At some point, a long time ago, someone somewhere designated clear spirits as the right stuff to drink during the summer months. Sure, the clean, crisp flavors of vodka and gin make ultra-refreshing cocktails, but the rich, bold flavors of unaged tequila and mezcal likely had something to do with it too.
The Mexican spirits pair well with warm-weather fruits like strawberries and pineapple—plus the bottles are a solid vehicle for spice. There are so many brands making fantastic tequila and mezcal now that there’s often no need for mixers at all.
And let’s be clear: Even aged tequilas and mezcals are key for summer. So whether you’re a novice or an authority (find out here), it’s time to get your (agave) home bar on point.
With a hint of spice and a soft edge—not to mention a price tag that’s well below many of its equals—Espolón Blanco Tequila is a great place to start your home bar tequila journey. Mix it in a Paloma, Margarita or with a hint of lime. Try the equally inexpensive and flavorful Olmeca Altos Plata ($25) for a slightly fruitier, all-purpose silver tequila.
Last year, the wildly popular Patrón launched a new line of tequila made using a 500-year-old process call tahona, in which a volcanic rock crushes the agave before it’s distilled. The Roca Patrón Reposado is a great example of a tequila that can be both sipped or mixed into a craft cocktail. The reposado spends a quick five months in bourbon barrels, rounding out the edges to create a buttery smooth flavor. Do be sure you’re using a drink recipe that allows the flavor of the spirit to shine.
Yes, the price tag of this extra-aged, extra-sippable añejo tequila is intimidating, but its flavor lives up to the cost. At a robust 86-proof, this five-year-old tequila is the product of time in Scotch, sherry and brandy barrels—a variation that ends with notes of citrus, spice and smoke. The only thing this special agave nectar should be paired with is a crystal clear ice cube.
Mezcal, while more misunderstood than tequila, is quickly becoming a must-try spirit. Rooted deeply in Mexican tradition, quality mezcal was fairly recently introduced to the U.S. and is now becoming much easier to find. Del Maguey Vida is one of the less expensive quality expressions, along with the slightly more expensive Fidencio Clasico Joven ($45), that will start out your home collection nicely. Sip it, mix it and, most important, love it.
Rested in oak barrels for four months, this light amber-hued mezcal is made to be sipped. It has a sweetness to it that the joven does not, while maintaining a peppery and agave-forward flavor. It needs no more than an ice cube, but can be mixed into a cocktail with great success. How about an Old Fashioned?
Though slightly less expensive than the Ilegal Reposado, this special expression from Mezcal Vago is infused with roasted corn grown on distiller Aquilino Garcia Lopez’s farm in Oaxaca, the resulting liquid is a little sweet and super-drinkable.
Del Maguey’s Chichicapa ($66) is another great option for strict sipping. The brand's line of single-village mezcals is made from agave grown in the village of Chichicapa, southwest of Oaxaca. It’s incredibly smooth, with fruity and herbal notes. It’d be a shame to mix it with much of anything—not unlike a great single malt Scotch.
Mixing your cocktail