If you’re not an avid drinker of Mexico’s agave-based spirits, you might be a little confused about what mezcal is. You might be surprised to learn that mezcal, not tequila, is the umbrella term to describe agave-based spirits. In the simplest terms, all tequila is mezcal, but not all mezcal is tequila.
There are a few key differences between the two spirits that you should know if you ever want to have a conversation with someone at a party or amuse your mail person. While tequila can only be made in the state of Jalisco (where the town of Tequila is located) and a handful of other states, mezcal can be made in several states, including San Luis Potosí, Guerrero, Durango, Pueblo, Zacatecas, Michoacán, Guanajuato, and Oaxaca.
To make mezcal, the agave heart (also known as the piña) is slowly roasted in the ground (while the agave for tequila is often steamed in brick ovens). This creates a richer, smokier, bolder spirit than its tequila counterpart. Also, while tequila can only be made using Blue Weber agave, mescaleros are allowed to use myriad different types of agave.
While there’s no wrong time to drink mezcal, we believe that its combination of subtle smoke and sweet, roasted agave, vanilla, and oaky flavors make it one of the best spirits to begin 2024.
Mezcal is warming, complex, and highly flavorful. What’s not to love? That’s why we decided to begin the new year on a good note and list (and rank) five of our favorite mezcals below. Keep scrolling to see our favorite mezcals of 2024 so you’ll know what bottles to add to your home bar cart.
5. Agave de Cortés Mezcal Joven
This surprisingly well-priced joven mezcal is made with 100% Espadin mezcal. When it was first released in 2015, this un-aged, mellow expression was the first mezcal produced by the Cortes family, who have been crafting mezcal in Santiago Matatlan for five generations. It’s well-known for its smoky undertones and notes of roasted agave, tropical fruits, light herbal flavors, and gentle spices. It’s perfect for slow-sipping on a cool night or mixing into your favorite tequila or mezcal cocktail.
4. Mi Mama Me Dijo Mezcal
This brand was founded in 2016 in Matatlán, Oaxaca, México. Made from 100% Espadin agave, it’s a mescalera by Emmy Hernández, a fifth-generation mezcal maker. Not only is this award-winning mezcal great, but it also utilizes sustainable production practices. The mezcal itself is known for its mix of vegetal sweetness, roasted agave, earthy flavors, and rich smoke throughout. It’s a sweet, smoky, memorable mezcal you’ll want on hand for all occasions.
3. Pelotón de la Muerte Criollo
It might not be the most attractive bottle, but don’t let that dissuade you from trying it. This epic mezcal was made with 100% Maguey Criollo agave in the Guerro region of Mexico. It was fermented using open-air fermentation for a full five days before being distilled in both Arabic and Filipino stills. The result is a complex mezcal with notes of tropical fruits, agave, and smoke on the nose. Drinking it slowly, neat, or on the rocks brings forth flavors of roasted agave, peppers, gentle spices, oak, and a nice kick of robust smoke.
2. Del Maguey Vida Clásico
There are few mezcals more well-known than Del Maguey. You can’t go wrong with any of its expressions, but this year, we’ll be drinking Del Maguey Vida Clásico. Distilled in the village of San Luis Del Rio in Oaxaca, this hand-crafted mezcal is made with 100% Espadin agave and stilled in copper pot stills. It’s known for its flavors of oaky wood, vegetal sweetness, roasted agave, cracked black pepper, and gentle smoke. It’s a great mezcal to start your collection with.
1. Las Tonas Coyote Reposado Mezcal
Just like with tequila, not all mezcal is un-aged. There are numerous nuanced, aged mezcals on the market. One of our favorites is Las Tonas Coyote Reposado Mezcal. Matured for six months, this 100% Espadin agave-based mezcal is known for its nose of vanilla, dried fruits, and roasted agave. The palate is a symphony of cinnamon, citrus peels, roasted agave, oaky wood, and gentle smoke. If you only buy one mezcal for late-night shipping, this is the one.
If you’re already a tequila fan, you’ll probably want to dive right in and try them all. If you’re new to agave-based spirits, you should probably start a little slower. We suggest purchasing one of the un-aged expressions. Mix it into a margarita, Paloma, or another cocktail and start from them. Then try it neat and move up to longer-aged expressions as your palate develops.
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