Until recently in the agave-based spirit world, mezcal’s had a reputation as the rustic, rough-and-tumble cousin of the more sophisticated tequila (that worm in the bottom of some bottles didn’t help). But maybe we were drinking the wrong mezcals.

Sara Schneider, Sunset wine editor

The mezcal-based Smokin' Word.

Until recently in the agave-based spirit world, mezcal’s had a reputation as the rustic, rough-and-tumble cousin of the more sophisticated tequila (that worm in the bottom of some bottles didn’t help). But maybe we were drinking the wrong mezcals. More and more of the bottles making their way north of the Mexican border are polished up and refined, products of generations’ worth of proud distilling. They’re smoky, because the agave for mezcal is roasted in a stone-lined pit. But that can be a clever mixologist’s secret weapon.

Trader Joe’s Authentic Oaxacan Mezcal, $20 (not available in all stores):

Minimal smoke and toast—this one tastes more like an anejo tequila. Think of it as a starter mezcal. Very smooth, it belies the rough-and-tumble reputation of the spirit.

Monte Alban Mezcal, $26:

A little smokier than Trader Joe’s, with a lovely aromatic nose mixing fruit and smoke with an herbal edge. This is a pretty mezcal, with intriguing nuances.

Del Maguey Mezcal Vida, $36:

Your classic, deeply smoky mezcal, this is for hard-core fans. If you like peaty scotch, you’ll love this one. It’s more challenging to combine in a good cocktail—this level of smoke is a tough thing to pair, especially with sweet elements. But when you nail it, the cocktail is wonderful.


A great cocktail to showcase a smokier mezcal is a spin on the gin-based Spoken Word: Mix equal parts lime juice, Chartreuse, Luxardo (a Maraschino liqueur), and mezcal and shake with ice, then strain into a glass.

Find 19 more Latin-inspired cocktails here.

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