You might know at least a little bit about tequila, but do you know anything about mezcal? Probably not. The spirit got its name from the Aztec phrase for “cooked agave,” and that should give you at least a little indication about what it is. In the most basic terms, all tequila is mezcal, but not all mezcal is tequila. Even though tequila is more well-known, technically, tequila is a type of mezcal. Surprising? We get it.
Mezcal is the broad term for all spirits made from agave. That’s why tequila is a type of mezcal. It’s made solely with 100% Blue Weber agave. Mezcal on the other hand can be made from myriad agaves including arroqueño, tobaziche, tepeztate, tobalá, and most commonly espadín. There are other rules, including geography regulations (tequila can only be made in Jalisco and a handful of other states, while mezcal can be made in nine states, including its heart of Oaxaca) as well, but we’re most interested in the agave.
If you didn’t know it already, one of the main differences between tequila and mezcal is the cooking process. While tequila pinas are baked in ovens, mezcal pinas are most often slow-roasted in underground pits. This gives the spirit a roasted agave; it’s vanilla, gently spicy, and lightly smoky throughout. The rich, complex, smoky aroma and flavor add an extra kick to your favorite cocktails. It works well in an old-fashioned, margarita, and myriad other cocktails.
We love mezcal for its versatility when it comes to mixing—roasted agave, vanilla, toffee, oak, spices, and, of course, robust smoke. While there are some mezcal cocktails, it’s a great spirit to swap with whiskey, vodka, and especially tequila to add a nuanced, rich, smoky dimension.
5.) Mezcal Margarita
The classic Margarita is made with triple sec (usually Cointreau), fresh lime juice, and tequila. Simply swap out the tequila for a smoky mezcal, and you’re rocking an all-new flavor experience. You don’t even need to change any of the other ingredients. Just use mezcal instead of the usual tequila and enter a world of smoky agave goodness.
4.) Oaxaca Old Fashioned
Another cocktail that proves that mezcal is the perfect spirit to swap to create a new mixed drink experience is the Oaxaca Old Fashioned. This drink doesn’t simply swap out whiskey for mezcal, though. This modern classic was created in 2007 by bartender Phil Ward at Death & Co. in New York City. Instead of the usual old-fashioned ingredients, this drink is made with reposado tequila, mezcal, agave nectar, and
3.) Mezcal Negroni
While this is far from the first Negroni variation, it’s absolutely our favorite. This drink, which gained in popularity in the early aughts, swaps out the classic London dry gin for smoky mezcal and pairs it with the familiar Campari and sweet vermouth. Instead of having the herbal juniper element, this version pairs a smoky roasted agave flavor with bitter liqueur and the sweetness from the vermouth.
2.) Mezcal Mule
When it comes to classic cocktails, it’s tough to beat the appeal of the spicy, flavorful Moscow Mule. Named because the main ingredient is vodka, the other ingredients are ginger beer and lime juice. You can still serve the drink in a copper mug even if you decide to swap out the neutral spirit, semi-flavorless vodka, for smoky, rich, complex mezcal instead.
1.) Naked and Famous
Another modern classic, Naked and Famous was created by bartender Joaquín Simó in 2011 at Death and Co. in New York City. It’s known as a mezcal take on the traditional Last Word cocktail. Made with mezcal, yellow chartreuse, Aperol, and fresh lime juice, it’s known for its smoky, earthy, agave-forward, bittersweet flavor. What’s not to love?
In terms of flavor, unaged mezcal maintains its vegetal sweetness and a ton of roasted agave flavor. Aging changes this, adding flavors like vanilla, caramel, and oak. The key is figuring out what kind of mezcal you want. Since this will be exclusively for mixing, you’ll probably want some unaged mezcals as well as aged mezcals.
And why not throw in a Mezcal de Pechuga while you’re at it? If you didn’t know it already, this mezcal style includes a chicken. Yes, you read that right. The mezcal distillers hang a chicken breast inside the still during distillation. The vapor passes through the meat, infusing the spirit with even more smoke and meaty, earthy, robust aromas and flavors.
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