Top 9 Mezcal Cocktails
If you’re looking for something new and unique to serve your guests or just unwind with at the end of a tough day, you might consider one of many delicious mezcal cocktails. Maybe you’ve tried this smoky spirit before but are more familiar with its close counterpart, tequila. Or, maybe you’re brand new to it and would like to learn the ins and outs of what makes it so special. Either way, read on to learn about what mezcal is and its history, along with the different types and flavors you can try and how to drink it. Then, roll up your sleeves and try your hand at one of the mouth-watering cocktails we’ve got in store.
What is Mezcal?
Mezcal is any spirit distilled from the agave plant, a succulent found in Mexico and Texas. This means that spirits like tequila, bacanora, sotol and raicilla are all considered types of mezcal. Once distilled, mezcal ranges widely in its quality and flavor, and it falls between 38% and 55% ABV (alcohol by volume).
History of Mezcal
When the 16th-century Spanish conquistadors invaded Mexico, they brought distillation along with them. Looking for anything local to create alcohol with and get their buzz on, they found agave and turned it into mezcal. This became the first distilled spirit made in the Americas and quickly worked its way into Mexican culture. It wasn’t until prohibition and US tourists heading south for a buzz that the mezcal tradition became popular in the states.
Types of Mezcal
Most Mexican agave grows in the countryside and, of the 200+ varieties, only 50 varieties can actually be used in making the spirit. For the most part, mezcal is made from the Espadin agave varietal because it grows the fastest – about seven years whereas many other agaves can take up to 30 years. You can also find “ensembles” which are mezcals made from a blend of different agave varietals.
Mezcal is produced in nine states throughout Mexico, with the majority coming from Oaxaca. You’ll find three types of mezcal based on their production techniques, as set by the Consejo Regulador del Mezcal (CRM):
- Mezcal. Modern production techniques are primarily used.
- Mezcal Artesanal. Most production techniques are traditional but modern techniques can be used, like stainless steel or copper stills.
- Mezcal Ancestral. Only traditional production techniques are used, like clay pot distilling.
Unlike wine or other spirits, aging mezcal is not traditional or even preferred since it can lose its unique traits when sitting too long in oak. But, class is used to categorize mezcals. Unaged mezcal is called Joven(meaning “young”). This is the most popular mezcal class. Aged mezcal for:
- A year or longer in glass is called Madurado en Vidrio (meaning “matured in glass”).
- 2-12 months in wood is called Reposado (meaning “rested”).
- Over a year in wood is called Añejo (meaning “vintage”).
You can get infused or flavored mezcals called abocado (meaning “semisweet”), and those distilled a second time with other flavors, called destilado con. Your mezcal will taste different depending on the mezcalero (the maker) along with the type of agave used and where it was grown. For instance, agave found close to the water will taste saltier and agave from the highlands will take on a more herbal flavor.
Many people find mezcal tastes smoky, but it can be fruity, spicy or floral depending on the agave and distillation method. You can even get the spirit in unique flavors like roasted pepper, chipotle and leather.
How to Enjoy Mezcal
When you’re exploring a new cocktail, wondering how to drink it is more than fair. This is no different when it comes to mezcal. Most Oaxacans slowly savor their mezcal at room temperature in a wine glass, a veladora (a short, ridged glass), or a jicara (a traditional bark bowl). They add orange and salt made with worms from the agave plant.
If this doesn’t appeal, you may have already heard of the spirit used in delicious mezcal cocktails. We’ve provided some great recipes below.
Recipes for the Best Mezcal Cocktails
FIZZY ROSEMARY MEZCAL
Chill 2 collins or other tall glasses (these and no ice are best for the froth). In a cocktail shaker, combine about 40 rosemary leaves (about 1 sprig) and a pinch of salt. Press the oils out with a muddler for about 45 seconds. Add a large egg white, a 2-3 inch strip of lemon zest, 4-½ ounces of mezcal, 3 ounces of lemon juice, and 1-½ ounces of agave nectar. Cover and shake for about 20-30 seconds, or until the egg white is emulsified. Uncover and add just enough ice to fill, and cover and shake again until the egg white is frothy and the drink is cold. Double-strain into the chilled glasses and top with 3 ounces of soda water. Garnish with a rosemary sprig.
Add 1-½ ounces of mezcal, an ounce of grapefruit, a half-ounce of agave nectar, a half-ounce of lime, and a pinch of salt to a shaker and fill it with ice. Cover and shake well, then strain into an ice-filled highball or Collins glass. Top with soda and garnish with a slice of lime.
MEXICAN FIRING SQUAD
Combine 2 ounces of mezcal, ¾-ounces of lime juice, and ¾-ounces of grenadine in a shaker and shake it up well. Strain into a small rocks glass with ice. Garnish with a few dashes of Angostura bitters and a slice of lime.
Add 2 ounces of mezcal, 1-½ ounces of orange juice, ¾-ounces of lime juice, and a teaspoon of agave to a shaker. Shake well, then strain into a large rocks glass with ice. Turn the bowl of the teaspoon upside down and lean it against the inside of the glass. Gradually pour a half-ounce of grenadine down the spoon’s back – it should go down the side and form at the bottom of the glass. Garnish with a slice of lime and stir before enjoying.
HIBISCUS-CILANTRO SPIKED TEA
Tea: simmer three cups of water in a medium saucepan, then remove from heat and add half a cup of dried hibiscus or six hibiscus tea bags. Steep for 10 minutes, then strain into a medium-sized bowl and set aside to cool.
Syrup: simmer one cup of water in the saucepan. Add half a cup of sugar and stir until dissolved before removing from heat. Next, add two cups of cilantro leaves and steep for 20 minutes. Strain into a small bowl and set aside to cool.
Cocktail: muddle one cup of cilantro leaves in a large pitcher. Add half a cup of mezcal, a quarter cup of lime juice, the tea, and 1-¼ cups of syrup. Stir. Add more syrup to taste. Pour into six ice-filled glasses, add cilantro flowers or sprigs for garnish, and enjoy.
TROPICAL MEZCAL TONIC
In a large pitcher, combine three cups of pineapple, passion fruit, grapefruit, or other juice of your choice with 1-¾ cups of mezcal, and half a cup of lime juice. Cover and chill for about half an hour, until cold. Onto a small plate, place one cup of raw or demerara sugar. Rub a wedge of lime over the rim of an eight-ounce glass and dip the rim into the sugar. Fill the glass with ice and pour the cocktail in about two-thirds full. Top with seltzer, stir, and garnish with the lime wedge or an orange slice and maraschino cherry.
In a cocktail shaker, shake up 1-½ ounces of lime juice, 1-½ ounces of mezcal, one ounce of amaro, one teaspoon of agave nectar, and a large egg white for about a minute, until frothy. Add ice to fill the shaker, cover and shake for about 30 seconds, until the outside is frosty. Strain through a sieve into a coupe glass, and finish it with a few Angostura bitters drops and a twist of lime.
SMOKY OAXACAN BASIL
Place a few basil leaves and lime wedges in a cocktail shaker and muddle well. Fill with ice and 1-½ ounces each of mezcal, lime juice and agave. Shake well. Salt an old fashioned glass rim and fill the glass with ice and a few more basil leaves. Pour into a cocktail glass and enjoy.
Cinnamon bark syrup (this can be made and chilled up to a week in advance): in a small saucepan, boil a half-cup of water with four cinnamon sticks and a half cup of sugar. Remove from heat and steep for two hours. Strain into a small bowl and remove cinnamon sticks.
Cocktail: in a large glass or cocktail shaker with ice, combine one ounce of mezcal, one ounce of high-proof bourbon, half an ounce of Italian aperitif wine, ¼-ounce of sherry, a couple of dashes of Angostura bitters, and ¼-ounce of the cinnamon bark syrup. Stir for about 30 seconds, until frosty. Strain drink into an ice-filled rocks glass and garnish with a twist of orange.