In Defense of Mezcal

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There are few things I love more than 100-percent-blue-agave tequila. I have been known to drink it in all types of creations (and even occasionally from a vuvuzela).

But in the last several years, I started an affair with another agave-based artisanal spirit: mezcal. Like many, I initially cringed at the thought of painfully shooting badly made mezcal from a bottle with a worm in it. (Sorry, Toby Keith, but please stick to music. A worm belongs nowhere near a bottle of quality liquor.)

So how does a man fall for these two related spirits? Well, just as you can enjoy single malts from both Speyside and Islay, you can do the same with tequila and mezcal.

While some say mezcal is merely smoky tequila, it’s more than that. Yes, mezcal does have smoky characteristics that come from slow-cooking the agave in traditional pits in the ground, but they vary in intensity depending upon the producer.

Climate, elevation and soil can be very different as well. And while tequila distillers can only use a single type of agave, mezcal can be made from a few dozen varieties. The end results are uniquely complex bottlings that deserve serious respect. Look out for some of my favorite brands: Del Maguey, Sombra and Ilegal.

The liquor also offers bartenders many options to make tasty libations, from original recipes to twists on classics. I added mezcal to the Port Wine Cocktail #2, which I found in The Savoy Cocktail Book. Another good one to try is my mezcal variation on a Sour.

And when drinking mezcal, remember the ancient Zapotec toast “stigibeu,” which is a salute to your health, the health of your friends and the life of the planet, Mother Earth. Now that’s something everybody can love.

Port Wine Cocktail #3

Contributed by Jacques Bezuidenhout


  • 1.25 oz Del Maguey Vida Mezcal
  • 1.25 oz Fonseca Bin No. 27 Port
  • 2 tsp Grand Marnier
  • 1 dash Angostura Bitters
  • 1 dash Angostura Orange Bitters
  • Garnish: Orange twist
  • Glass: Cocktail


Add all the ingredients to a mixing glass and fill with ice. Stir, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist.

This recipe is adapted from the Port Wine Cocktail #2 in The Savoy Cocktail Book.

Maguey Sour

Contributed by Jacques Bezuidenhout


  • 2 oz Del Maguey Santo Domingo Albarradas Mezcal
  • .5 oz Bénédictine
  • .75 oz Fresh lemon juice
  • .5 oz Almond orgeat
  • 2 tsp Egg white
  • Garnish: Grated nutmeg and orange twist
  • Glass: Old Fashioned


Add all the ingredients to a shaker and fill with ice. Shake, and strain into an Old Fashioned glass filled with fresh ice. Garnish with grated nutmeg and an orange twist.

Jacques Bezuidenhout is a national cocktail and tequila ambassador for Partida Tequila and the master mixologist for Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants. He is also a advisor.

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  • Rich posted 4 years ago

    Actually, the main "legal" aspect is proprietary / trademark related, the same as "Tennessee" whiskey, and "Champagne", etc. It's just a regional thing, where the ingredients must originate from. (A sparkling wine made from California grapes is...a sparkling wine. BUT, grown that very grape species in Champagne, France, you get it.) That, and Tequila has to be made from 51% or more Blue Weber Agave, Mezcal can be any agave. So, yes, Oscar, EVERY Tequila falls within (the Venn diagram) of Mezcal. But not EVERY Mezcal is considered "Tequila" (Jalisco, Mexico). Just like all Champagne is wine, but not all wine is Champagne.

  • posted 5 years ago

    Both tequila and mezcal are spirits made from agave using similar methods, but they are entirely separate categories when it comes to legal definitions. According to the Norma Oficial Mexicana that defines tequila, it must be made from one specific agave species in a specific geographical area. On the other hand, mezcal is defined as a spirit made from one of several other agave species in a different set of regions. In other words, under Mexican law, no tequila may be called mezcal, and no mezcal may be called tequila.

  • Oscar Bueno posted 5 years ago

    Good post on mezcal. I could never do mezcal. It just reminds me too much of smoked ham. But I love showing my friends the difference between tequila and mezcal. Another good one is sotol, which I quite like. I have yet to have mezcal in a cocktail, will try this weekend.

    By definition, isn't tequila considered a mezcal?

  • Thirsty South posted 5 years ago

    I really dig Fidencio's Classico mezcal, tremendous stuff, wonderful neat, but also very interesting in cocktails. Here's one to try:

    2 part Mezcal
    1/2 lemon juice
    1/4 lime juice
    squeeze of agave syrup (to taste, I used a bit less than a tsp)
    2 dash bitters

    Shake over cracked ice, strain into chilled glass.

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