Tequila’s older, burlier cousin is making a comeback and you won’t want to miss the festivities.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Tequila’s older, burlier cousin is making a comeback and you won’t want to miss the festivities.

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Pechuga is a category of mezcal that involves adding raw chicken breasts and seasonal fruit to the still during the third distillation until they dissolve. The fruit adds flavour, while the savoury meat helps cut back on some of that fruitiness. This particular bottle is made by Del Maguey, a certified organic distillery, and it offers a rich mezcal with notes of tropical fruit, camomile and dates.


This mezcal got its name from the creative ways its owner, John Rexer, had to employ to bring mezcal across the border from Mexico into his Guatemalan bar. As few mezcals were certified for export as recently as 12 years ago, Rexer constantly had supply issues. Several lifethreatening experiences later, Ilegal was found (and legalised), and is among one of the most respected mezcal producers today. The anejo packs a punch, with flavours of apricot and musk melon.


The two founders of Buen Suceso, which roughly translates to “good event”, believe their spirit is best enjoyed at celebrations, which also explains its bright, confetti-like bottle design. But this soft and fruity mescal, with its light smoke and powerful floral flavours, is welcome, even if the party is only for one.

Thanks to pop culture and the growing awareness of ultra-premium labels, tequila is being taken seriously as a spirit worth sipping. Mezcal, on the other hand, hasn’t been so lucky. Often seen as a cheaper alternative to tequila, Mexico’s other export has long been in need of an image overhaul. And it’s time we took notice, because if tequila is that errant train wreck-turned-contemporary sophisticate, mezcal is like your eccentric granduncle no one dares to get to know but who has the best stories. Said to be discovered by invading Spanish conquistadors who saw potential in refi ning pulque (a syrupy alcoholic beverage made from agave syrup) into a proper spirit, mezcal – a spirit made by distilling agave hearts – is now manufactured by over 9,000 mezcal producers in Mexico, with over 200 species of agave to choose from. While this means discovering the differences between one village’s mezcal and the next will be a taste adventure, it has also led to unregulated production. “The tequila industry is much more advanced, especially in terms of capital, legislation, marketing and infrastructure,” shares Mauricio Allende, bar manager at Maison du Whisky.

“Tequila is also lighter, more approachable and less earthy and smoky than mezcal, which I believe would appeal to more people.” But its earthy, smoky quality is precisely why mezcal has devoted fans (see next page). “Mezcal is extremely complex and can almost be as diverse as wine,” he adds. “In the world of spirits, nothing says ‘terroir’ as much as mezcal does.” Despite the complexity of fl avours, enjoying it is a simple aff air. Senor Taco’s general manager, Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez, suggests having a small glass with an orange slice, and a sprinkling of chilli powder or warm salt. They go especially well with traditional carnitas or freshly made guacamole. “If you like new experiences,” he says. “In Mexico, we drink mezcal for everything – when there’s a funeral or a birth,” says Allende. “As an old Mexican saying goes – Para todo mal, Mezcal! Y para todo bien, tambien! (For every bad, mezcal; and for every good as well)!”

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Mina Real’s packaging may not look especially modern, but its production methods are a fusion of old and new. Mina Real’s agave hearts are steamed rather than wood-roasted, in order to gain less smoke and more floral notes. That being said, there are still plenty of woody nuances in the Silver, but they are followed by distinct sweetness not commonly found in other mezcals.


If the idea of consuming a worm at the end of your drink seems like child’s play, then kick it up a notch with an arachnid instead. The self-evidently named Scorpion Mezcal isn’t just about the gimmicks though, as even its entry-level bottle has a clean finish, after teasing with a fragrance of smoked agave, citrus and herbs, along with a dry, sweet taste.


Los Danzantes has roots in gastronomy, with a charming restaurant in the Mexican cities of Coyoacan and Oaxaca respectively, but its in-house mezcal is well worth a sip too. This mezcal has been aged for six months in French and American oak, and it’s a brilliantly balanced and elegant spirit, with aromas and flavours of fruit, caramel and honey.


If you prefer to ease into this strange, smoky spirit, Lajita’s Reposado would be the perfect entry point. The pale gold liquid holds a nose of smoke, cooked agave and a touch of vanilla. Its warming, subtly sweet character makes this an easy sip or, if you must, a good component for a robust cocktail.