Mexico City’s Best Bartenders Name Their Favorite Bottles of Mezcal
Plus: How to drink ‘em
Tequila’s popularity in the United States has grown over the past decade to the point that Mexico is suffering very real agave shortages. That growth owes to an increase in knowledge of the spirit: it’s no longer viewed as a cheap, rowdy shooter, but rather a complex and robust spirit that’s tasty in both cocktails and served straight.
Even more recently, mezcal has joined the ranks of revered spirits in the United States, with sales growing by more than 30% in the space of just a few years. Think of mezcal as tequila’s wilder, more well traveled cousin. While tequila must be made from Blue Agave in the state of Jalisco or a few other designated regions, mezcal can be made from any variety of agave plant. There are more than 200 varieties of agave in total, of which around 30 are used for mezcal production, all with their own characteristics and flavors.
As mezcal production tends to be more small-batch and artisanal than tequila, the emergence of brands into the American market has been slow and steady, and it can be tricky to find interesting, lesser-known bottles. So to help you get started on your journey into the category, we spoke with the putative experts: bartenders from five of Mexico City’s best cocktail bars. We asked to recommend a great mezcal label available in the US, along with commentary on what’s good about it and how best to enjoy it.
Mezcal Real Minero
Pablo Pasti, Head Bartender, Limantour
Real Minero is one of the higher-end mezcal producers in the world and has been at it for a few generations. According to Pasti, all of their mezcal is distilled in clay pots and then left to sit for a few months in glass containers, lending a softness to the flavor. Pasti recommends the Largo expression for it’s peppery finish. Drink this one neat and check the bottle, because ABV may vary slightly due to the small-batch production.
Daniel Reyes, Head Bartender, Baltra
This brand has been around since 2011 and has a handful of different expressions. Their mezcal uses all-natural ingredients and is distilled twice in either clay pots or copper barrels, depending what the local traditional recipe calls for. If you’re looking to drink your mezcal straight, Reyes recommends the Arroqueño expression. But if you’re looking for a cocktail, he recommends Doba-Yej, and he likes to use it for a Baltra favorite known as the Apium:
1.5 oz Siete Misterios Doba-Yej
1 oz Lime Juice
.5 oz Simple Syrup
4 dashes celery bitter
Shake and serve over a large ice cube.
Francisco Calvo Tapia, Head Bartender, Fifty Mils
You probably recognize the characteristic green Del Maguey bottle from the shelf at your local bar. Del Maguey, according to Tapia, is the first mezcal widely distributed throughout the world. Like most local mezcals you’ll find in Mexico, Del Maguey is made by hand in small batches on family farms. There are quite a few varieties, but Tapia recommends the Tobala variety for its rarity and strong, smoky flavor. This one you’re going to want to drink straight.
Ricardo Sandoval, Owner, Yellow Bird
This is another one of the more widely distributed mezcal brands you’ll find in the U.S. Sandoval likes to utilize Unión specifically for cocktails thanks to its mellow flavor and adaptability. It’s great in a wide variety of recipes, but one of his favorites is the Manila Mule:
50 ml Mezcal Union Joven
35 ml Manila Mango Juice
10 ml Lime Juice
10 ml Simple Syrup
Shake, strain and serve in a white wine glass. Top with ginger beer.
Ismael Martínez, Bar Manager, Hanky Panky
This Mezcal comes from Oaxaca and is made in extremely small batches the traditional way, with absolutely zero additional ingredients. Martinez is a fan of this brand, and in particular the Ensamble Silvestre expression, thanks to a very strong flavor profile that maintains many of the agave’s natural flavors. If you’re looking for a smoky mezcal, this is the one. Drink it neat.
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