It's safe to say that mezcal has never been more popular in the U.S. than it is today. It's made such a mark on the domestic booze world that even its lesser-known relatives like raicilla and sotol are also getting attention these days.
Fortunately, more than a few companies are helping quench Americans’ agave thirst. Some brands are also about to introduce the U.S. to varieties of agave most Americans have never tasted. Many of them are also made in Mexican states that aren’t known for making mezcal. Taste your way through a handful of new brands that have landed stateside—or are planning to soon.
For mezcal heads, making your way to Mezcaloteca—the Oaxaca City tasting room and shrine to high-end, hard-to-find agave spirits—is something of a pilgrimage. Only the rarest of agave specimens are used for its highly curated collection, which are also bottled and sold under the Mezcaloteca name. Everything the brand produces is incredible, so you can bet that the U.S. debut in the next few months will be exceptional—especially those under the name Mezcalosfera by Mezcaloteca.
Among those first Mezcalosfera offerings is a marvelously complex bottling of madrecuixe and bicuixe agave from Miahuatlán, Oaxaca. The 50-percent ABV batch we tasted was limited to 200 liters, a little cologne-like on the nose, minty and with a refreshing minerality. It has a beautiful citrus finish that tingles the tongue with lingering warmth. It may be pricy, but, these extremely rare mezcals are well worth it.
Mezcal Amarás has been operating in Mexico for years as Mezcal Amores, so its fans north of the border were pretty excited when San Francisco's Anchor Distilling started to import it. The brand’s first bottle is a mixology-friendly espadín from San Juan Del Río, Oaxaca, that's a nice balance of sweet, savory and smoky. But it's the cupreata expression from Mazatlán, Guerrero, that's particularly special. Hugely aromatic and herbaceous at first, this one carries a blast of flavor across the palate before mellowing and finishing with just a touch of spice. The cupreata agave spends 13 years in the ground before it's harvested for distillation, so trust that it packs a load of unique terroir into its flavor.
Some people think of espadín as a pedestrian type of mezcal, but one taste of Rey Campero's mezcal will have those detractors thinking otherwise. It bursts with flavor and layers of complexity, is super-bright and crisp right off the bat and gently lingers on the finish.
The Candelaria Yegolé, Oaxaca–based brand's six offerings—espadín, jabalí, madre cuishe, mexicano, tobalá, and cuishe—don't mess around. They all clock in at around 48 to 49 percent ABV, and that alcohol level does a lot to carry the mezcal through its undulating flavors. While the jabalí really embraces that fiery proof, its deep warmth, cinnamon and sweet baking spice flavors make it an incredibly unique sipper. The Mexicano is just as feisty, mixing spicy and cooling notes in equal measure before its long pepperminty finish.
The Oaxacan village of Santa Catarina Minas has a history of distilling its mezcal in clay pots, which generally imbues the spirit with a fair bit of minerality. Since history is the name of the game for the Ángeles family (who have been hand-making mezcal for four generations), it's no surprise they stick to that tradition with all six of the Real Minero expressions. They also tend to use some pretty rare varieties of agave for extremely small runs of spirits.
The wild-grown largo mezcal mixes sweet roasted agave with that deep saline minerality for a beautiful balance, while the barril, which is also wild-grown, is delicate, with fruity, creamy, licorice-y notes and a hint of pepper that’s soft on the palate. A blend of these two agaves, along with some espadîn and tripón, creates a spirit so explosively good that it almost defies explanation.
The main event, though, is Real Minero's pechuga—that rare celebration-only mezcal that's made with a raw chicken breast (and often a sack of fruits and herbs) suspended in the still. This one is deep with aroma and flavor, sweet and spicy to the taste, but balanced by that rugged clay and lots of umami. So many things play against each other so superbly in this mezcal.
If you're a tequila drinker, there's a good chance you're familiar with Clase Azul's flagship spirit. You know, the one in the fancy blue-and-white ceramic bottle. Recently, the company embarked on its first foray into mezcal, importing a wild—and rare—cenizo mezcal from the state of Durango. While the state isn't as well known for producing mezcal as Oaxaca, Durango’s spirits can be just as potent, refined, rustic, tasty and all-around varied. This 44-percent ABV expression is fruity and smoky on the nose with big spice and some salinity across the palate, followed by a gentle heat.
Clase Azul isn’t the only tequila company getting into the game, either. Siembra Spirits just released its first mezcal, Siembra Metl, which is a cupreata from Michoacán.
The folks behind one of Mexico City's best mezcalerias, La Clandestina, are responsible for Enmascarado's two espadín varieties, which are currently available in select spots throughout the U.S. The first is a straightforward 45-percent ABV that's pleasantly dry and vegetal without too much smoke. The 54-percent expression is a whopper: complex, spicy, astringent and then floral, herbal and leathery.
Bruxo Mezcal had been available in the U.K. for a while, but these four Oaxacan spirits have only recently made their way to the U.S. Along with the company’s No. 1 espadín, Bruxo’s No. 3 barril is a good place to start. It’s bright and mineral with floral notes, and at 92-proof, it’s pretty gentle too. Unlike Real Minero's pechuga, however, there’s no fowl involved in Bruxo's No. 2 expression. Instead, its mezcalero uses the "pechuga de maguey"—or the breast of the agave—for fermentation and distillation. It’s a marriage of espadín and barril, and has a distinctly straw-like color. It’s two agaves toggle nicely between sweet and earthy. Ensamble No. 4 brings even more into the still—espadín, barril and cuishe—for a really nice, grassy, dry and fennel-like combo that evolves quite a bit from nose to finish.