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Drinks

Love Tequila? Try Mezcal, Its Deliciously Smoky Cousin That Makes Outrageously Good Cocktails

Plus, the best budget buy that packs a flavor punch!

Lately, we’ve been stocking our home bar with a liquor that’s taking the drink world by storm: mezcal. It’s widely considered to be tequila’s cousin as they’re both made from a plant called agave. But mezcal has a sweet and smoky flavor that wakes up your taste buds without the burning aftereffect you often get with tequila. Intrigued? Keep reading to learn more about liquor and three mezcal drinks that are easy to mix up at home!

What is mezcal?

Mezcal is a distilled (or filtered) alcohol that’s made using agave, a tropical plant native to certain parts of Mexico. It contains a sugary, starchy nectar that is fermented into alcohol. This alcohol can have a clear or golden brown color: Clear varieties have not been aged, while dark mezcals are aged and boast more intense notes of spice and wood as a result. This alcohol is versatile in many cocktails, from margaritas to Old-Fashioneds, either as a tequila substitute or rich addition to the drink.

What makes mezcal different from tequila

In addition to its smoky flavor, Christian Almonte, bartender and co-owner of Republic Latin Fusion in New York, says there are three other ways that mezcal differs from tequila:

1. It can be made with several varieties of agave.

Similar to how grapes are used to make wine, agave is the foundation for creating both mezcal and tequila. Mezcal can be made from about 30 different types of agave, such as espadín and tepeztate, for concentrated earthy flavors. In contrast, production regulations state that real tequila has to be made with Blue Weber agave. This agave has a higher sugar content that converts into alcohol during production.

2. It’s processed in various states within Mexico.

Most tequilas are made in Jalisco, Mexico, due to its abundance of Blue Weber agave plants. On the other hand, mezcal’s multitude of agave options allow it to be produced in different states in Mexico where agave is grown, notably Oaxaca (also known as “the capital of mezcal”).

3. It undergoes a smoking process instead of being steamed.

One of the key steps of making mezcal is cooking the agave in a covered pit lined with rocks and wood underground. This gives the alcohol its signature caramelized and smoky flavor profile. Meanwhile, tequila’s spicy yet slightly sweet taste is due to the agave being steamed and then fermented prior to distilling (or filtering) the alcohol.

The best budget option for mezcal

Shot glasses filled with mezcal as part our a guide on using this alcohol in cocktails
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Mezcals can be pricey, especially aged varieties. Almonte’s recommendation for a budget-friendly option that full of flavor? “The most popular, widely available and least expensive type of Mezcal would be the espadín,” he says. “This makes it the go to when it comes to mixing cocktails.” Espadín mezcal is named after the espadín agave that’s used to make the alcohol. This type of mezcal is usually aged between 5 and 10 years, resulting in a clear alcohol with a perfect amount of smokiness.

Espadín costs about half of other mezcals made with rare agave plants like tobalá cost. For instance, a 375-milliliter bottle of Palomo Espadín Mezcal can be sold for $22, whereas you might find the same size bottle of Yuu Baal’s Tobala Mezcal with a $45 price tag. So, browse your local liquor store for the best espadín mezcal for less!

3 easy mezcal drinks to make at home

For a delicious cocktail with hints of smokiness, you can use your favorite tequila drink recipe and simply swap the full amount of tequila for mezcal. Below, you can find Almonte’s go-to mezcal cocktail recipe along with two drinks concocted by First for Women mixologists. Cheers!

Almonte’s Mezcal Cocktail

A recipe for Chrisitan Almonte's Mezcal Cocktail as part our a guide on using this alcohol in cocktails
Getty

Ingredients:

  • 1½ oz. espadín mezcal
  • ½ oz. Blanco tequila
  • ½ oz. elderflower liqueur
  • 1½ oz. pineapple juice
  • 1 oz. lime Juice
  • 1 dash orange bitters
  • Tajin seasoning
  • Pineapple wedge, for garnish
  • Ice

Directions:

  • Yield: 1 drink
  1. Prepare your rocks glass first by rimming with Tajin. Add the rest of ingredients into a cocktail shaker and shake hard for about 10 seconds. 
  2. Strain into the rocks glass that’s been rimmed with Tajin. Top with fresh ice and garnish with pineapple wedge.

Frozen Pink Grapefruit Margaritas

A recipe for Frozen Pink Grapefruit Margaritas as part our a guide on using mezcal (alcohol) in cocktails
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Ingredients:

  • 2 cups ruby red grapefruit juice
  • 1 Tbs. salt
  • 1 Tbs. grated lime zest
  • ¼ cup powdered sugar
  • ¼ cup mezcal
  • ¼ cup ruby red grapefruit vodka
  • 2 Tbs. lime juice
  • Fruit garnishes: strawberries, grapefruit slices and/or lime wedges

Directions:

  • Yield: 2 drinks
  1. Freeze grapefruit juice in ice cube trays until solid. On plate, combine salt and lime zest. Dip rims of 2 glasses in water, then salt mixture.
  2. In blender, mix frozen juice cubes with powdered sugar, mezcal, grapefruit vodka and lime juice.
  3. Cover; blend. Pour into glasses. Garnish with desired fruit.

Pineapple-Orange Oasis

A recipe for Pineapple-Orange Oasis drinks as part our a guide on using mezcal (alcohol) in cocktails
Getty

Ingredients:

  • 2 oz. orange juice
  • 1 oz. pineapple juice
  • 1 oz. blood orange juice
  • 1 oz. mezcal
  • Orange slice, for garnish
  • Pineapple slice, for garnish

Directions:

  • Yield: 1 drink
  1. In glass with ice, stir together orange juice, pineapple juice, blood orange juice and mezcal. 
  2. Garnish with orange slice and pineapple. 

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