Mezcal never ceases to impress. It adds a smoky-savory dash of complexity wherever it’s used. Its versatility and elegance can provide a whole new look on a classic drink or a surprising new way to frame familiar ingredients.
Mezcal is a must-have tool for the modern mixologist, but how can it best be employed from a home bar cart? Below are ten simple mezcal cocktails worth trying for any and every occasion. Before that though, you might be asking yourself…
What is the difference between Mezcal and Tequila?
In a nutshell: mezcal is the umbrella name for all agave-based spirits, of which tequila is the most famous style. Tequila can only be made from one specific type of agave plant (the Weber blue agave), and can only be produced in certain regions in Mexico, The plant is then steamed to break down tough fibers.
Mezcal allows for a variety of agaves from different regions with a plethora of production methods, with many producers choosing to roast the agave in underground pits. The last choice here lends a distinctive smoky flavor that most people associate with the spirit. With this in mind, here are ways to explore the world of non-tequila mezcals.
Perhaps the easiest way to experiment with mezcal is to swap it for tequila in recipes that call for the latter. The result will give the drink a smoky edge, creating a memorable experience for you and your guests. With this in mind, the best place to start is with the most famous tequila cocktail around: the margarita!
According to binwise.com, the margarita is the most ordered cocktail in the USA. What better way to impress friends and family, who are most certainly familiar with the drink than to send up a fresh take on the classic!
- Mezcal can be used in the same ratio as tequila, typically: 1.5 oz mezcal, ¾ oz lime juice, ¾ oz triple sec
- Shake all ingredients with ice in a shaker tin and strain over ice in a rocks glass
- A salt rim provides a welcome contrast to the sour/sweet profile of the drink
2. Oaxaca Old Fashioned
Another classic that works well with mezcal is the Old Fashioned. Since American-style whiskies garner much of their flavor from toasted oak barrels, using a spirit that similarly derives its character from a toasting process will complement the drink in much the same way. For an even more relatable version, try using an Anejo mezcal. Anejos are aged in new oak barrels, giving not just a campfire smokiness but also the whiskey associated flavors of vanilla, cinnamon, molasses, and more.
- Stir 2 oz mezcal, a couple of dashes of bitters, and a teaspoon of sugar in ice for 30 seconds in a mixing glass.
- Strain over ice in a rocks glass and garnish with an orange peel.
- Try swapping agave syrup for sugar to further compliment the mezcal!
3. Mezcal Mule
Like its equally alliterative foundation drink (the Moscow Mule), the Mezcal Mule offers a simple and refreshing way to play with an agave-based spirit. Swapping mezcal for vodka provides an even more flavorful take on an already delicious drink. A copper mug, the traditional cup for the mule, should definitely be used here as well!
- 2 oz mezcal, 4 oz ginger beer, and 1 oz lime juice, gently stirred together in a copper mug over crushed ice.
- Get creative with garnishes: citrus wheels, cucumbers, mint, and a spicy Tajin rim are all good ideas.
4. Mezcal Negroni
Taking the classic negroni and swapping the gin for mezcal is a surefire way to please those who enjoy a truly stiff cocktail. The bitterness of the Campari and herbaceous sweetness of the vermouth work wonders with the smoky profile of mezcal. Bold and assertive, this riff on the classic provides a simple way to experience the range that mezcal offers.
- 1:1:1 mezcal: Campari: sweet vermouth, stirred in a mixing glass with ice and strained into a rocks glass.
5. Bloody Maria
To finish off our collection of classic cocktails with a mezcal infused twist is the Bloody Maria: a Bloody Mary subbing mezcal for vodka. This one is a total knock-out with the mezcal’s savory character beefing up the drink on the whole. Be sure to add a spicy component to get the full effect of the drink, like adding a couple of dashes of tabasco or mixing jalapeno juice with the tomato.
- See our article on the Bloody Mary and its variants here for recipe ideas and more!
Clearly inspired by the Margarita, the Mezcalita is the hottest cocktail trend south of the border today! Instead of the orange liqueur triple-sec, the Mezcalita jumps the gun with fresh-squeezed orange juice. The result is a juicier cocktail that truly stands as an entity separate from the classic. Does this remind you of another agave spirit based drink? The Tequila Sunrise also uses orange juice as a base, though here grenadine is used for color and extra sweetness.
- 1.5 oz mezcal, 2 oz orange juice, 1 oz lime juice. Shaken with ice and strained into a rocks glass.
- For an authentic version of the drink, be sure to use a Tajin rim.
In music, a sforzando direction indicates that you should play a note or chord with a sudden, assertive tone. From this, it’s easy to see where this blend of whiskey and mezcal got its name. Stiff, bold, and not for the faint of heart, this cocktail concentrates deep flavors into a dark-toned expression of spirits. Don’t be startled when you engage with the sforzando!
- 1 oz rye and 1 oz mezcal, ½ oz Bénédictine and ½ dry vermouth, a couple of dashes of mole or chocolate bitters. Shaken, strained, and served in a coupe glass. Garnish with orange peel
- A similar drink, try the El Camino which doesn’t use vermouth and changes Peychaud’s bitters for the chocolate or mole bitters
- Give it a shot if you’re looking for something beyond your usual negroni!
8. Closing Argument
What do Jimadors and Carthusian Monks have in common? If you said the Closing Argument cocktail then you are absolutely right! Mezcal (the product of the Jimador) and Green Chartreuse (the product of Carthusian Monks) come together in this modern-yet-Medieval tasting drink. Rounding out the exotic flavors of the aforementioned spirit and liqueur is Maraschino Liqueur and lime juice, providing a sour/sweet taste to the savory/bitter combo already present.
The name, by the way, is a take on the Last Word cocktail from which this drink draws its inspiration. Give this guy a shake and make our vaquero and monk friends proud!
- Shake equal parts mezcal, Green Chartreuse, Maraschino Liqueur, and lime juice with ice.
- Strain into coupe glass.
- Garnish with a lime peel.
9. Division Bell
A perfect recipe to follow the Closing Argument is the Division Bell, which is similarly inspired by the Last Word. In place of the Green Chartreuse is Aperol, lending a fruitier sort of sweetness to the palate.
Another big difference between the two is proportions, as the Division Bell requires a greater balancing act between the four components. The result is a drink with nuance and complexity that showcases how sweetness pairs with the intensity of mezcal.
- Shake together 1 oz mezcal, ¾ oz Aperol, ¾ oz lime juice, and ½ oz maraschino liqueur with ice and strain into a coupe glass.
- Garnish with an orange peel.
10. M & M
There are no candy-coated chocolates in this drink, just two ingredients from which the name is derived: Mezcal & Montenegro. Montenegro is a deeply flavored, pleasantly sweet amaro that’s usually sipped on its own as a digestif (i.e after dinner drink). As such, the M&M is best enjoyed after a long meal with friends and is a cinch to put together for a crowd.
- Stir equal parts mezcal and Montenegro in a mixing glass with ice and strain into a coupe or rocks glass.
- Orange or lime peel provides a nice garnish, though we might get cheeky and drop some M&M candies into the glass (to make what we would call an M&M&M&M)
Maybe you were curious but didn’t know where to start, or you were given a bottle that you didn’t know what to do with, or you’re a seasoned mixologist looking for new inspiration; regardless of where you come from, we hope that you have the tools and techniques to best utilize mezcal in your home bar. Give these recipes a shot and let us know what you think in the comment!
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