Skip to main content

Mezcal is Rising in Popularity and Here’s Why

Mezcal is firing on all cylinders these days, and it’s not just riding the rise of tequila’s coattails. The distinctive spirit, to agave a bit like Scotch is to whiskey, is more popular than ever and shows no signs of slowing down.

Reports suggest that mezcal production jumped ten percent from 2019 to 2020. Nielsen numbers indicate that the number of exports to the U.S. between 2015 and 2019 jumped fivefold. Producers took a hit during the pandemic, as so many industries did, but they are looking to bounce back. Smaller outfits tend to rely on local tourism to sell their wares but hopefully, with the added awareness here in the U.S., more importers will bring on some quality labels and expose more of us to this one-of-a-kind drink.


man in the agave field carrying a pina.
Mezcal Union / Mezcal Union

It’s Its Own Thing

To understand mezcal better, one needs to dissect a few myths hovering around the spirit. Naysayers write the stuff off as smoky tequila and a little more. And while many mezcals are smoky, the smoke spectrum is pretty broad and dependent on the amount of resin in the wood during production. Another myth has to do with aging, but it’s a fair one given that most of what ends up in the states is the clear, un-aged, or barely aged stuff. There can be Reposado and Añejo mezcals too, aged in wood or even in glass containers.

Some even think mezcal should only be consumed neat and while that’s a fine way, most of us have evolved past that. Many other spirits started the same way, ultimately finding a great home in a number of standup cocktails. Because mezcal is made from some 46 different species of agave (not to mention in nine different Mexican states), what you end up with as a spirit is quite diverse, flavor-wise. Granted, most of what ends up here is made in Oaxaca (as estimated 90% right now), but each producer has their own way of creating the stuff and the resulting spectrum is fun to explore.

The Popularity

There is no question that tequila has helped elevate mezcal’s role in the drinks world. Shining a spotlight on Mexico has made us all thirsty for the many other things produced there, very much including mezcal. It’s presently one of the fastest-growing drink categories in the U.S., with the spirit showing up on cocktail menus from sea to shining sea. Mezcal has officially gone from something bartenders occasionally chatted about and poured samples of after-hours to a bona fide contender not just among agave spirits, but spirits at large.

Part of the popularity is owed to its versatility. Mezcal can fill in just about anywhere tequila can but can also plug into drinks that involve Scotch or other types of whiskey.

Mezcal distillation stills Image used with permission by copyright holder

The Future

Now that mezcal has made waves here in the states, we get to enjoy the best part of that arrival. In the next year or two, we’ll be treated to more options, allowing us to really gain an appreciation for the nuance and terroir involved. Bartenders will continue to fine-tune their recipes and we may even see more Mezcal-centric eateries and bars pop up, especially under an administration that doesn’t think poorly of our neighbors to the south.

If mezcal follows in tequila’s footsteps, we will almost surely see a growing number of luxury brands. Watch for celebrities to lean into the trend, investing in or starting up their own mezcal-focused labels. The popularity is something to be cautious of and consumers would be wise to invest in brands that truly care about sustainability, from an environmental and social standpoint. This is especially important with mezcal, which is a highly traditional export waiting to be gobbled up by big brands that care more about bottom lines than anything else. If things get out of hand, the quality will diminish and there may even be a shortage of agave, as it tends to regenerate slowly and not respond well to large, industrialized operations.

Editors' Recommendations

Mark Stock
Mark Stock is a writer from Portland, Oregon. He fell into wine during the Recession and has been fixated on the stuff since…
The history of Pilsner, one of the planet’s most popular beers
If you imbibe in Pilsners, then you should know these facts
Three friends cheering with glasses of pilsner beer

Of all the beers, Pilsner has one of the coolest histories. Named after the Czech Republic town (Plzen), which it was born in, Pilsner is the planet's original pale lager. It has since become one of the most brewed and guzzled beer styles anywhere.
What are the origins of Pilsner beer?

One of the most interesting aspects of its origin story is that Pilsner literally turned the game on its head. Prior to its invention in the mid-19th century, brewers top-fermented their beers. Essentially, this means that the fermenting wort was pitched yeast on the surface to get the fermentation process rolling. Brewing this way requires higher temperatures and could result in irregularities and off-flavors or aromas. The Pilsner was the first true bottom-fermented beer. The process tends to be a bit slower, involves lower temperatures, and almost always yields a cleaner beer. To this day, ale implies top-fermented, while lager stands for bottom-fermented.

Read more
What is Americano coffee? (And why you have WWII to thank for it)
americano coffee

Coffee aficionados love the bold, rich espresso taste of an Americano, but many newer coffee drinkers might find they're not quite sure what this popular beverage is. The Americano coffee offers a classic espresso taste that is not clouded by added sugar or cream. With so many coffee choices to select in our modern era, from handcrafted lattes to flat whites, the Americano remains a classic -- and for good reason. Below, discover how Americano coffee is made and how it came to be one of the most popular coffee drinks today.
What is an Americano coffee?

An Americano coffee is simply delicious, made of two simple ingredients: hot water and espresso. Typically, this drink is served with either 1/2 water and 1/2 espresso or 1/2 or 1/3 espresso to 2/3 water. Although the ratio of water to espresso can vary depending on the coffee shop, the foundations of an Americano coffee remain the same no matter where you order it.

Read more
The transfusion drink is our favorite golf cocktail — here’s how to make it
Vodka, grape juice, ginger ale, and lime. What's not to love?
Transfusion cocktail

Sure, golf is a great game. It’s a wonderful way to spend an afternoon in the sun, even if your last name isn't Woods, Scheffler, Mickelson, or Spieth. If you don’t take it too seriously (and don’t spend all day stuck in sand traps), it’s a fairly stress-free leisure activity. The best part? After you finish the back nine, you can head to the clubhouse for a much-deserved cocktail. That is if you didn’t spend the whole eighteen holes downing Miller Lites.

And while there are countless famous golf course cocktails like the Azalea and the always popular Old Fashioned, we don’t think a day at the golf club is complete without a refreshing, flavorful Transfusion.
What is a Transfusion?

Read more