If you’re a novice to Mexican, agave-based spirits, you might be confused by the differences between tequila and mezcal. Technically, all tequila is mezcal but not all mezcal is tequila. This is because the term used to define agave-based spirits is, technically, mezcal. Tequila is simply one branch of the family tree — it’s similar to how bourbon is a type of whiskey. Also, tequila can only be made from Blue Weber agave while mezcal can be made using any type of agave. Obviously, there are more differences and rules but at least that gives you a starting point.
As drinkers are becoming more familiar with other agave-based Mexican spirits besides the usual tequila, mezcal has surged in popularity.
“The last five years have seen a significant shift in the way we drink and think about mezcal, making it a growing favorite to find behind a bar,” says Erica Dimmig, lead mixologist at Hotel Pendry in Chicago.
It’s also a favorite to be enjoyed neat or on the rocks as opposed to being simply used as a base for cocktails. The flavors of vegetal sweetness, baked agave, honey, spices, and light (sometimes robust) smoke make mezcal a perfect, warming, sipping spirit for spring.
We hit up a handful of bartenders to tell us the best sips of mezcal they’ve ever had. Keep reading to see them in all their smoky, agave-filled goodness.
Walter Meyenberg, founder of Hanky Panky in Mexico City, Mexico
Average Price: $130
Without a doubt, Mezcal Macurichos, crafted by proper 5th-generation maestros mezcaleros continuing the tradition of artisanal and ancestral processes. It’s an eye-opening, memorable sip of mezcal to say the least.
A beautiful genuine taste that is smoky, earthy, and herbal. It’s complex and flavorful, the kind of mezcal you’ll want to sip neat on a cool evening.
Lucy Pistolas Joven
Alicia Leftridge, bar manager at The Graceful Ordinary in St. Charles, Illinois
Average Price: $50
Lucy Pistolas joven is one of my favorite mezcals. From the meticulous replanting of the hijuelos in the agave growing process to the recycled glass bottles, Lucy Pistolas’ brand mission of shedding light on the impact Mexican women had on the revolution. Who wouldn’t want to sip on a spirit that proudly touts itself as a symbol of the ongoing fight for women to be respected, recognized, and valued for their contributions? It helps that it’s a really good mezcal.
Not only for its brightly herbal and delicately smokey flavors but also for the sustainable and intentional process from which it’s made.
Código 1530 Artesanal Mezcal
Alex Clark, lead bartender at Square 1682 in Philadelphia
Average Price: $70
Best sip of mezcal is Código 1530 Artesanal Mezcal. Código is a brand made with old-style family recipes. You might know it for its tequilas but definitely don’t sleep on its complex, exciting mezcals.
This mezcal is not crazy smoky like you would have in others. This allows the other flavors to shine. This is one of the most balanced mezcals you can get your hands on.
Mezcal Vago Ensamble of Jabali and Tepeztate
David Tyda, co-owner of BARCOA Agaveria in Phoenix
Average Price: Limited Availability
One the best sips of mezcal I’ve ever had was the Ensamble of Jabali and Tepeztate from Mezcal Vago. You rarely see these two agaves together, and it’s an extremely limited batch. Agave nerds of all levels find the flavor of this Ensamble unlike anything they’ve ever had.
You’ve got the pepper and spice from the tepeztate, but that Jabali funk runs underneath the flavor from start to finish. Both expressions are mellowed out by the other, making this a beautiful drinking experience. At 50.4%, it packs heat without the burn. You can detect everything from mint to creosote in the profile. It’s truly complex and we’re honored to have it.
Del Maguey Vida
Donny Largotta, beverage director at Gansevoort Meatpacking in New York City
Average Price: $35
Del Maguey Vida is a truly delicious Mezcal. It’s great mixed in drinks but also ideal to enjoy in sips. This popular mezcal is made with Espadín agave. Like all of Del Maguey’s expressions, it’s naturally fermented and distilled two times in wood-fired copper pot stills.
You get a nice aroma of tropical fruit, honey, and roast agave as well as taste hints of ginger, cinnamon, and tangerine – all with a soft smoky finish.
Dos Boots Mezcal Ancestral
Inga Tantisalidchai, bartender at OLEA Cellar Craft Cook in Newport Beach, California
Average Price: $99
I recently got introduced to Dos Boot’s ancestral collection of mezcal ( specifically its Dos Boots Mezcal Ancestral Clay Pots Castilla) and I must say it is quite delightful. It’s definitely one of (if not the) best sips of mezcal I’ve ever had.
The tahona stone wheel used for milling and clay pots impart some beautiful mineral flavors that bring out a mild sweetness from the agave in this smokey mezcal.
Mezcal de Leyendas Maguey Cenizo Durango
Alex Cuper, beverage director at El Che Steakhouse & Bar in Chicago
Average Price: $80
Mezcal de Leyendas Maguey Cenizo Durango is arguably my favorite sip of mezcal I have been privileged to try. It was the first “ah-ha!” moment with mezcal where I could taste the agave, the process, and the terroir. I know it is usually a wine term, but to me, mezcal is the “wine” of the spirit world and is greatly affected by where it is grown and how it is handled.
Long story short, you can taste its sense of place. his is a dense and rich mezcal with a good amount of smoke on it and a really amazing smell that I can only equate to the first time I got a pair of shoes at Foot Locker and you’re hit with that intoxicating “new shoe” smell. It’s such an amazing spirit to sip on those delightfully warm summer nights.
El Jogorio Mardecuishe
Alex Barbatsis, head bartender at The Whistler in Chicago
Average Price: Limited Availability
El Jogorio is an amazing line of mezcals, and I’ve always been partial to their Mardecuishe. The ABV of 47.7% makes for a nice sipping temp to enjoy. (Note: avoid 40% ABV mezcal, it doesn’t showcase the best flavors of agave and is generally manipulated to be less flavorful).
Madrecuishe mezcal has a high minerality and lovely floral notes, and El Jogorio knows how to make the most out of every style of agave with their single batch and wild-grown agave practices.
Del Maguey Wild Papalome
Garth Poe, bar manager of Easy Bistro & Bar in Chattanooga, Tennessee
Average Price: $129
My favorite sip of mezcal has got to be Del Maguey Wild Papalome. This is a giant agave that looks similar to a very large Tobolà. This exceptional mezcal comes from the village of San Pedro Teozacoalco. It’s naturally fermented and distilled two times.
The nose is Earthy, dark, and seductive with notes of mole and leather. The palate has a surprising burst of flavor with black currant that gives way to a savory finish of mushroom and black olive.
Mezcal de Leyendas Tobala
Andrew Bone, food and beverage manager of Deveraux in Chicago
Average Price: $100
I fell down the mezcal rabbit hole while working for Chef Carlos Gaytan at Tzuco. Mezcal de Leyendas has a Tobala from Oaxaca that expanded my appreciation of mezcal as a spirit.
Tobala plants are typically smaller and have a higher sugar content creating a smooth sippable almost honey-like spirit. The fact that they take so long to grow brings the terroir of the territory into play as well.
Real Minero Largo
Erica Dimmig, lead mixologist at Hotel Pendry in Chicago
Average Price: $139
Real Minero Largo by Graciela Angeles Carreño is one of the most sought-after bottles of agave on the market and for good reason. This bottle is light but so complex. To add to the long list of why this mezcal is so special, Real Minero is the biggest and premier producer participating in sustainable agave reforestation practices.
You will catch peppery, light coconut, citrus, and mineral notes. Largo is rested in glass giving it an incredibly soft and creamy mouth feel.
Mezcal Vago Madrecuixe
Joe Vandal, general manager at Rita’s in Breckenridge, Colorado
Average Price: $110
Mezcal Vago Madrecuixe. I feel the same way about mezcal as I do about tequila-there’s no way I can pick just one. There is so much good juice out there. I have a soft spot in my heart for Mezcal Vago. It’s such a unique brand. On my first Palenque visit in 2016, I was fortunate enough to meet Aquilino, Vago’s first producer and it changed me. It’s really unique. 100% madre that sat in clay for six months and then another three years in glass.
I get giddy every time I pour it-huge clay, minerally on the nose. The palate starts with the same clay, minerals, and has the typical Emigdio madre spiciness softened up by its time in glass. It finishes with a nice dry touch.