This Friday, October 21st is National Mezcal Day. While the “holiday” is something I learned about from an influx of emails into my inbox rather than a date marked on my calendar, it is a good opportunity to highlight the spirit and what it’s all about.
Mezcal has been around for a long time. Archaeological records show people cultivating agave, roasting it, and consuming as far back as 8,000 years ago, and while they might have not been making a spirit that’s exactly like today’s mezcal, it was an early iteration of the drink.
There are 270 different species of agave out there, but only 30 can be distilled to make mezcal. Like Tequila, which can only be made in certain areas of Mexico (90% is made in the Jalisco region), mezcal can only be made in nine Mexican states; however, the majority of the spirit (roughly 85%) is made in Oaxaca.
The other regions are Durango, Guanajuato, Guerrero, San Luis Potosí, Tamaulipas, Zacatecas, and Michoacan.
Is mezcal tequila?
There’s some overlap in the Tequila and Mezcal regions, which in a way makes any tequila there technically also a mezcal, although not all mezcal counts as a tequila.
Tequila is made from Blue Weber agave and must be produced in the tequila region on Mexico, mezcal; however, can be made from those 30 types of agave (Blue Weber being one).
Agave for tequila is also typically cooked in an above-ground oven, while agave for mezcal is typically cooked in an underground pit, giving it a smoky taste.
The pit smoking will typically give mezcal a smokier flavor profile than its tequila cousin. Some bottles can have smoky profiles that rival scotch, while others might have more subtle smoky flavors .
I’m personally a huge fan of sipping my mezcal straight rather than always in a cocktail, and I always recommend doing that with any spirit before you jump straight into making a cocktail.
If you’re on the hunt for a good bottle, Montolobos Espadin and Del Maguey Vida both retail for around $30, are available in a good number of markets, and are great ones to get started with. Madre and Recuerdo are also both larger brands you should be able to get your hands on most places, and there are tons of smaller brands out there making some really amazing stuff — ask your favorite local liquor store for a recommendation .
If you’re in a cocktail mood, here a few suggestions from some great mezcal brands and bartenders to help you celebrate:
Saints and Sinners
From Tillie’s restaurant at Camp Lucy in Dripping Springs, Texas
- 1 oz Republic Tequila
- .5 oz Del Maguey Vida Mezcal
- 1 oz Hibiscus syrup
- 1 oz Lime Juice
Make the cocktail: Served built in rocks glass, topped with ice and ginger beer. Garnished with lime skewer and mint sprig
- 2 oz Doña Vega mezcal Espadin
- 1 oz fresh lemon juice
- .75 oz organic agave syrup
- 1 egg white
Make the cocktail: Add ingredients to a shaker without ice. Shake well. Add ice, shake, and strain into a glass with ice. Garnish with Luxardo cherry, and fresh grated cinnamon.
- 2oz Desolas Mezcal
- 1.5 oz grapefruit juice
- .5 oz fresh lemon juice
- .75 oz aperol
- Splash of club soda
Make the cocktail: Add all ingredients to a glass and stir. Garnish with thyme or grapefruit wedge.
- 2 oz Dos Hombres Mezcal
- 1 oz Grapefruit Juice
- .5 oz Lime Juice
- .75 oz Habanero Agave
- Pinch of Rose Gold Edible Glitter (shaken)
- Top with Jarritos Grapefruit
- Garnish with Grilled Grapefruit Slice
Make the cocktail: In a pint glass filled with ice, add Dos Hombres mezcal, grapefruit juice, lime juice, habanero agave, and pinch of rose gold edible glitter –– shake vigorously. Strain drink over fresh ice into a highball glass. Add a half rim of black salt. Top with Jarritos grapefruit soda. Garnish with a grilled grapefruit slice
Anejo Last Word
Created by Thomas Mizuno-Moore, Senior Beverage Manager at Aba in Austin, Texas
- 1oz Ilegal Anejo Mezcal
- .25oz Chartreuse Green VEP
- .5oz Chartreuse Yellow
- .75oz Luxardo Maraschino
- .75oz Lime Juice
Make the cocktail: 1. Put a coupe glass in a freezer for at least 5 minutes (or as long as you want!) 2. Combine all ingredients in a shaker 3. Add ice and shake until the shaker is frosty cold 4. Remove coupe glass and double strain the mix into the glass 5. Garnish with a lime twist and cherry skewer 6. Enjoy!