Cocktail consultant, Liquid Productions
Co-owner, Pacific Standard
Co-owner, Clover Club, Leyenda, and Milady’s
Del Maguey Vida represents a fantastic introductory option for those new to mezcal, and remains a solid workhorse for mixed drinks, earning it a regular place on bar shelves worldwide. Its clean profile and full body adapt well to a wide array of cocktails, and while there are other more complex options to try as a sipping spirit, Vida largely offers a delicious, no-fuss experience that will please most fans of the category.
Classification: Mezcal joven
Company: Pernod Ricard
Producer: Del Maguey
Still Type: Copper pot still
Awards: 2022 Ultimate Spirits Challenge, 91 points; 2019 Ultimate Spirits Challenge Great Value, 93 points; 2012 Ultimate Spirits Challenge Chairman’s Trophy, 92 points; 2011 Ultimate Spirits Challenge Finalist, 93 points
Great mezcal for mixing that many professional bartenders use in cocktails
Good introductory sipping mezcal
Not particularly complex as a sipping mezcal
Color: Crystal clear
Nose: Smoke, roasted pineapple and mango, stewed agave, honey, vanilla, plum, pepper, pear
Palate: Smoke, pineapple rind, grapefruit peel, cooked agave, leather, citrus, spices including cinnamon and pepper
Finish: Full-bodied, long, and clean with a slight chemical heat; notes of burnt wood and roasted agave
Suggested uses: Cocktails like a Margarita, Oaxacan Old Fashioned, and Naked & Famous; sipped neat
Our reviewers are unanimous in recommending Del Maguey Vida as an excellent mixing mezcal that integrates well into cocktails.
“Vida is a very straightforward, clean, perfectly-distilled mezcal,” says Jeffrey Morgenthaler.
“It makes a delicious Smoky Margarita or Mezcal Negroni,” says Julie Reiner. “If you are just beginning to drink mezcal, try a split-base Margarita with one ounce of tequila and one ounce of mezcal,” she adds.
Each member of our tasting panel notes that this bottle is a great value. “I think this is a very well-made mezcal, especially for its price,” says Jacques Bezuidenhout. “There are some cheaper mezcals out there that don’t compare.”
“At the price point, you won’t find a mezcal for mixing that’s better,” says Reiner.
Although professional bartenders typically use Vida for mixing into drinks, Bezuidenhout and Morgenthaler also recommend it for sipping. “I would argue that for the intermediate drinker looking to expand their repertoire into the mezcal category, [this] is the perfect sipping mezcal to begin with,” says Morgenthaler.
Reiner doesn’t opt to serve Vida neat, but notes that Del Maguey sells many other expressions that are intended specifically for sipping. (Worth noting, the producer itself recommends Vida for both mixing and sipping.)
Del Maguey Vida is made in the Zapotec village of San Luís del Rio, using Agave angustifolia (also known commonly as Maguey espadín) that has matured for six to eight years. Paciano Cruz Nolasco and his son Marco Cruz Mendez are the palenqueros, or distillers. For this expression, roasted agave hearts ferment naturally with airborne yeast for eight to 10 days, and the resulting mosto, or combination of shredded agave and liquid, is twice-distilled in ancestral wood-fired copper pot stills.
Paciano scaled up his distillery’s infrastructure in 2016, adding additional equipment and transitioning from traditional horse-drawn molinos (mills) to electric molinos to meet the growing demand for Vida, which Del Maguey says would have required dozens of workers and horses.
Del Maguey was founded by Ron Cooper, an American visual artist who fell in love with mezcal on a trip to Mexico in the 1960s. Decades later, in the ’90s, Cooper began forming relationships with Indigenous Zapotec agave farmers in Oaxaca, inquiring about how they made their spirits and asking if he could buy their distillates. Cooper returned to the U.S. with a collection of 28 distillates from individual family producers, and in 1995 he debuted Del Maguey single-village expressions, ensuring each bottle listed the name of the village where it was produced.
Palenquero Paciano Cruz Nolasco, who produced mezcal in the Oaxacan village of San Luís del Rio, was inspired to develop Vida after a work trip to the U.S., where he noted that the 45%-plus ABV of most traditional mezcals didn’t suit most American palates. In 2006, Nolasco began development of a lower-proof mezcal that could be savored neat or mixed into cocktails. In 2010, Nolasco released the expression to the market, where it soon caught on with many bar and restaurant professionals who were beginning to incorporate mezcal into their programs.
Cooper served as his own importer for Del Maguey mezcal until 2017, when the global company Pernod Ricard purchased the brand.
—Written and edited by Audrey Morgan
Palenqueros Paciano Cruz Nolasco and his son Marco Cruz Mendez also produce a more traditional 47% ABV mezcal in their village. Look for Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal San Luis del Rio.
The Bottom Line
For its price-to-quality ratio, Del Maguey Vida is hard to beat as a mixing mezcal. It integrates seamlessly into cocktails, and while there are more complex sipping mezcals on the market, Vida is a solid introductory option for those new to the category seeking to expand their knowledge.