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For a long time, mezcal was one of the most misunderstood spirits in the world. It’s had a serious renaissance in recent years, however, and these days it’s one of the most popular components in a vast range of cocktails. The best of them are perfect for sipping on their own.

What is mezcal?

Technically, mezcal is any Mexican spirit distilled from the juice of the heart of the agave plant. Tequila falls under the category of mezcal, and most of that is produced—by law—in and around Jalisco. Traditionally, mezcal has been considered a smokier cousin to tequila, but there are many types of mezcal and mezcal brands to explore, all of them with their own unique spin on the great spirit. Oaxaca is home to most mezcal production, though it’s made in many places throughout the country.

Where does mezcal come from?

Mezcal always comes from Mexico. It’s illegal for other countries to produce an agave-derived spirit and refer to it as mezcal.

How is mezcal made?

The first step in mezcal production is harvesting the agave plant, which takes years and years to reach maturity. The leaves are hacked off, leaving only the heart, or piña, which is then cooked, generally in the presence of smoke, which gives mezcal its typical smoky character. The piña is then crushed, and the juice that comes out of it is fermented. That fermented juice is then distilled, and the resulting spirit is mezcal.

What are popular brands of mezcal?

Montelobos, Ezcaleria, Del Maguey, Casamigos,, Banhez, Zignum, Alipus, Dos Hombres, and Bruxo are all popular brands, but there are many more worth exploring, too. And contrary to popular belief, most good ones don’t come with the notorious mezcal worm in the bottle, as was popular in the past.

What is the difference between tequila and mezcal?

Mezcal is the umbrella category for Mexican spirits distilled from the juice of the heart of the agave plant. Stylistically, mezcal tends to exhibit a smoky character, but that’s not required. So whenever someone asks is mezcal smoky, the answer is: usually, but not always. Tequila is hardly ever smoky, and depending on how it’s aged—if at all—it may have the influence of oak. So, too, can mezcal.

What type of alcohol is mezcal?

Mezcal is a spirit, which means that it’s distilled until it reaches the required alcohol content, which is typically around 80 proof, or 40% by volume.

What mixes right with mezcal?

There are many mezcal drinks worth exploring, from a smoky agave Old Fashioned, which incorporate bitters and simple syrup or sugar, to a mezcal Margarita, and beyond. Practically anything that calls for tequila can be modified to allow mezcal to shine in the recipe, too. It also is an interesting replacement for whiskey and smokier Scotches in other cocktail recipes.

Is mezcal more expensive than tequila?

As with all spirits, mezcal price and tequila price are determined by the producer, how long (if at all) the spirit has been aged, and how in-demand it is among consumers. A blanket statement about the pricing of mezcal and tequila is impossible.

Can you drink mezcal straight?

Absolutely! Good mezcal is a wonderful spirit to sip. Some people prefer it on the rocks, but in Oaxaca, where it’s most famously produced, it’s more often than not sipped neat, which allows all of its nuances to fully shine.

What’s better, mezcal or tequila?

Like so much else in the world of wines, spirits, beers, and more, it’s a matter of personal opinion and preference. One thing is certain; however: mezcal has the potential to be a spirit of depth, complexity, and deep excitement.

Can you drink mezcal on the rocks?

Mezcal is excellent on the rocks. As the ice melts, the heat of the alcohol becomes diluted, which some people prefer to the occasionally fiery punch of sipping it straight.

Is mezcal good for margaritas?

Definitely! Mezcal can add a pleasantly smoky note to a margarita. Just be warned that you’ll likely have to modify the recipe a bit to ensure that the sweet and sour flavors of a well-crafted margarita remain in balance, depending on what kind of mezcal you’re adding to it.

Browse our full selection of mezcal online or check out our selection of highly-rated mezcal for a great new mezcal to try this week!

Want to learn more about mezcal?

Visit our Guide to Mezcal to learn more about mezcal.