Mezcal isn’t like other liquors. Billed as the hotter, smokier cousin of tequila, it’d be easy to assume that if you like rounding off your day with a scotch or always order a tequila when you’re out, you’re going to love it. You’re not. This is an acquired taste that’s definitely not for everyone It’s smokey, vegetal, sweet, and crisp, all rolled into one. If that sounds complicated, it’s because it is – this isn’t an easy-going drink, and it’s certainly not one everyone is going to appreciate the first time around. That said, it’s getting more popular by the day; while it’s still a long way from matching tequila’s popularity, availability, and even familiarity, more and more of us are catching on to its charms. As you’d expect, the upshot of that increasing popularity is a growing number of brands eager to corner off their own little segment of the market. For a taste of the best mezcals on the market, these are the brands to try.
10. Del Maguey
If you’re looking for a brand with heritage, look no further than Del Maguey. Founded in 1995 by Ron Cooper, Del Maguey was one of the first mezcals to become widely available in the US, and the first to credit each expression after the village where its made. It was also one of the first 100% certified organic, artisanal mezcals – perfect if you like your mezcal to come without that pesticide aftertaste. The brand now falls under the Pernod Ricard umbrella, but it lost none of its eco or ethical standards in the acquisition. For something different to the norm, try the Ibérico, a collaboration with Chef José Andrés which owes its unique smokiness to the addition of Ibérico ham into the distillation process.
9. Nuestra Soledad
Mescals from different villages possess a unique flavor and aroma, reflecting the different distillation practices and environment of the village. Nuestra Soledad plays up those differences with its single village expressions. Dedicated to preserving and promoting ancient cultivation and production methods, it currently offers six different expressions, of which liquor.com ranks Nuestra Soledad Zoquitlán as the most interesting. Sourced from distiller Ignacio “Don Chucho” Parada and his son, José Parada Valera, from the mountain village of Santa Maria Zoquitlán, it comes with a peppery finish and notes of papaya, citrus, melon and bell pepper.
Named as one of Esquire’s top Mezcal picks, Sombra focuses on two varieties of expressions: a 100-percent Espadín expression and a limited edition Ensamble made using Tepeztate and Tobalá agave. Unlike most companies that source from small farms or distilleries that supply to multiple buyers, Sombra operates its own distillery, resulting in a range of spirits that are truly unique to the brand. Eco-warriors will be pleased to know that sustainability is at the top of the agenda at Sombra – they even use the fibers and liquids leftover from the distillation process to make adobe bricks for construction.
7. Dona Vega
Dona Vega is a relatively new addition to the mezcal scene, having been founded by Sonya Auvray, president of PR company Wetherly Group, as recently as 2019. If you usually find mezcal too smoky or gasoline for your taste, the smoothness of Dona Vega’s expressions are likely to be a welcome change. Named as one of the best mezcals to try by Business Insider, the brand currently offer two expressions, each made from a different type of agave using production methods that date back to the 1500s.
Back when he couldn’t source any good mezcal for his underground music club in Guatemala, Ilegal Mezcal founder John Rexer took matters into his own hands by smuggling the spirit over from Mexico. These days he’s gone legit, even if his brand’s name implies otherwise. The focus is on three expressions, the entry-level joven, the deliciously smoky reposado (which is aged for four months in an old bourbon barrel), and añejo, which is aged for 13 months in American oak barrels.
Montelobos, which was acquired by Campari in 2017, has a lot going for it. For a start, it’s pledged to never use wild agaves in its mezcal production, a decision that earns it a big tick for sustainability. And then there’s the liquid itself, which currently comprises of an Espadín expression (a lightly smoked liqueur with notes of lemon zest and grilled rosemary), and Ensamble Joven (a smokier, more herbaceous drink created by combining the espadín agave with tobalá and papalote agave), and Pechuga Mezcal, a triple-distilled mezcal in which turkey breast, fruit, and spices are added to the last installation for a unique flavor.
4. Clase Azul
Clase Azul is best known for its tequilas, but they also do a very fine line in mezcal. The first of their expressions is Clase Azul Durango, a complex, full-bodied mezcal that highlights the extreme climate and unique geography of the state of Durango. The second is Clase Azul Guerrero, a richly flavored mezcal with notes of hay, slate, rosemary, and leather and a whisper of citrus. Each comes in a tall, ornate bottle perfect for showing off in your home bar.
In comparison to the relatively limited range offered by most mezcal brands, Derrumbes has cast the net much wider, releasing an expansive collection that turns the focus on the wide variety of agaves, terroirs, and production methods used across the different regions of Mexico. They also offer bottles from several very small producers you’re unlikely to find anywhere else. The Tamaulipas ensemble is particularly noteworthy, with a dry, rich palate and a spicy cinnamon finish.
NETA works primarily with small, family producers from Mihuatlan, Oaxaca, and the southern valley. The result is an extraordinary selection of mezcals and agave spirits that showcase the traditions and processes unique to that region. The Espadin is particularly impressive: created in collaboration with master mezcalero Candido Garcia Cruz, it flaunts a brassy top note with hints of fruits and flowers and a gentle waft of smoke.
1. Rey Compero
Rey Campero, which translates to“King of the Countryside,” is a family-run collective headed up by maestro mezcalero Romulo Sanchez Parada. Their distillation process draws on the age-old traditions of Candelaria Yegolé, a small village in the Sierra Sur, in the municipality of Zoquitlán. Sustainability practices are key to the operation, but it’s the delights of its liquids that have earned it a reputation as one of the very finest mezcal brands around.