While mezcal remains a smaller market overall compared to tequila, mezcal’s 19 percent increase in U.S. volume last year shows that it’s gaining a captive audience. As VinePair reported, mezcal is not just tequila’s smoky cousin, but a complex spirit with a range of categories and production methods worth exploring.
Since mezcal deserves a prime spot in your home bar, VinePair asked beverage professionals across the country to give us their expert opinions on the brands and bottles worth your taste buds and money.
Given that many bars and restaurants are currently closed due to coronavirus, at the time of reporting, we asked bartenders to provide links to Venmo accounts or GoFundMe campaigns to help support them, as well as the venues with which they are affiliated.
To learn more about helping the hospitality community at this time, please visit: How to Give Back to Hospitality Professionals Impacted by Covid-19.
“Mezcal is such a varied category, despite its reputation for being a smoke bomb. Some are delicate and floral, others are brooding and intense, so it all depends on what style you prefer. For a nice compromise, I would recommend Montelobos. It strikes a nice balance between smoke, herbal, and savory notes.” — Scott Kollig, Beverage Manager, Rye Street Tavern, Baltimore
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“A couple answers here, depending on what your definition of “bang” is. If you mean societal contribution, you want Yola Mezcal. This brand is the most socially active I am aware of, attuned to culture, activism, and awareness. I would also want to mention that Silencio has been in constant contact with bars and restaurants in L.A. to offer support during the last month. If you mean “bang” as in the biggest bottle of quality mezcal at a fair price, you want the big bottle of Peloton de la Muerte Mezcal Joven.” — Jeremy Allen, General Manager/Head Bartender, MiniBar, Los Angeles
“I can’t speak more highly about Del Maguey’s Vida label. I’m typically wary of anything that’s labeled as a “bang-for-your-buck” mezcal as the category as a whole is not something I think people should be looking for a deal on. The process of making mezcal is labor-intensive and it can take over a decade for an agave to fully mature to a point where it can be harvested and used to produce mezcal. Del Maguey has such an incredible relationships with their producers, and I think this product is not only great, but I feel like I can trust and know exactly how the people and ecosystem making this mezcal are treated.” — Ryan Lotz, Beverage Director, Traveler Street Hospitality, Boston
“Fidencio is fabulous. It’s made with 100 percent Espadin, which is a relative to the blue Weber agave. As a 100 percent Espadin mezcal, you get the expected notes of smoke and earth. The floral nose and citrus finish make this a fabulous addition to any home bar.” — Ellen Talbot, Lead Bartender, Fable Lounge, Nashville, Tenn.
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“Gracias a Dios Espadin, a straight-forward approachable mezcal that is under $35. Notes of smoke and pepper upfront with light hints of grapefruit, lemon zest, and tropical fruits.” — Mohammed Rahman, Bar Manager, Kata Robata, Houston
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“Casamigos Mezcal is one of the better mezcals to enjoy in a cocktail or just sipping it by itself neat. Over the years the mezcal market has grown in popularity along with quality. For those who enjoy or who are just starting out to enjoy mezcal, Casamigos Mezcal is a great place to start.” — Richard Romanowski, Food and Beverage Director, Pier House Restaurant, La Mer Beachfront Resort, Cape May, N.J.
“If you are looking for a consistent bottle-to-bottle mezcal that is one, delicious, two, very affordable, and three, is properly and respectfully produced, the answer is Don Amado Largo. The Arroqueno is very tasty as well, but the Largo is a fun one and for the price; it’s hard to find another 100 percent Karwinskii bottling that will beat it.” — Westin Galleymore, Spirits Director, Underbelly Hospitality, Houston
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“Illegal Joven Mezcal is a very mild and easy mezcal to drink. It has a light smoky taste with hints of citrus and pepper. A very good mezcal for under $50.” — Charles Govan, Director of Food and Beverage, Council Oak Steak & Seafood, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Atlantic City, N.J.
“This is the one spirit that I don’t recommend “cheaping out” on. However, there are some nice options in the $50-$60 range, like Sombra, which is one of my personal go-tos. Mezcal Vago is also a really nice choice at that price point.” — Matt Catchpole, General Manager, Terra, Columbia, S.C.
“Banhez is a joven blend made by a co-op of producers. It’s complex enough to hold up in cocktails, but is cost effective and uses agave that are able to be grown in large scale.” — Josh Seaburg, Resident Bartender, Crudo Nudo, Norfolk, Va.
Donate: Josh Seaburg Venmo