There are few spirits as misunderstood as mezcal. For one, you should never buy a bottle of the liquor if it contains a worm—those mezcals are for tourists and contain cheap alcohol. But fortunately, there’s now a growing selection of fine mezcals available in America from a range of producers. Mezcal, like its cousin tequila, is made from agave, which, contrary to popular belief, is not a cactus but is actually part of the asparagales botanical order, making it a relative of the yucca plant and Joshua tree. While tequila can only be made in the Tequila region and from just blue Weber agave, mezcal is usually produced in Oaxaca (it can legally come from anywhere in Mexico) and can be made from many types of agave, some of which only grow wild. Historically, producers used whatever agave they found locally.

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