Mezcal has been riding shotgun with tequila on its soaring stateside rise, and new expressions are debuting on the U.S. market left and right. But unlike tequila, which can only be produced in Jalisco using Blue Weber agave, mezcal can be distilled in nine different Mexican municipalities with roughly 40 different strains of the agave plant, making it a diverse and terroir-driven spirit. And although mezcal is rarely aged, it’s a spirit built on patience: It requires an involved, multi-day cooking process during which agave hearts are crushed and roasted in underground pits prior to fermentation. Even the agave itself can take up to 25 years to mature, making the mezcal it produces a treat that should be savored in good company.
To help you decide which one to purchase for the agave enthusiast in your life, we’ve put together this list of the best mezcals to gift this holiday season. Check out our list below for recommendations ranging from affordable, entry-level Espadín mezcals all the way to small-batch expressions from the nooks and crannies of the Oaxacan mountains.
Best Budget Mezcal: Agave de Cortés Mezcal Joven
Best Splurge Mezcal: Tlamati Spirits Espadilla Destilado de Agave
Best Mezcal for Beginners: Cruz de Fuego Espadín
Best Mezcal for Geeks: Ixcateco Papalome
Best Mezcal for Cocktail Lovers: Borroso Mezcal Espadín
Best Mezcal to Impress: Mezcal Vago Ensamble en Barro
Best Limited-Edition Mezcal: NETA Tequilana Ramón and Wilfrido García Sánchez
Best Budget Mezcal
Noted for its tall, saber-like leaves, Espadín accounts for roughly 90 percent of mezcal production as it’s relatively easy to cultivate and reaches full maturity in six to eight years — a short time span in the agave realm. This 100 percent Espadín mezcal dishes up an earthy profile with undertones of cucumber, citrus, and tropical fruit, making it a great candidate for cocktails and standalone sipping alike. The nose is resoundingly bright with a light, perfumed tilt. Smoke reveals itself on the palate, but certainly doesn’t upstage this mezcal’s fruity core. All in all, this expression is delicious, balanced, and a bargain.
Average Price: $40
Best Splurge Mezcal
On the total opposite end of the price scale, this stunning expression will run you a cool $182, but for the truly committed mezcal head, we urge you to take the plunge if your bank account will allow. Double-distilled in copper pots and clocking in at an even-keeled 47 percent ABV, this option is made with Espadilla, the name given to Espadín that’s grown in the state of Puebla rather than Oaxaca. Fruit makes up the bulk of its core with notes of sugar plum, which are underscored by green pepper and a hint of mesquite barbecue. These aromas carry seamlessly onto the palate, which packs a silky-smooth texture and balance on all fronts.
Average Price: $182
Best Mezcal for Beginners
This mezcal was crafted by mother-son duo Margarita Blas and Carlos Mendez Blas in Oaxaca solely with Espadín agave. Its profile is the dictionary definition of the varietal, making it a great introduction to mezcal. The nose opens with a quintessential, true-to-Espadín swirl of pineapple, mango, oak, and barbecue. The palate follows with notes of green bell pepper, jalapeño, and underripe fruit. For those looking to get acquainted with the workhorse of agave varieties, this is the bottle to share.
Average Price: $43
Best Mezcal for Geeks
If you already have a few Espadín mezcals on your back bar, take this chance to explore the rare Papalomé (meaning “butterfly” in Nahuatl) variety. It’s a wild-harvested agave and often compared to Tobalá, which is smaller and more compact than most varieties. This particular expression is made with traditional, rustic production methods, including fermentation in rawhide and distillation in clay pots that lend themselves to a funky, intriguing palate. Wafts of leather and earthy minerality are prominent on the nose, followed by a sweet-and-savory palate starring fire-roasted corn.
Average Price: $115
Best Mezcal for Cocktail Lovers
This bottle is distilled in Mexico, then packaged and labeled stateside by California-based importer Borroso, which works with smaller mezcaleros that are not able to bottle and distribute their products on their own. The mezcal itself hails from Oaxaca, and pops with bright citrus, fresh herbs, and underripe pineapple on the nose. The palate mirrors this profile, with a light touch of smoke weaving throughout. Some say that mezcal doesn’t belong in cocktails due to its preciousness, but we see it as another way to celebrate the spirit. And given its 49 percent ABV and reasonable price, this expression should be your go-to mixing mezcal. Try it out in a Single Village Fix to bring its fruity character to the forefront.
Average Price: $54
Best Mezcal to Impress
This blend showcases five different agave varieties from the mountains of southern Oaxaca and was made using traditional clay stills. The nose kicks off with ripe mango and floral aromas before delving into a terroir-driven earthiness on the back end. Upon sipping, jalapeño and cucumber enter the fray, defining its savory, green palate. Smoke plays a supporting role on this one, only appearing lightly on the finish. At 52.3 percent ABV, this mezcal packs a punch, but it demonstrates tasteful restraint and balance. It does break the triple-digits price-wise, but we say it’s well worth a Benjamin.
Average Price: $102
Best Limited-Edition Mezcal
We’re unabashed fans of NETA here at VinePair, and you’ll see why if you get your hands on this home-run release. This one is made from Tequilana (a.k.a. Blue Weber agave), the agave used in tequila production. Produced in Oaxaca by the talented mezcaleros and brothers Ramón and Wilfrido García Sánchez, this rare expression dishes up a plume of tropical fruit, minerality, celery, and peppers. On the palate, the fruit character shines even brighter with a hint of diesel-like funk on the finish. Only a little over 400 bottles of this spirit were produced, but it’s worth the hunt, and should definitely be savored over time. Drink this one on its own or with a side of birria tacos, and you’re in for a treat.
Average Price: $170