While most novice drinkers are well acquainted with tequila, mezcal still remains a mystery to many. But even if you haven’t imbibed a liquor with the words “mezcal” on it, you’ve probably already drunk a fair share of mezcal. That’s because all tequila is mezcal, but not all mezcal is tequila. It’s one of those “all squares are rectangles” situations — the all-encompassing name for agave-based spirits is mezcal.
If a bottle is specifically labeled as a mezcal, that means it’s made in Mexico using any type of agave (tequila can only be produced with Blue Weber agave). While tequila is made in and around Jalisco, most mezcal is made in Oaxaca — with its smoky flavor making it a perfect fall sipper.
When it comes to drinking mezcal neat on a cool, fall evening, Marla White, lead bartender at Lona Cocina & Tequilera in Fort Lauderdale, Florida prefers Del Maguey.
“With a variety to choose from, you cannot go wrong with this mezcal,” she says. “Each comes with a unique recipe that adds a special touch.”
We wanted to find the best, smoky mezcals to drink this fall, so we connected with experts — asking bartenders to tell us their picks.
Ilegal Mezcal Joven
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Hayden Miller, head bartender at Bodega Taqueria y Tequila in Miami
Ilegal Mezcal Joven is a staple. It’s so smooth on its own but crushes in a cocktail. Plus, when it comes to smoky mezcals, it fits the bill as a sipper.
Evgeny Anisimov, bartender at Park Hyatt Aviara Resort, Golf Club & Spa in San Diego
When I first tried Fidencio Pechuga mezcal, I was mind blown by the complexity and how smooth it is. It is usually made with fruit and grains harvested in fall with a raw chicken breast hanging over the still during distillation. It produces one of the most delicate and delicious mezcals on the market.
Mezcal El Silencio
Molly Safuto, bartender at Mila Rooftop Bar in Glendale, California
Mezcal El Silencio, from the artfully curated matte black body, to the smooth and smokey flavor- it’s my favorite thing to drink this fall.
Del Maguey Pechuga
Emmanuelle Massicot, assistant general manager of Kata Robata in Houston
Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal Pechuga. During the third distillation of this mezcal, the vapor passes through a chicken breast resulting in a savory quality that balances the sweetness from the seasonal wild mountain apples and plums that are added to the liquid. The end result is sweet, salty, savory and smoky – it’s complex yet delicate enough to sip on.
Mezcal Vago Ensamble de Barro
Crystal Chasse, beverage director at Talk Story Rooftop in Brooklyn, New York
Mezcal Vago Ensamble de Barro Tio Rey is perfect for autumn evenings. It has notes of pine and cinnamon with a touch of nuttiness that pair perfectly with the smoke. Mezcal Vago celebrates smaller mezcaleros (here it’s Tio Rey) and partners with them to bring greater awareness to their beautiful Mezcals. Tio Rey distills in clay pots and, along with his transitional methods, makes this the perfect sipping Mezcal.
Andy Printy, beverage director at Chao Baan in St. Louis
The Bozal Ensamble is a great contender. With enough smoke to meet your acquaintance, but not take over the subtle citrus and floral notes that open up as oxidation takes place. Neat or over a large ice cube is best, but it definitely makes a great cocktail.
Brendan Bartley, head bartender and beverage director at Bathtub Gin in New York City
This fall one of the best sipping mezcals I think is Banhez Pechuga. Seeing all the different agave styles coming out, I usually gravitate to a tobala, though the Pechuga by Bahnez is really taking my liking at the moment. Although it is laced with the smoky element associated with mezcal, it also has a coffee, chocolate, chili thing going on. Gives an autumn feel to it. Having it on the rocks is very, very satisfying.
La Venenosa Raicilla Costa De Jalisco
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Tonight’s #agavewednesday is all about the little known spirit called #raicilla from #lavenenosaraicilla with three of the most unique #agave based spirits on the market. Need a change in your life? Maybe these spirits will offer the inspiration you are looking for! #waynepa #mainline #radnorpa @vsiwine
Max Stampa-Brown, beverage director at Borrachito in New York City
Normally I’d defer to my bar buddies at ATLA, but I think they’d approve of my choice here. La Venenosa Raicilla Costa De Jalisco. This is a chef-driven mezcal and it really shows. It’s like someone was making Mezcal with kimchi on the brain. Very herbaceous and tons of minerality.
Mezcal Vago Tobala
Gavin Humes, bartender Scratch Bar & Restaurant in Encino, California
Mezcal Vago is my favorite by far. It’s perfect for almost any style of mezcal, since they have so many different versions. Their Tobala is wonderfully complex and delicious, and each of the labels has more than enough information for me to geek out on.
Ilegal Mezcal Anejo
Frantjesko Laonora, lead bartender at Curaçao Marriott Beach Resort in Curaçao
I’ll go with the Ilegal Mezcal Anejo. It’s adored for its smoky, roasted agave and earthy flavor notes, especially its smooth and noticeable pepper finish. This mezcal is carefully distilled at Distileria Tlacolula distillery in Mexico.
Ben Potts, owner and bar director of Beaker & Gray in Miami
Doña Vega mezcal is a delicious, balanced spirit that showcases the agave with just the right amount of smokiness, making it the ideal mezcal to sip on this fall.