Bottoms Up to Mezcal Week 2020. FINALLY something in 2020 we can get behind.
Love mezcal but not sure what to buy? We've all been there, it’s time to step up our agave spirit game to drink smarter, not harder. We created these recommendations to help guide your buying decisions based on whether you’re going to use it for a cocktail or sip it slowwwwly.
The first question to ask yourself is whether you want to put this agave spirit a cocktail or to slow sip? The difference lies in whether the maguey (aka agave) is farmed i.e. Espadin or wild-caught i.e. Tobaxiche. We recommend trying all mezcals to develop a palate and begin to detect the flavors beyond the smokiness.
Before diving into the details, mezcal is an incredibly laborious and rustic spirit. Oaxacans affectionately shared, "Tequila is the spirit of Mexico, but Mezcal is the soul." We encourage our readers to taste small-batch, artisanal mezcals not just the celeb-back, commercial brands. Mezcaleros are still using traditional methods to craft special complex spirits. Try the good stuff before assuming that all mezcal is just "smokey" there's WAY more to it than a single descriptor.
Mezcal usually has a 45% ABV, so anything above 50 percent is generally good, sippable quality (i.e. the stuff you wouldn’t throw in a cocktail, save for a splash of something sparkling that won’t muddy the flavors). The higher the ABV, the higher the quality and certainly the slower we’d recommend drinking it. No chugging please.
There are three production classification tiers for mezcal (listed in order of quality): industrial, artisanal, and ancestral which was passed into law in 2017. You guessed correct, industrial is the large scale production methods. The differentiation comes from the fermentation and distillation vessels. The agaves can be cooked in either stainless steel, stone ovens, or earthen pit ovens. High-end ancestral mezcal is typically cooked in earthen pit ovens, milled by a stone mill (with the help of a horse or mule) called tahona, and fermented in either wood, clay or animal skins. The distillation for ancestral is done in clay pots.
Judge a Mezcal by its Cover
Another hint is whether the bottle mentions the name of the Maestro/a Mezcalero/a. Quality brands will be as transparent as possible on their label. Typically they’ll list out: the agave varietals or species, the age of the agave plant, the state, village, or region where it’s made, it’s unique NOM number to link back to its distillery, type of grind, oven, fermentation vessel, and still used.
If you’re cranking out delicious cocktails, similar to our Blood Orange Picante, we’d recommend these mezcals. We’ve included pricing as listed on Drizly for 750 mL, as of September 2020. Pricing will vary depending on region and alcohol regulations.
Celeb-backed Agave Spirits
We love celebs just as much as the next person. You may have noticed that there are a ton of celeb-backed tequilas and mezcals. Here’s the full recap:
- Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is part of Teremana Tequila
- George Clooney (hubba hubba) is one of the original founders of Casamigos Tequila & Mezcal
- Justin Timberlake backed Sauza 901 Tequila
- P. Diddy backed DeLeón Tequila
- Rita Ora backs Próspero Tequila
- Guy Fieri & Sammy Hagar backed Santo Mezquila (a blend of 100% Blue Weber Agave and 100% Espadin Agave)
Did we mention that the Backstreet Boys are rumored to launch a tequila brand? We hope it’s as dreamy as their 2000’s dance moves. The rumor leaked back in 2018. Quit playing games with our hearts fellas!
Perfect Mezcals for Cocktailing
Simple Cocktail Mezcal
Keeping it in the Family
Female Owned from Cali
Perfect Mezcals for Sipping
The tricky thing about high end mezcal is that the GOOD stuff is small batch produced which means it might be difficult to find. We’ve listed our favorite producers that may offer higher end options but we figured we’d start with options you’re likely to find.
Bad Ass Mezcalera
Quality Value Award
Ready for More?
If you’re new to mezcal and are eager to learn more, we compiled our favorite resources to brush up on our favorite agave spirit.
- Mezcal: The History, Craft, and Cocktails of the World’s Ultimate Artisanal Spirit
If you’re more of a taster than a reader, these are our favorite spots in Los Angeles for mezcal cocktails and tastings.
- Madre Restaurant - three locations including their newly opened WeHo location, Torrance, and Culver City
- Mercado - multiple locations in Santa Monica, Los Angeles, Hollywood, Pasadena, and Manhattan Beach
- Guelaguetza - KoreaTown
- Gracias Madre - WeHo
- Toca Madera - WeHo
- Petty Cash Taqueria - WeHo
- El Nopal - Anaheim
- Bar Ama - Downtown LA