Skip to main content

The Manual may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site.

If You’re New to Mezcal, Then You Need to Start With These Bottles

Ever tried tequila? United States drinkers love this notorious Mexican liquor as it is the leading market for this foreign drink, according to International Wine & Spirit Research. What most consumers don’t know, however, is that tequila is mezcal, one of many liquors that originate from distilling the succulent agave plant. Like bourbon is to whiskey, tequila can only be produced in Jalisco and three surrounding states using at least 51 percent blue agave. Mezcal, on the other hand, can originate from an array of different agaves in 13 of Mexico’s 32 states.

Like its whiskey northern cousin, mezcal offers a journey across the palate from smoky Oaxacan spirits through floral, fruity, earthen, and even sour flavors. Agave takes eight to 30 years to mature, is hand-harvested, and, if done right, smoked and fermented with manual labor. This results in a rich, complex spirit that can be complicated for the beginner to navigate.

If you’re looking to enter the wonderful, complex world of mezcal, but don’t know where to start, The Manual has got your back. The following are five examples that represent the blue-green speared tip of the mezcal world. Let these guide you on a journey into Mexico’s most complex spirited nectar.

A Prime Mezcal Mixer — Illegal Espadín

Illegal Espadín being poured into a sipping glass.
Illegal Espadín.

Mezcal Espadín describes the types of agave plant that it comes from. Espadín is to Mezcal what blue agave is to tequila — 90% of all mezcals are made or blended with espadín agave. In manufacturing the mezcal, mezcaleros roast harvested espadín agave in an earthen pit to prepare it for distilling, resulting in a smoky spirit.

Most mezcal imported from Mexico is from Oaxaca in the southern part of the country. Illegal is produced by fourth-generation mezcaleros in Oaxaca’s Santiago Matatlan Valley and is a great mixer. Espadín is typically un-aged alcohol, which is lighter and less aggressive. This hint of smoke is the perfect accompaniment to a margarita or Paloma and Illegal Mezcal.

Illegal is so-named because founder John Rexer used to smuggle mezcal out of Mexico to serve at his underground music club in Guatemala. The moniker also aims to bring awareness to the socioeconomic inequities involved in illegal migration, a cause that Rexer also supports with donated proceeds to progressive causes.

For a full-bodied mezcal experience, that’s easy on smoke, but lingers in a heated mouth, give Illegal Espadín a shot.

A Smoky Treat — The Producer Tepeztate

A bottle of The Producer's Tepeztate accented by agave plants.
The Producer Tepeztate.

Outside of espadín are dozens of different agave plants that all yield different types of distillations. A modernizing marketplace, however, means that many of these brews are disappearing because of their rarity and the time required to produce them. Tepeztate, for example, comes from the agave marmorata plant, takes 15-25 years to mature, and now requires sustainability efforts to help conserve its production. Enter The Producer.

In an homage to people who seek quality and detail in their edibles, The Producer puts out a minimalist bottle meant to transport consumers to small Oaxacan villages where labels can be a simple piece of masking tape.

Towards this adventurous temperament, The Producer’s Tepeztate mezcal features a native coastal Oaxacan agave that Maestro Celestino Sernas ferments in copper pot stills for 13 days. This open-air fermentation lets the liquid breathe in the sea air, adding a subtle salinity and dryness that expresses its terroir above Tepeztate’s deep, mysterious smoke.

Buy Now

A Royal Tropical Breed — Fósforo Tobalá

A bottle of Fósforo Mezcal.
Fósforo Mezcal.

A small agave varietal that packs a powerful punch, the Tobalá grows at high altitudes and features broad, spade-like leaves. Known to many as the king agave, Tobalá can only grow from seed and is becoming increasingly rare. The compact size of this agave yields limited quantities of mezcal and takes eight to 15 years to reach maturation. This agave offers intensely aromatic mezcal with complex notes of tropical fruit.

Fósforo, founded by the wife and husband duo of Lisa Detwiler and Jim Cramer, is produced using hand-harvested tobolá agave, cooked in underground pits for almost a week. After a slow, ten-day wild-fermentation, the fermented mosto is distilled to extract a complex, yet balanced joven (young) mezcal — un-aged and crystal clear. On the nose are aromas of ripe fruit, bell pepper, and honey above wet stone and a smoldering campfire. On the palate, Fósforo’s Tobalá bursts with grilled flavor — lively notes of cooked agave, caramelized pineapple, and fresh herbs that give way to a smoky-smooth finish.

Buy Now

Elusive Earthen Spirits — Bozal Chocolate Coyote

Bozal Chocolate Coyote Mezcal accompanied by nuts and a cigar.
Bozal Mezcal.

Another rare agave, Bozal Mezcal sources coyote from Villa Sola de Vega in Oaxaca. The varietals harvested within this region produce a mezcal with flavors that are exotically intense, with rich earth tones and savory smokiness.

An alternative to commercially-produced mezcals, Bozal is a 100% artisanal alcohol made in Oaxaca and Guerrero, where indigenous varieties of wild agave grow on steep hillsides. Typically characterized by herbaceous and earthy aromatics with a spicy finish, Bozal brews an excellent expression of coyote’s singular expression.

An earthy and slightly smoky entry leads to a mid-palate that is driven by flavors of minerality and rich dark chocolate. With a dry and balanced finish, Chocolate Coyote is a mezcal crafted for sipping and savoring its complex character.

Finding Mezcal is Tough But Worth the Effort

You may have to do a little legwork to add the above mezcals to your liquor cabinet, but it’s worth the effort to gain entrance into mezcal’s elaborate offerings. If you find yourself enjoying the experience and wanting to explore more, you might consider connecting with a local mezcal bar or even taking an adventure to mezcal’s source in Mexico. The world out there awaits.

Editors' Recommendations

Matthew Denis
Matt Denis is an on-the-go remote multimedia reporter, exploring arts, culture, and the existential in the Pacific Northwest…
A novice cheesemaker’s guide on how to make cheese at home
Ever wanted to make your own cheese? Let this story be your faithful guide
how to make cheese a novice cheesemakers guide on at home

The art of cheesemaking is a time-honored tradition that is far less complicated than one might think. If you are a cheese connoisseur, knowing how to make your own at home can unlock a world of unpasteurized possibilities. For the beginner cheesemaker, it's best to start with a soft cheese like Chevre or Mozzarella, which require fewer steps and minimal aging. Once you have mastered the basics, the combinations are endless.

Want to impress next time you're pairing up wine and cheese? There's no better way than with some tasty dairy you made yourself, with your own bare hands. From the sheep to cow's milk to added herbs and even dairy-free, you can create the cheese of your wildest dreams. To help you embark on your cheesemaking journey, here are the fundamentals you need to know to begin making the freshest, most delicious cheese right at home.
The Basics of Cheesemaking

Read more
We found a really clever use for sous vide nobody talks about
One clever Reddit user figured out a surprising use for the versatile sous vide machine
Honey dipper and honeycomb on a table

You've probably heard of the hottest "new" cooking method, sous vide — though it isn't actually new at all. It turns out that many restaurant chefs have been using this technique for ages to achieve the most consistently delicious, perfect-every-time cooking for their dishes.
Only recently have home cooks been able to take advantage of this rather modern cooking method, and it seems the recipe world has caught fire with new sous vide tips and tricks on every cooking website and blog in town. But if you're still unfamiliar with the trendy cooking method, you're not alone.

What is sous vide cooking?
Though the process may seem rather complicated and scientific, it's really quite simple to understand. The term sous vide is French, which translates to "under vacuum." In other words, food is vacuum sealed in a pouch, and then cooked in a temperature-controlled water bath.
Why is sous vide cooking useful?
Chefs and home cooks alike love to sous vide for a few reasons. One reason is for the consistency it offers. With traditional cooking methods, exact temperatures are nearly impossible to set; let alone duplicate each time you cook a particular dish. With sous vide cooking, you can set a precise temperature and that's how your dish will cook every time -- giving you the consistency you're after. The water bath and vacuum seal also allow your food to cook in its own juices, and this creates a much more tender and flavorful dish each time.
Using a sous video device to decrystallize honey
by u/cruftbox in Beekeeping
What can I cook in a sous vide machine?
The versatility of foods you can prepare in a sous vide machine is arguably unparalleled by any other kitchen appliance. You can use this machine to make vegetables, meat, chicken, pork, fish, eggs, and even desserts.

Read more
Star Wars drinking game rules you can use for all the movies
These drinking game rules will ensure that the Force of intoxication is with you, whether it's May the Fourth or not.
star wars drinking game rules cocktails death feature image

May the Fourth may come just once a year, but celebrating everything that Star Wars has given us shouldn't be confined to a single day. You should feel free to rewatch your favorite Star Wars films whenever you want, especially since they're so conveniently located on Disney Plus.

As fun as lounging and binge-watching is in and of itself, you might find that adding alcohol to the equation really spices things up. This is why movie drinking games are a great way to take any film you've already seen and add a whole new level of entertainment on top of it. With 11 different movies to choose from, we thought it best to create one list of Star Wars drinking game rules to rule them all. So whether you're starting with the original trilogy or jumping ahead to The Force Awakens, here are some drinking guidelines to try to stick to throughout.

Read more