I first encountered mezcal during a particularly fun party in Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans a while back. And I’ve been hooked ever since.
So I did what any curious spirits enthusiast would do: I began my mezcal education with the help of Lou Bank—the host of the podcast Agave Roadtrip and founder of S.A.C.R.E.D (Saving Agave for Culture, Recreation, Education and Development), a 501(c)3 not-for-profit that uses traditional and artisanal agave spirits from rural Mexico as a channel to advance the communities that produce truly special mezcals and raicilla.
“What I experienced my [first] time in Oaxaca showed me that there was something very special going on with these spirits—that they tasted so different because they were made in a way that spirits aren’t normally made. Time stood still in these communities. They were using methods that had disappeared during the industrial revolution. I went back the following year, and the year after that,” Bank says. “My great hope is to get people to drink more agave spirits that have been made the non-industrial way. But I don’t believe that the public can just jump from drinking vodka-and-soda to drinking neat spirits that taste like cheese or roasted poblanos.
And it seems like his efforts—combined with others’—have been working: Mezcal has been growing increasingly popular each year for the past several years. Not too long ago, the Distilled Spirits Council released that Mexico’s other popular agave-based spirit has grown from less than 50,000 cases in 2009 to more than 350,000 in 2017—a massive leap by any measure.
And while I enjoy my mezcals neat, sipping them slowly after a grueling Monday, I also love what they bring to cocktails: nuanced and varying flavor profiles, a satisfying finish, and (more often than not) a smokey touch. The spirit is also wonderfully versatile: You can make cocktails for any season or occasion or non-occasion.
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So here, 13 spirits professionals shared the (easy-to-make) mezcal cocktails they’ll be making for themselves this winter. And you best believe that I’ll be making them too—because who says no to a mezcal hot chocolate?
Easy Cocktail Recipes: Mezcal Drinks To See You Through This Pandemic Winter
THE HAITIAN DIVORCE
“This drink is awesome in general: Every ingredient contains alcohol so it’s perfect for the world right now. When folks would ask for a smokey whiskey drink this is what I gave them—and there is no whiskey in it. This is far from a colorless flavorless cocktail. And the Sherry gives it an entire fourth dimension. And I love the Steely Dan song of the same name that it’s named after. Same goes for the term ‘yacht rock.’ I developed it at an iconic bar where I was head bartender: The Beagle. (R.I.P.) And it is on menu at Dear Irving, where I was also head bartender.” —Tom Richter, New York spirits specialist for the Craft Spirits Cooperative and Vintus New York and owner and creator of Tomr’s Tonic
3 dashes Angostura bitters
0.75 oz. mezcal (espadín preffered)
0.5 oz. Pedro Ximénez Sherry (Lustau preferred)
1.5 oz. aged rum (Barbancourt 8 preferred)
Method: Build in a double old fashioned glass. Lower a large format rock into the glass and stir until chilled. Express a lime twist and an orange twist over the drink and tuck the twists into the glass along the side of the ice cube.
OAXACAN CHOCOLATE HUG
“Oaxaca is known for mezcal—but it’s also known for chocolate, and they play wonderfully together. Hot chocolate is so comforting in the colder months, especially this holiday season when socially distanced gatherings are outside. Spicing it up with mezcal gives it a slight peppery and earthy element, which balances the richness and subtle sweetness of Organic Mixology’s dark chocolate and sea salt liqueur. Mr. Black’s single-origin coffee liqueur adds a little bitterness and a caffeine kick, while the orange bitters offers a dash of citrus to round out the cocktail. Twenty-twenty has been a rough year and I think everyone could use a hug.” —Claire Mallett, bartender at Catch One, Los Angeles
1 oz. Ilegal Mezcal Joven
1 oz. Organic Mixology dark chocolate and sea salt liqueur
0.5 oz. Mr. Black coffee liqueur
3 dashes of orange bitters
4 oz. hot chocolate**
**For Hot Chocolate: Take 3 tsp. of dark chocolate chips, stir in 4 oz. of hot milk.
Method: Add mezcal, liqueurs, and bitters to your mug or glass. Stir in 4 oz. of hot chocolate. Pour the heavy cream over the back of a spoon gently, this will give you the marbling effect on top. For multiple servings multiply the ingredients by number of servings.
“Mezcal can be powerful on all the senses and depending on which of its flavor spectrums one would like to highlight, it can be a very versatile spirit for making cocktails. The element of terroir is what I love to discover first and foremost: those green, citrus, aromatic, and herbal notes that come from the agave variety used and region(s) where it’s produced. Ojo de Tigre is an inviting mezcal that boasts both accessibility and complexity with its fresh, bright flavor profile from the Oaxacan Espadín agave and more herbal undertone from the portion of tobala from Puebla used in our blend. Refreshing and slightly fruity cocktail combinations are my favorite to showcase the mezcal’s freshness.” —Camille Austin, director of advocacy at Casa Lumbre Spirits
1.5 oz. Ojo de Tigre mezcal
1.5 oz. pineapple juice
2 oz. ginger beer
Method: Build all ingredients over ice in a highball glass. Garnish with a pineapple slice or lime wedge.
“This is a twist on the classic summer tequila cocktail. The mezcal brings a smoky and peppery aspect to the drink, coupled with sour tangy fall flavors of cranberry and pomegranate.” —Juan Fernandez, beverage director at The Ballantyne, A Luxury Collection Hotel, Charlotte
2 oz. mezcal
1 oz. pomegranate juice
1 oz. cranberry juice
1 splash lime juice, optional
Partial salt rim, optional
Splash of agave, to taste
Method: Combine all ingredients over ice in a Collins glass, then top with club soda. Garnish with either a dehydrated orange wheel (or orange slice) and cranberry.
“The Los Muertos is a direct ode to the classic Corpse Reviver No. 2. It’s my preferred way to enjoy this drink. You’ll notice I split the mezcal base with a bit of blanco tequila—this makes it a perfect intro to mezcal for the uninitiated and maintains a balance in the cocktail, so no one ingredient bullies the rest. We did this same thing in our Crafthouse Cocktails smoky Margarita: truly just a more straightforward style mezcal sour than the Muertos.” —Charles Joly, cofounder of Crafthouse Cocktails and winner of Diageo World Class 2014 Credit goes to Charles Joly
1 oz. mezcal
0.5 oz. Don Julio Blanco tequila
0.75 oz. dry curacao
0.75 oz. Cocchi Americano (or Lillet Blanc)
0.75 oz. fresh lemon juice
0.25 oz. simple syrup
3 dashes (or scant barspoon) absinthe
Method: Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well and strain into a chilled coupe. Cut an orange peel and flame oils over the top of the cocktail. Float in glass.
“I’ve always been a big fan of beer cocktails and so wanted to put one on the menu at The Orchard Townhouse. This drink has loads of flavors and spirits of the season: pisco, select aperitivo, pineapple and all capped off with a vibrant citrusy IPA.” —Naren Young, bar director at The Fat Radish Popup at The Orchard Townhouse
1.25 oz. Pisco
0.5 oz. Select Aperitivo
0.25 oz. Montelobos mezcal
1 oz. pineapple juice
0.5 oz. spiced pineapple syrup
0.25 oz. lemon juice
2 dashes saline solution
5 dashes orange bitters
Method: Shake ingredients hard with ice. Add some IPA to shaker after. Strain over fresh ice in a highball glass and garnish with an orange slice.
PINOT NOIR MEZCAL MULE
“This wine cocktail is a two-toned, smokey, holiday crowd pleaser! As the Casillero del Diablo Pinot Noir ice cube slowly melts it changes the flavor profile over time, adjusting to a well-rounded, smooth velvety texture.” —Dan Magro, mixologist and author of Suck It Up: Extraordinary Cocktails for Everyday People
2 oz. mezcal
Casillero del Diablo Pinot Noir
1 oz. fresh lime juice
4 fresh cranberries
Fresh rosemary, to garnish
Method: Pour Casillero del Diablo Pinot Noir into large square ice cube trays and freeze overnight. Combine cranberries, lime juice, and mezcal in a shaker. Muddle until thoroughly blended. Fill with ice and shake vigorously. Strain into a rocks glass over a Casillero del Diablo Pinot Noir ice cube. Top off with ginger beer. Carefully light a sprig of rosemary allowing it to crackle for a few seconds and generate small smoke streams. Garnish cocktail with smoking rosemary sprig.
“This is a fun twist on classic michelada—with a touch yuzu and black pepper, it gives the drink a nice citrus and smoky note. It’s easy to make and also very easy to drink.” —GN Chan, founder at Double Chicken Please, New York City
0.75 oz. Ilegal Mezcal Joven
2 oz. Clamato juice
0.25 oz. yuzu juice
3 dashes green Tabasco
3 oz. Corona
Garnish with pinch black pepper
Method: Mix all the ingredients except beer in the glass, add ice then top with beer, sprinkle black pepper on the top.
THE KING’S RANSOM
Mezcal has gained tremendous popularity the last few years, especially in the United States. The unique smokiness found in mezcal is not that hard to get used to. But for those who fear stepping into a new unknown, this cocktail makes it much easier to enjoy mezcal for first timers. The cocktail still allows that unique smoky flavor of the mezcal to shine through but tones down the roughness of the spirit with a variety of ingredients that work well together to create this unique and very flavorful drink. This explosion of flavor will surely take you away from the crazy world we’re living in right now even if just for a few minutes and shifting your focus back to your senses. All the ingredients can be found at your local liquor store and the drink is very easy to make—especially if you were wondering what to do with that bottle of mezcal in your cabinet that is too powerful to drink by itself.” —Piero Procida, food and beverage director at The London West Hollywood at Beverly Hills, Los Angeles
1 oz. Mezcal Union
0.75 oz. green chartreuse
0.75 oz. St. Germaine
0.75 oz. lime juice
Method: Add all ingredients into a shaker tin with ice. Shake and fine-strain into a Nick and Nora glass. Garnish with a tajín rim and a lime wheel.
KIND OF A NEGRONI
“I have an ongoing joke with some friends about the constant use of ‘riffs of Negronis’ on menus and how it tends to be a bartender’s go-to. And honestly, why not? Negronis are delicious. They are comforting and boozy—plus they’re delish year-round. The general idea of the Negroni is to offer something that is balanced in its bittersweetness and complexity. No individual ingredient should necessarily outshine the other. Roku Gin is a perfect base for it, since it already offers these bold citrus and spice notes—a profile that makes for a perfect slow sipper to ease us into the cold weather. The bitter flavor is coming from an amaro that provides an equal amount of citrus notes, but provides a hint of nuttiness. And rather than utilizing a sweet vermouth, I decided to add a couple more hints of nuttiness with a classic walnut liqueur and dry Sherry. Finally, to totally make this drink feel like a weighted blanket, I split the base with a tinge of mezcal to keep the cocktail sexy, alluring, and perfect for a lay on the sofa, while watching Killing Eve for the second time through.” —David Mor, founder of SPILL and Chicago-based beverage consultant
1 part Roku Gin
0.5 part Mezcal Verde Espadín
0.75 part Antico Amaro di Serravalle
0.5 part Lustau Palo Cortado Sherry
0.25 part Watershed Distillery Nocino
Method: Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice. Stir for 20 seconds or until drink is well-integrated and chilled. Strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with an expression of lemon oils and manicured peel.
“Frequently in the cocktail world, drinks imitate drinks imitate drinks—and this one is an adaptation of the Negroni. I liked the higher-proof mesquite notes of this particular espadín mezcal and I wanted to heighten its slight bitterness and fruit notes. I elected to use a blend of Plantation rums and Spanish vermouth to accomplish this. This funky, earthy, bitter sipper brings in different fruit notes and a sweetness out of this complex mezcal.” —Ivy Mix, author of Spirits of Latin America and cofounder at Leyenda, New York City
1.25 oz. Koch Espadín Mezcal
0.5 oz. Plantation Jamaican Rum
0.5 oz. Atxa Vino Vermouth Blanco
0.5 oz. Cynar
0.25 oz. Plantation Stiggins’ Fancy Pineapple Rum
Orange twist, for garnish
Method: Add all the ingredients, except the orange twist, to a mixing glass with ice. Stir and strain into a rocks glass over a big ice cube. Express the oils of the orange twist over the glass and rest the twist in the glass.
FERRAND DRY CURAÇAO MARGARITA
“Perfect for the summer to fall transition is the Ferrand Dry Curacao Margarita. It is easy to make, straight to the point and it makes you savor the end of summer heat.” —Nico de Soto, beverage consultant, owner of Danico (Paris) and Mace (New York City)
1 oz. mezcal (or 100% agave blanco tequila)
1 oz. Ferrand Dry Curaçao orange liqueur
0.5 oz. fresh-strained lime juice
0.5 oz. simple syrup (or 2 tsp. of superfine sugar)
4 oz. ice
Lime wheel, for garnish
Method: Combine all ingredients (add ice last) in blender. Blend on highest speed just until ice is fully crushed. Garnish with a lime wheel.
“With the smoke from the mezcal and the sweetness of the apple cider, this drink really screams fall to me. It reminds me of sitting around a campfire, which is everything I want during the colder months. Think: burning the raked piles of leaves in the fall and drinking mulled cider—or eating apple pie. It’s a delicious combination that really lets the mezcal shine.” —Gavin Humes, food and beverage director at Scratch Restaurants
2 oz. Vida Mezcal
0.75 oz. unfiltered apple cider
0.5 oz. Maraschino liqueur
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Method: Combine in a shaker with ice. Shake until well chilled. Double strain into a coupe.