Mezcal: the little agave spirit that could. Though it remains a fraction of the size of the tequila category, at under 700,000 cases per year, mezcal has proven its staying power and continues to show remarkable growth, with many new brands entering and attracting curious consumers. Following a slightly off year due to the pandemic, mezcal sales grew 50% in 2021, according to Impact Databank, and there’s no sign of a slowdown coming anytime soon.
Interest in mezcal has been driven in large part by passionate bartenders and spirits enthusiasts who are drawn to the spirit’s diversity and the terroir-forward flavors it expresses. The fact that mezcal in general commands more of a premium than tequila reflects the value consumers place on its authenticity, especially as they learn to distinguish between artesanal and ancestral mezcals (and to avoid industrial brands, often simply labeled “mezcal”). Both classes have strict rules about production and permitted tools, which impact the spirit’s final flavor, and savvy consumers are learning what to expect when they pick up a new bottle.
Regardless of which category they fall into, mezcal producers know that sharing information appeals to consumers. Some brands emphasize the location of their palenques (distilleries) or where their agave is harvested or farmed; all disclose the agave varietals that are used, often including their age at harvest. Many producers also emphasize their environmental and social responsibility efforts—values that are as important to some consumers as the flavor of the spirit itself.
Because of its craft scale, mezcal remains a fragmented category, with hundreds of small producers offering sometimes just a handful of cases. Nevertheless, thanks to the sustained interest in the spirit—the U.S. is now the largest consumer of mezcal, outdrinking even Mexico—there are plenty of new offerings to try.
These seven new bottles offer a taste of the current state of mezcal.
While the Amarás brand celebrates its tenth anniversary in 2022, the limited-edition Logia line, released in batches, represents its newest effort. Oily, peppery, and full of fruit flavors, the first release of Amarás Logia Cenizo was made using 14-year-old wild harvested agave that was hand-chopped with an ax and cooked with mesquite and huizache wood. Amarás has a robust program of responsibility and sustainability, ranging from agave replanting and job training to committing to paying a fair, on-time price for the mezcals it purchases.
Though it follows the same production methods as other mezcals, pechuga deviates in one significant way: It undergoes a third distillation with botanicals, fruits, and other ingredients, including meat, usually a poultry breast (pechuga means breast). In Bosscal’s case, however, the meat is rabbit, which imparts a silky texture derived from collagen; additional ingredients include locally grown apples and other fruits. Made in Durango by fourth-generation mezcalero Uriel Simental Enriquez, Bosscal is packaged in a bottle shaped like the volcanic rocks in which the agave grows—and there’s a rabbit, a common Aztec symbol for alcohol, on the label.
While it’s better known for its tequila—and its partnership with country music legend George Strait—Código branched out into mezcal recently with artesanal and ancestral offerings. The artesanal uses espadín and tobalá agaves, and is crushed by tahona and distilled in copper pots, then rested in sauvignon blanc barrels. The ancestral, meanwhile, is made with papalome agave that’s mashed by hand and fermented in animal hide before a distillation in the requisite clay pots. Both are sourced from palenques in Oaxaca’s San Juan del Rio region.
Founded by brothers Eduardo and Julio Mestres, this brand works with a number of mezcaleros to produce both artesanal and ancestral mezcals. In fact, the ancestral offerings are made in Sola de Vega by the brothers’ mother, Doña Àngeles, and her husband, Eduardo; they also provide education to other producers interested in adopting ancestral techniques. The breadth of mezcals in Los Siete Misterios’ lineup goes well beyond the typical espadín (labeled as Doba-Yej, the Zapotec word for the variety) and ensamble to incorporate less-common agaves such as coyote, mexicano, and arroqueño, and the company maintains an agave nursery, transferring baby plants to its partner mezcaleros to promote sustainability.
Made in Santiago Matatlán at a 100% family-owned palenque, Mal de Amor offers a range of expressions, from cuishe to barríl to several ensambles, and including such rarely seen varietals as sierrudo, which takes up to 18 years to mature. Horse-pulled tahona crushing, open-air fermentation for five to 10 days, and double-distillation in direct-fire pot stills ensure that every batch meets the standards for artesanal labeling. Resting the mezcal in glass for a minimum of six months, and up to four years, allows the spirit’s flavors to meld and mellow, creating an elevated cohesiveness that retains plenty of character.
This brand highlights the master mezcaleros who create its different expressions, like Erasto Martinez Hernandez of Tlacolula de Matamoros, who produced the Ensamble. The blend of espadín and cuishe agaves starts with traditional tahona crushing, followed by an eight-to-11-day open-air fermentation with wild yeast before double-distillation in copper pot stills. The Producer’s minimalist packaging is meant to reflect how you might find mezcal offered in Oaxaca, where plain bottles with a simple tape label often contain the most flavorful spirits.
Though it doesn’t call itself a pechuga, this bottle can be considered one—albeit vegan—since it undergoes a third distillation with fruit added to the still. The mezcal is made with a mix of high-altitude tobalá agaves harvested at 14 years old and espadín from Oaxaca’s Central Valleys, roasted with black oak and distilled together in the town of Tlalixtac de Cabrera. Vamonos Riendo (“let’s go laughing”) partners with S.A.C.R.E.D (Saving Agave for Culture, Recreation, Education, and Development), a non-profit that supports rural Mexican communities where agave spirits are made, and recently underwrote a rainfall collection system in Zaachila, Oaxaca.