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Dive Deeper Into Mezcal With These Palate-Expanding Bottles

For those unaware, mezcal is technically the broad term used to define all Mexican agave-based spirits. This means that all tequila is mezcal, but not all mezcal is tequila (get it?). The difference is that mezcal can be made using any type of agave and can be made anywhere in Mexico (though most of it is made in Oaxaca) while tequila has strict rules about which agave must be used (Blue Weber) and where it can be produced (Jalisco and a few surrounding areas), among other rules.

With summer coming on quickly, we figured the time was right to highlight some of our favorite sipping and mixing mezcals. These eight expressions will pull your palate in new directions and they’re (almost) all squarely in the affordable range. Check them out below and click on the prices to buy a bottle!

Amaras Cupreata

Amaras

ABV: 40%
Average Price: $59

The Story:

This Joven mezcal was distilled using agave Cupreata grown and harvested in the mountainous region of Rio Balsas. Just awarded Double Gold, Best of Show in the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, Amaras Cupreata is fermented in open air before being distilled in copper pot stills.

Tasting Notes:

On the nose, you’ll find roasted agave, nutty sweetness, and subtle cocoa beans. The palate is swirling with freshly cut grass, cracked leather, and a nice mix of subtle smoke and fresh wildflowers. The finish is filled with vegetal sweetness and floral notes.

Bottom Line:

When it comes to mezcals, this one isn’t the smokiest. But what it lacks in the smoke department, it makes up for with bright, floral notes that reveal a new layer of mezcal’s complexity for the newbie.

Madre Espadin

Madre

ABV: 45%
Average Price: $55

The Story:

Finely crafted by Jose Ines Garcia Morales and his family (and two other families), this Oaxacan-made mezcal is made using both Espadin and Cuishe agave. It’s made traditionally by smoking the agave underground before stone grinding it using a horse-drawn tahona. This is as authentic as mezcal gets and you can taste it in every sip.

Tasting Notes:

The nose is filled with roasted agave sweetness, a hint of minerals, and a nice wafting of smoke. Taking a sip will reveal vegetal sweetness, brown sugar, freshly cut grass, chili peppers, and more pleasing, rich smoke. The finish is subtly smoky and effortlessly sweet.

Bottom Line:

This is a perfect beginner mezcal. It’s well-rounded with a nice combination of sweet and smoky, but not complex enough to scare off mezcal newcomers.

Ilegal Joven

Ilegal Mezcal

ABV: 40%
Average Price: $39

The Story:

This brand was launched in 2005 as an effort to make a legitimate business using the mezcals that founder John Rexar originally smuggled to his bar Cade No Se in Antigua, Guatemala. This unaged mezcal is made using Espadin agave. It’s known for its easy-to-drink, mellow flavor that works well in cocktails.

Tasting Notes:

Take a moment to breathe in the aromas of fresh peppers, citrus zest, pineapples, and a slight minerality. Take a sip and you’ll find flavors of bright lime, vanilla beans, vegetal sweetness, and smoky pipe tobacco. The finish is sweet, smoky, and complex.

Bottom Line:

For the price, this is a very flavorful mezcal. It’s the kind of spirit that requires multiple tasting before you discover all of the various flavors — that makes it a great pick for someone excited about developing their palate.

Montelobos Joven

Montelobos

ABV: 43%
Average Price: $39

The Story:

Montelobos means mountain of wolves and we think that’s a fitting name for such a cool mezcal brand. Its joven is an unaged mezcal made with Espadin agave that’s roasted for a week in an underground volcanic stone oven before being crushed with a tahona and fermenting naturally pre-distillation.

Tasting Notes:

On the nose, expect scents of citrus rinds, green peppers, roasted agave, and slight smoke. Sipping this mezcal reveals flavors of toasted vanilla beans, vegetal sweetness, lime zest, and a nice kick of robust smoke. It all ends with a nice mix of sweet agave and subtle spicy smoke.

Bottom Line:

If you only buy one bottle of mezcal to mix with this year, make it Montelobos Joven. It’s sweet, smoky, and well-suited for crafting a smoky margarita.

Doña Vega Espadin

Doña Vega

ABV: 43%
Average Price: $49.99

The Story:

Doña Vega makes two mezcals: Espadin and Tobala. Its Espadin is made in Santiago Matatlan, Oaxaca using only 100% Espadin agave. Made by a fifth-generation mezcal producing family, it’s roasted underground before being crushed using a tahona and distilled in copper pot stills.

Tasting Notes:

The nose is filled with the aromas of fresh peppers, citrus peels, tropical fruits, and nice, earthy smoke. Drinking this mezcal reveals hints of roasted pineapple, caramelized sugar, vegetal sweetness, subtle pepper, and light smoke. The finish is smoky, sweet, and ends with a nice kick of cracked black pepper.

Bottom Line:

If you have the cash, we suggest buying one of each of Doña Vega’s expressions and comparing the flavors therein. That’s the best way to find out which one will become your new go-to.

Rey Campero Tepextate

Rey Campero

ABV: 48%
Average Price: $115

The Story:

This expression from Rey Campero Mezcal is made using Marmorata agave that is harvested after maturing to around 18 years of age. It’s roasted, crushed, and open-air fermented before being distilled twice to ensure the highest quality and flavor possible.

Tasting Notes:

The aromas of citrus zest, wildflowers, vanilla beans, and slight smoke are most prevalent on the nose. From the first sip, you’ll be transported to a world of ripe, zesty peppers, fresh leather, subtle flowers, and subtle tobacco-like smoke. The finish is long, warming, and ends with a combination of sweet peppers and smoke.

Bottom Line:

This is a highly complex mezcal. It’s not the type of mezcal you’ll want to use as a mixer. It’s subtly smoky, peppery, sweet, and perfect as a intro to slow sipping.

Del Maguey Chichicapa

Del Maguey

ABV: 46%
Average Price: $69

The Story:

If you’re a mezcal drinker, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve already heard of Del Maguey. This beloved brand makes a whole slew of highly-rated expressions, but we prefer its Chichicapa for the value and flavor. Named for the village it comes from, this is a sipping mezcal if there ever was one.

Tasting Notes:

On the nose, you’ll find aromas of roasted agave, caramelized pineapple, brown sugar, and pipe tobacco. On the palate, notes of buttery caramel, vegetal sweetness, toasted vanilla beans, and more campfire smoke are all evident. The finish is filled with tropical fruit flavors complemented by slightly roasted agave smoke.

Bottom Line:

The best way to enjoy Del Maguey’s line of mezcals is to work your way around them. Chichicapa is a great choice for mezcal beginners, but it’s so good you’ll keep it stocked on your bar cart for years.

Mezcal Vago Elote

Mezcal Vago

ABV: 50.2%
Average Price: $55

The Story:

Every list deserves a bad boy and that’s exactly what Mezcal Vago Elote is. This 50.2% spirit is made from 100% Espadin agave. But instead of simply making a great mezcal using this popular agave, the master distiller adds toasted corn, also known as elote, after the second distillation. The result is a sweet, smoky, and highly memorable expression.

Tasting Notes:

Take a moment to breathe in the scents of sweet corn, roasted agave, slight minerality, and subtle bacon-like smoke. Take a sip and you’ll enjoy flavors of clover honey, roasted pineapple, and a subtle herbal, woody smoke. The ending is a nice mix of roasted corn and sweet, rich smoke.

Bottom Line:

If you’re a whiskey fan who’s new to mezcal, this is the expression for you. It has just enough sweet corn flavor to help you ease your way into this agave-based spirit.


As a Drizly affiliate, Uproxx may receive a commission pursuant to certain items on this list.

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