Best Mezcals

By Gayot Editors

Top Mezcals to Buy

All tequila is mezcal, but not all mezcal is tequila. Tequila might be the most internationally recognized Mexican export, but its country cousin, mezcal, has been passed around at south-of-the-border gatherings for much longer.

Mezcal can be made from several types of agave, and is mainly produced in Oaxaca. Tequila, on the other hand, is made from the blue agave plant, or agave tequilana, and is primarily produced in the state of Jalisco. Modern aficionados seek out mezcal for the staggering array of nuances summoned by variables such as soil, village spring water and the type of agave used.

Some producers, called palenqueros, even include “secret” seasonal items during distillation such as local nuts, plums and the occasional conejo (that is, rabbit). But not worms. The squirmy little caterpillar was a U.S. marketing gimmick introduced back in the 1950s and has since inched its way to obsolescence.

What you will find inside the best mezcales, however, are complex, earthy, rich, smoky aromas and palate-pleasing flavors — sometimes reminiscent of the best peaty Islay whisky — that have made this Mexican staple one of today’s most coveted premium spirits

1. Benesin Mezcal Tobala

Benesin Mezcal Tobala

Origin: Oaxaca, Mexico
Price: $65 for 750 ml.
ABV: 45%
By: Benesin

Roughly translated from the ancient indigenous Zapotec language, tobala means “agave that grows in the shade.”

For modern connoisseurs, it also signifies round notes and a refined palate that define this expression from Benesin. The brainchild of Efrain Nolasco, a former construction worker and native Oaxacan, Benesin uses wild-harvested agave in this certified organic mezcal, which impresses with smoky subtlety and floral notes.

2. Del Maguey Ibérico

Del Maguey Ibérico

Origin: Oaxaca, Mexico
Price: $200 for 750 ml.
ABV: 49%
By: Del Maguey

Ron Cooper, Del Maguey’s founder, is recognized by many as the person most responsible for bringing premium mezcal out of the mountains of Oaxaca and into the tumblers of discerning aficionados around the world.

He’s also known for ceaselessly seeking out new interpretations. For Del Maguey’s Ibérico expression, he collaborated with famed Spanish chef José Andrés, whose creative director, Ruben Garcia, suggested Ibérico ham instead of the traditional turkey breast used in “pechuga” mezcal. The result is a sensory symphony that offers a spicy floral nose and wide palate dominated by flavors of smoky caramel and roasted vegetables with a splash of sea foam. Olé!

3. El Jolgorio Arroqueno

El Jolgorio Arroqueno

Origin: Miahuatlán, Mexico
Price: 160 for 750 ml.
ABV: 53.7%
By: El Jolgorio

Depending on the flavor profile sought by the mezcalero, some mezcals can pack a high-proof punch — like this 100-plus proof offering made from wild-harvested arroqueño agave.

Still, the sipping is surprisingly smooth, as the arroqueño varietal is known for its silky viscosity. El Jolgorio Arroqueño boasts a Carmen Miranda fruit basket-worth of tropical aromas and flavors that dance deliciously on the palate with notes of juicy roasted agave and mesquite smoke.

4. El Jolgorio Madrecuixe

El Jolgorio Madrecuixe

Origin: Miahuatlán, Mexico
Price: $135 for 750 ml.
ABV: 47%
By: El Jolgorio

Nowadays, traditional production methods such as pit-roasting agave hearts are the price of entry just to get into the artisanal category.

But the El Jolgorio line steps it up by focusing exclusively on wild-harvested agave varietals like Madrecuixe. If you favor bold flavors (and an overproof of 94 percent), your palate is in for a treat. The Madrecuixe delivers strong earth on the nose and a broad vegetal palate that lets the joven, or un-aged agave, deliver its full native complexity. Only 250 bottles of this double-distilled mezcal are produced annually in Santa Maria Zoquitlan, Oaxaca, by expert palanquero Ignacio Parada.

5. Los Amantes Añejo

Los Amantes Añejo

Origin: Tlacolula, Mexico
Price: $70 for 750 ml.
ABV: 40%
By: Los Amantes

In Spanish, Los Amantes means “the lovers” which is quite appropriate for this much-loved marque.

Traditionally, mezcals are un-aged, but in this expression, the agave is triple-distilled in clay and copper stills, then rested for two years in French and American Oak. This results in a suave, full-bodied spirit showing notes of vanilla, butter and wild florals on the nose. But the palate is where this refined mezcal truly reveals its agile complexity, with balanced flavors of tarragon and other herbs playing nicely with wild honey and caramel. A smooth, woody finish, accented with a touch of market fresh peppers, makes this mezcal worthy of a slow clap.

6. Los Danzantes Mezcal Los Nahuales Reposado

Los Danzantes Mezcal Los Nahuales Reposado

Origin: Oaxaca, Mexico
Price: $64 for 750 ml.
ABV: 42%
By: Los Danzantes

It’s the agave espadín, a close relative of tequila’s Weber agave, that is the workhorse of mezcal production.

In the hands of Los Danzantes, this spiny desert plant is transformed into a rich and smoky spirit that is unique to the Oaxacan highlands. Double-distilled in pot stills after being cooked in stone-lined earthen pits, this reposado — or rested mezcal — is then aged in French oak barrels for a mellow finish. The flavor profile starts with hints of delicious mesquite, but it’s the minerality of the terroir and lingering vanilla of the oak you’ll remember the most.

7. Mezcal Tosba Pechuga

Mezcal Tosba Pechuga

Origin: Oaxaca, Mexico
Price: $90 for 750 ml.
ABV: 46%
By: Mezcal Tosba

A homegrown business overseen by two cousins from Oaxaca’s Sierra Juarez mountains, Tosba was created with the single-minded mission to keep traditional mezcal production alive in the family’s village.

In short, it has succeeded. The pechuga, made from triple-distilled espadín agave, is as traditional as they come, with ingredients like wild pineapple, banana and rice paired with turkey breast to produce an exquisitely full-mouthed expression. Enjoy notes and flavors of almond, bitter chocolate and herbs as you raise your glass and say, “Viva tradición.”

8. Mezcales de Leyenda Guerrero

Mezcales de Leyenda Guerrero

Origin: Mexico City, Mexico
Price: $80 for 750 ml.
ABV: 45%
By: Mezcales de Leyenda

Oaxaca is the heart of mezcal production in Mexico, but surrounding states such as Guerrero are also known for their fine mezcales.

If you’re interested in sampling mezcal from other parts of Mexico and you happen to be an agave purist, then your cup will runneth over for the Mezcales de Leyenda brand. They focus exclusively on unblended, un-aged jovens from small batch producers like Guerrero’s Jose Cienfuegos. Crafted from agave cupreata, this Leyenda is on the macho side, opening with moderate smoke and leather before boldly dominating the palate with chile and straight-no-chaser agave.

9. Pierde Almas Conejo

Pierde Almas Conejo

Origin: Oaxaca, Mexico
Price: $200 for 750 ml.
ABV: 50-52%
By: Pierde Almas

The Pierde Almas brand likes to push the limits.

Everything from their bottle labels (made of locally sourced indigenous materials) to the crystalline mezcal inside, is made with a deep appreciation for culture and tradition. That doesn’t mean they can’t up the ante, though. Case in point: their limited edition Conejo, which uses wild rabbit in place of turkey or chicken breast in the distillation process. It’s paired with wild dried fruits and herbs to create a dizzyingly delicious sensory feast that showcases subtle gamey notes to appease your wild side.

10. Santo Mezquila

Origin: Tequila El Viejito, Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico
Price: $49.00 for 750ml
ABV: 40%
By: Guy Fieri and Sammy Hagar

Founded in 2019, Santo Mezquila was created by Guy Fieri, the Food Network star and permanent Mayor of Flavortown, and Sammy Hagar, the hard-rocking former Van Halen frontman. The agave-based spirit is expertly crafted by Juan Eduardo Nunes, the same third-generation master distiller that brought Hagar’s first tequila to market under his Cabo Wabo brand a decade ago.

This mix of mezcal and tequila is made of 50% Blue Agave (tequila) and 50% Espadin Agave (Mezcal).

This blend, the first of its kind, is a clear spirit with a honey-like, mildly smoky scent. The palate shows vanilla, almond, honey, pepper and a gentle smoky, slightly salty finish.

11. Wahaka Vino de Mezcal Michoacan Capriatos

Wahaka Vino de Mezcal Michoacan Capriatos

Origin: Oaxaca, Mexico
Price: $300 for 750 ml.
ABV: 48.2%
By: Wahaka Mezcal

If you love to seek out rarities, your search has borne fruit – agave cupreata to be exact.

Wahaka uses this rare agave along with time-honored techniques to produce its double-distilled, small-batch Michoacan Capriatos, limited to just 44 bottles per year. The precious liquid is certain to make any agave aficionado swoon, with flavors and aromas of damp earth followed by a soft segue into gentle herbs and citrus lingering on the palate. Proving its dedication to mezcal, Wahaka has also initiated a non-profit organization aimed at reforesting Mexico’s wild agaves, which are currently threatened by over-exploitation.