By now, mezcal, much like tequila before it, has crept into just about every cocktail template, from Negronis to Mai Tais. But for many stateside drinkers, the first taste of the agave spirit comes in the form of a Margarita. Swapped in for tequila, mezcal imparts an extra-earthy kick to the classic. As much as its distinctive flavor profile can be an advantage, however, it can also present a challenge.
When surveyed, a number of experts noted that smokiness, a common attribute of the spirit, can sometimes overpower a Margarita. With that in mind, consider a more nuanced bottling when selecting a mezcal for the job. “A mezcal from an arid environment that uses traditional methods and copper distillation is ideal” because those environments yield the kind of roasted, agave-forward profile one expects in a Margarita, says Bobby Heugel, an owner of the Thorough Fare group of bars in Houston. Also key, according to Ivy Mix, owner of agave-focused New York bar Leyenda and author of Spirits of Latin America, is selecting something that is 40 percent ABV or higher: “Generally, mezcales [that are] so low in proof aren’t carrying the oomph you’re looking for,” she explains.
Doing research into the practices of mezcal producers is crucial to enjoying the spirit with integrity. As a quick starting point, however, we asked a handful of bartenders for their top choices at a range of price points. Here’s what they had to say.