You may have heard that mezcal has a worm in it or that it’s hallucinogenic—but that’s just folklore. This smoky spirit is great or mixed with citrus, sweeteners, and bitters. A mezcal spin on a whiskey sour balances out tart lime and agave with the smokiness of bozal ensemble mezcal. Garnish with a dehydrated citrus wheel.
It’s a Base Spirit
Page through classic cocktail books, and you’ll notice that the smoky cousin of tequila was almost absent from the cannon until recently. It wasn’t that no one drank mezcal—it’s just that the spirit was seen as trashy, associated with youthful excursions to Cancun and shots of foul-tasting swill sipped on a dare. Mezcal’s smoky profile can be balanced with citrusy ingredients, like lime juice or grapefruit soda, and sweeteners, like simple syrup or honey. Add aromatic bitters like Angostura, mole or Angostura, and you’ve got a drink that can play a starring role in almost any recipe. Mixing mezcal cocktails is easy, even if you’re not a sour mixologist. The base spirit is usually tequila, but you can substitute in any other agave spirits—try a joven mezcal in a margarita for extra smoke or a tobal in an Old Fashioned for an earthy depth. While the gimmick of a worm in a bottle of mezcal isn’t a necessary part of the spirit, many brands still include them to boost sales and appeal to Western sensibilities.
It’s Easy to Mix
For those who like to mix our cocktails, tequila and mezcal are easy to work with. They pair well with many ingredients and can elevate any cocktail. The key is to use a high-quality mezcal, ranging from smooth and light to bold and smoky. Tequila and mezcal are also easier to drink than people think, so they are becoming popular in the United States. Gone are the days when tequila was seen as a cheap party shot that lacked flavour and was often sloppyly mixed. Today, mezcal tequila cocktails have gained the attention and respect it deserves as a sophisticated spirit worthy of being in the limelight. When paired with citrus, tequila and mezcal can create deliciously refreshing drinks. This smoky grapefruit cocktail is a great example. It’s perfect for poolside, dinner parties, taco night or Cinco de Mayo. It’s made with smoky mezcal, fresh grapefruit juice and citrus soda. Add a shot of mezcal to a cocktail shaker, with 1 ounce of grapefruit juice and 0.5 ounces of agave syrup to make this drink. Add ice to the shaker and shake well—strain into a Collins glass and top with soda. Garnish with a slice of grapefruit, and enjoy! If you want to spice things up, try this mezcal margarita riff. It uses mezcal, serrano-infused triple sec and muddled cucumber and cilantro to produce a spicy yet refreshing drink that’s the perfect warm-weather sipper.
It’s More Versatile
While tequila might have become the go-to spirit for a cheap party shooter, its smoky cousin, mezcal, has risen to prominence with bartenders worldwide, making it the star of many cocktails. And as agave spirits sales continue to skyrocket, we must respect the spirit and highlight the flavours in a cocktail rather than hide them under a barrage of sugar, citrus, or other masking ingredients. Mezcal’s smoky and vaguely bitter flavour profile pairs well with many other ingredients. It plays nicely with floral, herbaceous, and citrusy liqueurs or sweeter notes like honey or vanilla. And it can also be paired with complex bitter flavours like amaro, balancing out the drink’s structure.
For example, a bartender made a mezcal margarita with Montelebos mezcal, Nonino amaro, lemon and carrot juices, and house-made ginger syrup that is both balanced and refreshing. Meanwhile, he combines mezcal with blanc vermouth, creme de menthe, and celery bitters—which sounds strange on paper but is surprisingly delightful. Suppose you’re looking to add a little mezcal to your drink repertoire. Try a Mezcal Margarita or a Mezcal Negroni. Both will be a good introduction to mezcal’s versatility and impress more discerning tequila and whiskey drinkers.
Unlike tequila, which has been largely commodified through industrialized production, the best mezcaleros follow centuries-old traditions, including roasting the hearts of agave in pits, mashing them with wooden mallets or a tahona, fermentation using ambient yeasts, and distillation in copper or clay. This artisanal production process makes mezcal a much more complex spirit, and it’s worth the extra effort to discover its full range of flavours.
Thankfully, mezcal is also more affordable. This makes it a perfect base spirit for a whole host of cocktails. And with mezcal’s rise in popularity, a good bottle should still cost less than a single shot of tequila.
Mix mezcal with a little sugar and lime juice for a deliciously refreshing cocktail for an easy-to-make, agave-infused margarita. Or try a more savoury cocktail with a fusion of mezcal, serrano-infused triple sec, muddled cilantro and cucumber, and unrefined sugar syrup. If you want to stock your backbar with a mezcal suitable for mixing, consider the Agave de Cortes’ La Puritita Verda. A joven made with cultivated espadin, the mezcal delivers classic smokiness and notes of green tropical fruit and agave. It’s half the price of Del Maguey’s Vida, making it one of our favourite affordable mezcals to sip or mix.