Running alongside the tequila boom, agave-curious consumers have expanded into mezcal, too, making it one of the fastest-growing categories of the moment. According to the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. (DISCUS), in 2020 mezcal sales climbed 17.7%, or $19 million, totaling $124 million.
While much of the spirit’s consumption is in mezcal-based cocktails, a growing category at bars following the popularity of the Oaxaca Old Fashioned and other drinks, still others are limited editions intended to be savored and sipped.
Among the most interesting newcomers right now is legacy mezcal producer Sombra, which now offers a category-busting bottle rested in ex-Bordeaux wine casks. It’s such an unusual combination that its producer coined a new term for it: reposé. Meanwhile, Bozal is rolling out a limited-edition pechuga-style mezcal appropriate for vegetarians. Instead of distilling it with chicken or other meat, typical of the style made to celebrate the bounty of the harvest season, this version instead is made solely with seasonal produce such as pumpkins and plantains.
Part of mezcal’s appeal is the spirit’s ties to the land and Mexico’s heritage, some experts say. So perhaps it makes sense that many new releases name-check a widening array of varieties and regions as a way to tighten the connections of terroir. Just a few mentioned on the latest labels: salmiana agave from Zacatecas (Don Ramón Joven); agave angustifolia (espadín) from Oaxaca (Bozal’s Guías de Calabaza); and agave papalote, also known as agave cupreata, sourced from Guerrero (Clase Azul Guerrero).
No matter which technique, variety or region most appeals to you, you’ll want to test-drive these nine new bottles right now.
The latest addition to the excellent Bozal line is a vegetarian version of a pechuga-style mezcal, which is usually made using chicken breast or other meats. In this case, pumpkin stems, pineapple, plantains and chepiche—an herb used in Mexican cooking—are used to create bright, vegetal flavors. The base of the mezcal is 100% agave angustifolia. This limited-edition bottling was released for Cinco de Mayo 2021.
This second mezcal from Clase Azul, released in April 2021, celebrates the Mexican state of Guerrero. The tequila is made from 100% agave papalote, also known as agave cupreata, which is specific to the Guerrero region. Its producer describes the liquid as possessing notes of “grapefruit skin, fresh wood, rosemary and peanut oil with hints of butter and daisy flower.” The packaging is a striking jade-hued ceramic decanter topped with a stopper lacquered using the Olinalá technique, which has a denomination of origin in Guerrero.
Tequila-maker Casa Don Ramón added a mezcal to its lineup in October 2020. Made from salmiana agave from Zacatecas, the spirit is described by its producer as having “earthen smokiness” and aromas that are herbal and subtly fruity. Sustainability is built into the brand; for each eight-to-10-year-old agave plant harvested to make the mezcal, two more of the same species are planted in its place. Each bottle is capped with a silver jaguar stopper, an animal significant in Mayan mythology as ruler of the underworld.
This independent spirits brand offers both tequila and mezcal; its backing team includes basketball icon LeBron James. Made with 100% espadín agave, the spirit, introduced in late 2020, is described by its producer as “sultry and smoky, with a subtle burn of spice.”
The mezcal is produced in Oaxaca and debuted in December 2020. Its sculptural ceramic bottles are designed by Brooklyn-based designers Laura Giraudo and Roberto Bernasconi, who take inspiration from Mexican architecture. Bernasconi describes the bottle as “more than a container. … It’s unsettling, convulsive and cryptic, an obscur objet du désir.” The “artist-driven” lineup includes three bottlings: Arroqueño ($110), Tobalá ($140) and Tepeztate ($190), all made from wild foraged agave ranging from 12 to 25 years old.
“Rooted in the belief that mezcal is for everyone,” the team behind this newcomer has focused efforts on “community first,” it says, developing initiatives such as a concert series, online educational initiatives and in-house designed merch. The mezcal is made in Oaxaca from agaves matured for up to eight years, yielding a citrusy, subtly smoky spirit.
A portmanteau of reposado (rested in oak) and wine’s breakout rosé, this rosy-hued newcomer from Sombra launched in May 2021. What’s in the bottle is espadín mezcal, aged for six months in French oak barrels that previously held Bordeaux wine. The resting time softens the mezcal, according to its producer, while “enhancing its delicate botanical balance” and, of course, imparting a bit of color.