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If you're not the biggest fan of tequila, perhaps it's time you venture into the more diverse world of mezcals. Often described as a smokier version of tequila, mezcal is a type of distilled drink made from a variety of different agaves. Encompassing sweet, spicy, floral, and numerous other tasting notes, mezcals offer a diverse collection of flavors that can appease even the pickiest of drinkers. If you're not sure where to start exploring this fantastic drink, don't worry, we have you covered.
Here are the best mezcals on the market that you can buy.
Best Overall: Del Maguey Vida
Del Maguey is a widespread favorite among bartenders everywhere, and its Vida expression—an organic, double-distilled mezcal made from the Espadín maguey (agave plant) out of the San Luis del Rio village—is an all-around excellent spirit for sipping or mixing in cocktails.
Ryan Fitzgerald, the owner of ABV in San Francisco, is among the many enthusiastic bar pros who find themselves constantly reaching for this bottle for more reasons than one. “Del Maguey has the same strong relationships with the same producers [after] more than 25 years," he says. "They truly care about mezcal, its culture, and its people. They have always been dedicated to preserving the culture and heritage of mezcal, as well as the unique characteristics that each producer contributes.”
Del Maguey Vida Mezcal clocks in at 42 percent ABV and is known for its fruit-forward tropical aromas and baking spice notes, like ginger and cinnamon, on the palate.
Best for Cocktails: El Silencio Mezcal El Silencio
Mezcal El Silencio’s Espadín expression is an excellent introductory mezcal, offering subtle smoke and salinity surrounding notes of citrus, dried fruit, and sweet potatoes, to name a few. Katy Guest, New York Account Specialist for El Silencio, shares her thoughts on mixing with this mezcal: “The smoked agave does not overpower the drink, nor does it lose the flavor,” she shares. “The flavor profile is green peppery, but not spicy, [and] the body is light but still contains earthy tones.”
This mezcal is made from 100 percent Espadín agave and has an ABV of 43 percent. El Silencio is a strong advocate for fair wages and labor practices—for example, the brand works directly with local farmers to support their businesses and distillery. Factory employees are paid 250 percent above minimum wage and are also provided healthcare. It’s a great brand to get behind, and this bottle is as approachable as it is versatile.
Best Under $50: Banhez Mezcal
"Sustainability is at the heart of Banhez,” says Mariah Kunkel, Brand Development Director for Banhez Mezcal Artesanal. “The brand is completely owned and produced by a registered non-profit cooperative of families, communities, farmers, and distillers [who] control the process 100 percent, from start to finish. The success of this brand directly impacts the people and communities who produce it, a rarity when it comes to agave distillates."
This co-op implements a host of different sustainability efforts, such as planting three times as many agave plants as they harvest. At 42 percent ABV and consistently under $50, the Ensemble expression is made from 90 percent Espadín and 10 percent Barril agave. As a representation of its region (Ejutla, Oaxaca), it is a light-bodied and highly-nuanced mezcal offering tropical notes such as banana and pineapple alongside sultry smoke. Kunkel highly recommends either trying Ensemble in cocktails or sipping it on its own.
Most Unique: Del Maguey Espadin Especial Mezcal
Joaquín Simó, an owner of the beloved New York City bar Pouring Ribbons, stumbled upon his favorite mezcal of all time in a non-traditional manner. While on a tour of the Del Maguey partner palenques (distilleries) in Oaxaca with some industry friends, he was introduced to Rogelio Martinez Cruz, who let the group taste something he’d been working on but was not yet for sale. The group fell in love and ultimately convinced Del Maguey to bring it to the United States.
“We insisted that this distillate was singular, that its delicate floral notes were a pronounced departure from the funky barnyard, intense tropical fruit, and searing minerality of his other bottlings,” Simó shares. Simó and his fellow bar pros each committed to ordering their share of cases, and now Del Maguey’s award-winning Espadín Especial expression is available nationwide (and the story Simó tells is on the back of the bottle). Expect complex notes of butterscotch, vanilla, citrus, pineapple, and subtle smoke.
Best Splurge: Sombra Ensamble Mezcal
Erik Delanoy, a longtime New York City bartender, is a big fan of Sombra’s special Ensamble expression, deeming it splurge-worthy for several reasons. “Everything special about this bottling stands on top of the foundation of all that’s great about Sombra as a company," he says. "They are at the forefront of sustainable mezcal production in terms of what they do for local communities, like their adobe brick initiative, along with countless community outreach and sustainability efforts.”
The first release of Ensamble is just 2,000 bottles, and, with an ABV of 51 percent, Delanoy notes that the higher proof helps carry the spirit’s strong finish, lingering on the palate following light smoke and leading vegetal notes with layers of citrus. "Made from Tepeztate and Tobalá agaves, this is an excellent firsthand taste of the high Oaxacan Sierra as these wild agave plants are very closely tied to their terroir," he notes. To offset their harvest of 673 Tobala agaves, Sombra planted 20,000 in their place.
Best for Sipping: Cinco Sentidos Papalometl Mezcal
“For sipping, I can't recommend 5 Sentidos Papalometl enough,” says mezcal ambassador and consultant Carmen Lopez Torres, a food chemist who founded her own mezcal brand in Zacatecas, Mexico. What’s unique about this mezcal, she says, is that the producer ferments the agave juice in the skin of a cow, giving the spirit an interesting lactic, floral flavor. “The distillation is also interesting because it's a full-bodied, sort of esther-charged Mezcal.”
This mezcal’s distiller, Amando Alvarez, is known for his collaborations with a local foundation aiming to reforest indigenous agave species and protect the biosphere in the process.
Best Smoky: Gracias a Dios Pechuga
If you’re looking for a smoke-forward mezcal with dried fruit, spice, and wild turkey qualities, look no further than Gracias a Dios Pechuga. This spirit represents celebration and ritual. Pechuga is often used for special occasions, such as an offering for Dia de los Muertos altars. The Pechuga process typically involves suspending a raw chicken or turkey breast along with local fruits and nuts over the mezcal during final distillation, which mixes with the liquid’s vapors and imparts a subtle flavor to the final product.
This particular expression is double-distilled and offers an ABV of 45 percent. Gracias a Dios is Mexican-owned and is a fully solar-powered distillery. Their factory was built using adobe bricks generated by production waste, and 60 percent of the water used to make their mezcal is collected from the rain (approximately 180,000 liters annually).
Among its many community and ecological efforts, Gracias a Dios is highly prolific when it comes to planting agave, and they pay their workers 25 percent higher than the local standard daily salary in Matatlán.
Best Female-Owned and Produced: Doña Vega Mezcal Espadin
"In a business traditionally dominated by men, Doña Vega Mezcal was not only founded by a woman, but the producers of the agave and mezcal are women as well,” says Maximilian Caraballo, owner and bartender at Boys Don't Cry in New York City. “Doña Vega is one of my favorite mezcal brands on the market right now—the Espadín is great for cocktails. Its blend of smokiness and earthy [notes] add robust flavor and complexity to everything, from adaptations of classic cocktails like a Mezcal Negroni to custom creations utilizing fresh fruits and herbs."
Our top pick is the Del Maguey Vida Mezcal (view at Drizly) because of its versatile nature. It's great for both sipping and mixing, and we love the brand's dedication to preserving the culture and heritage of Mezcal. However, if you really want a mezcal to savor, try Sombra Ensamble Mezcal (view at ReserveBar). It showcases everything mezcal has to offer.
What to Look for in a Mezcal
Given the diverse nature of mezcal, no two bottles are the same. From sweet and spicy to earthy, you can easily find a flavor profile that will suit many different tastes. Consider the drinking preferences of who you're buying for and what food you want to pair it with when planning your menu. The proof is also important. The stronger the proof, the stronger the aroma and tasting notes will be.
Sipping vs. Mixing
Traditionally, mezcal is sipped neat, so its flavors can tend to overpower a mixed drink. If you're looking to mix this spirit into a cocktail, make sure to find one that works for both sipping and mixing.
Since mezcal is made with various wild and rare agaves, sustainability is an important cause for many mezcal brands and enthusiasts. Take time to look into the brand to see if they support the local farmers and communities who produce it, or if they demonstrate sustainability in other ways, such as environmental measures.
What makes mezcal different?
There's only one type of agave plant that makes tequila—that's blue agave—but mezcal can be made from about 30 different varieties of agave. Tequila is a type of mezcal, but not all mezcals are tequila. The taste of mezcal is distinguished by its smoky flavor, which comes from cooking the agave hearts in stone pits in the ground.
Why is mezcal so expensive?
There are a few factors that can contribute to the cost of mezcal. The types of agave plants used to make mezcal take a long time to reach maturity; anywhere from seven to 35 years, depending on the type of plant. The other factor pertains to harvesting, which is a labor-intensive process. Agave is removed from the ground by hand using traditional tools (think machete and manpower). Then, the agave is roasted for several days in pits in the ground. Mezcal is often made is small batches, too, another contributing factor to its expense.
Is mezcal stronger than tequila?
The taste of it may be stronger—it's more assertive in some ways than tequila, because it tends to be smokier—but in terms of the alcohol by volume (ABV), there's no real discrepancy between mezcal and tequila, or mezcal and most other distilled spirits.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats
Céline Bossart has spent the past seven years writing about all things wine and spirits, and mezcal has become a personal favorite of hers along the way. Her preferred agave spirit cocktail is a Tommy’s Margarita made with a Joven Mezcal.