Searching for the best mezcals, but are new to the spirit? Let us be your guide, because this agave liquor is killer in a cocktail or sipped neat.
Like many spirits, the production of mezcal comes with a few rules and regulations. Mexico’s Consejo Regulador del Mezcal states the spirit can only be made in nine states—most famously, Oaxaca—and categorizes mezcal based on both the agave used to make it and its production method. Typified by a range of flavors and smokiness (from mild to raging campfire), mezcal can complement sultry summer nights or take the chill off winter’s worst.
In its broadest sense, mezcal is a term used to describe any distilled spirit produced with the agave plant as its base. This includes tequila. Made from agave hearts (or piñas), it’s in mezcal’s preparation—cooked in underground pits—that the spirit picks up its signature smokiness and wholly departs into its own thing entirely.
It’s the master of adding nuance to margaritas and negronis; counterbalancing a tart punch; or acting as a savory substitute in a Bloody Mary, as it perfectly complements crispy bacon.
But just like a good bourbon, mezcal deserves to be sipped on its own, too. Admittedly, some not-so-good bottles might taste like someone added liquid smoke to your tequila. But the very best ones are expertly accented with smoke, and have robust tasting notes that range from floral and herbaceous to fruity and tart to rich and complex—some even with notes of leather and cacao.
Because the spirit can be made from more than 30 types of agave, you can really get a sense of its terroir. Unlike, say, bourbon, that ages in a cask to get its flavor, mezcal is more of an expression of the land it comes from, with the agave plants sometimes taking more than a decade to mature.
“I’ve had mezcals made from agaves grown near jalapeño crops that are shockingly spicy, and mezcals distilled from agaves that grew in rocky mountains overlooking the ocean that taste briny and minerally,” he says.
Whether you’re a newcomer to mezcal or an agave-loving enthusiast, here are the best bottles to try.
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