ancestral

Casey Lyons from Pacific Hideaway in Huntington Beach, California

Bozal Coyote Ancestral — it tastes like a beautiful surrealist painting of nearly perfect tropical fruit basket… if you set it on fire and put it in a matte black clay bottle.

Vida Chichicapa

Lauren Swan-Potras, Head Bartender at Roof at Park South in New York City

Vida Chichicapa is one of my favorite mezcals. It has balanced vegetal and smoky notes, with subtle tropical notes. It is a perfect sipping mezcal, rich, sweet and definitely satisfying.