If you aren’t familiar with mezcal, shopping for one to use in cocktails can be daunting. Much like scotch, these bottles can get expensive quickly and shopping for one can be intimidating for even the best bartenders. These three mezcal are my favorites to use in cocktails, and they aren’t nearly as expensive as other varieties.
A Word About Maguey.
Often called agave, Maguey (Muh-gey) is the preferred term for “agave” in Mexico. There are five different types of maguey used in mezcal production: Espadín, Tobalá, Tobaziche, Tepeztate, and Arroqueño. To make mezcal, the pits (or piñas) of these maguey varietals are harvested from their wild regions in Mexico and slowly roasted over coals, almost always in underground pits. We’ll talk more about Mezcal production in our live class, but you’ll find a primer on maguey types below!
Espadín: most common type of maguey used in mezcal production, with nearly 90% of mezcal using it. It is also the genetic grandfather to blue agave, which is used to make tequila.
Tobalá: Often referred to as the “King of Mezcals” this maguey is a rare, wild-harvested species. Thriving in rocky, shady soil at high altitudes, this plant relies on bats to help pollinate it.
Tobaziche: Wild-harvested; produces savory and herbaceous mezcal.
Tepeztate: This species takes up to 30 years to mature, so mezcal production is inconsistent with this variety. It can be spotted by its large canary-yellow flowers.
Arroqueño: Mezcals using this variety of maguey are newly available in the U.S. and is characterized by spicy, bitter-chocolate flavors.
Three Best Cocktail Mezcals Under $50
Montelobos (43.2%) $41.99
Montelobos is an unnamed joven (young) mezcal with lots of smoke and salinity. This is my top choice for mezcal cocktails because of its deep smoke flavor that can stand up to aggressive ingredients such as Chartreuse and Campari. This mezcal is also excellent in both sour and boozy drinks. the only drawback is that it is just under $50, so I use it sparingly if I’m on a serious mezcal kick.
-Roasted underground in stone pits/ wild fermented/ distilled in copper stills
nose: fresh-cut grass, honey, asparagus, smoke
taste: cooked/green maguey, nuts, fresh herbs, smoke
Del Maguey VIDA (42%) $37.99
Launched in 2010, Del Maguey’s VIDA has quickly become a favorite of bartenders across the globe. This is a mezcal specifically designed for mixing in cocktails, and it a beautiful introductory mezcal for a first-time taste. While the smoke is present, it is a less aggressive form of Mezcal that is ideal for drinks with citrus and softer ingredients. If this will be your first adventure into mezcal, this could be your new favorite bottle.
-100 % Espadín
-Very approachable; less depth than other varieties meant for sipping
nose: fruit, honey, vanilla, roasted agave
taste: ginger, cinnamon, tangerine, smoke
Los Vecinos Del Campo (45%) $31.99
When this mezcal was first brought into the restaurant for a tasting, I was almost prepared to dislike it. It’s a project by the Sazerac Company in partnership with Casa San Matís (one of the oldest tequila makers in Mexico) to create an ultra-affordable mezcal. Coming from such a large, brand-name producer, I was biased in my tasting, but I found this to be a truly fantastic mezcal, especially for the price. After researching the project, I found out why: 10 of the best Mezcaleros in Mexico were employed to create the recipe.
Bright and approachable but still distinctly smokey, this mezcal is one I buy for the bar again and again, especially when I’m trying to save a little money without compromising on quality.
-Piñas crushed using stone Molino/ distilled in copper stills
nose: Spice, fresh fruit, herbs, smoke
taste: spicy up-front, tropical fruit, roasted peppers, savory
While these are some of my favorite affordable bottles, be sure to ask your local liquor seller if they have anything you should try! Mezcal is a booming spirit with plenty of new brands becoming available in the U.S. every year—so be sure to see what bottles might be unique to your state!
*All prices based off Joe’s Wines and Liquors in Memphis, TN. Prices and availability may vary depending on your local store prices and state.