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Here Are 12 Go-To Mezcals You Must Have, According To Bartenders and Mezcal Fans

 

Move over tequila, Mezcal is having its moment! Derived from the Nahuatl words "cooked agave", mezcal is a distilled spirit made from the agave plant, which can legally only be produced in 10 states in Mexico.

To be clear, while Mezcal is commonly branded as having a smokiness that differentiates it from tequila, this statement alone is somewhat of a generalisation. After all, Mezcal can be made from a whole range of different agave varietals and from different processes (in fact, tequila is actually one type of mezcal!). Consequently, there's so much more variety in the flavours that can be unlocked and enjoyed across the category of mezcal than most realise! 

It can be confusing diving into the wide and varied world of Mezcals, hence, today we break down some of the must-have mezcal brands you need to try - recommended by bartenders and Mezcal experts. Many of these brands rely on traditional, artisanal methods of crafting mezcals and offer a range of terroir-driven expressions that showcase the uniqueness of different agave varietals. 

5 Sentidos (Cinco Sentidos)

 

Named after the five senses which mezcaleros have drawn upon to craft their mezcals, 5 Sentinos is a house brand of mezcals launched by a cult restaurant in Oaxaca, El Destilado. What's unique about the brand is that the product lineup features expressions sourced across five regions of Mexico.

Many of the bottle releases are small-scale in nature, with 50-150 bottles per batch, as the mezcaleros they work with to distill the mezcals all do not rely on model instruments or tools during production. If you do get your hands on one, you can be sure you're trying traditionally made and authentically distilled high-quality mezcal.

Just a note though, that 5 Sentidos do not certify their mezcal with the Consejo Regulador Del Mezcal (CRM), hence their bottles are labelled as "Spirits Distilled from Agave".

Rey Campero

 

Founded by mezcalero Romulo Sanchez Parada, Rey Campero produces artisanal Mezcal in the small town of Candelaria Yegolé in the Southern Highlands of Oaxaca.

Rey Campero means "King of the Countryside", and is produced at the Sánchez palenque, which has been operating for more than seven decades. The brand uses wild agave cultivated in high-altitude highlands of Candelaria Yegolé, where more than ten species of agaves are grown. At the distillery, the cooked agave hearts are grounded in a horse-drawn tahona to draw out the juices, which are wild fermented before being twice-distilled in firewood-heated copper stills. 

Del Maguey

 

Often credited as one of the break-out mezcal brands that helped to introduce mezcal to the mainstream international consumer, Del Maguey is a brand of artisanal mezcals founded by artist Ron Cooper. The brand is known for its "single village" mezcals, which reference the fact that Del Maguey works directly with various Zapotec family-run palenques in Mexico to bottle and sell different types of village style mezcals. Each mezcal expression is crafted using traditional techniques and bottled directly the in various old-style towns where the families resides.

The most iconic of the Del Maguey expressions is perhaps the Vida, often celebrated as the bartender's go-to mezcal for cocktails. The Vida is made in the village of San Luis Del Rio by Paciano Cruz Nolasco, using Espadin agave that goes through natural, ambient fermentation near the tropical riverbed of Red Ant River. However, don't stop at the Vida, as Del Maguey boasts an extensive line up of unique mezcals, such as the Tobala and the Pechuga

Vago

 

The story of how Mezcal Vago was founded is akin to a serial love drama. Two buddies Dylan and Judah opened a beachside bar in Oaxaca, when one day, Judah developed a ear infection that led him to meet a nurse in a little rural health clinic called Valentina. After falling in love with Valentina, Judah got himself beat up by the man she was supposed to marry before winning her heart and her hand in marriage. Along the way, he also developed a deeper appreciation for mezcal, which Valentina's family had been crafting for generations. 

The rest, they say, is history. Eventually, Dylan and Judah founded Vago, working with small batch mezcaleros to bottle their artisanal mezcals and export it to the world. Vago's mezcals are all naturally made in traditional palenques with no additives, and are all joven (young) and clear. The different colour labels on each expression correspond to different mezcaleros that the brand works with. The blue label mezcals are produced by Emigdio Jarquin, who distills in copper with refrescador. The tan and gold labels are produced by Aquilino and Joel Barriga respectively, who distill in copper. And the red labels are produced by Tio Rey, who distills in clay pots. 

El Jolgorio

 

Named after the Mexican term for "celebrations" in reference to the important role mezcal plays in rituals and festivities in Oaxaca, El Jolgorio produces artesanal mezcals from rare wild-harvested agave species.

Each El Jolgorio label signifies a different agave variety such as Espadin, Tobala, Cuishe, Tepeztate and more. As the brand places a focus on strictly wild-harvested agave and has a commitment to not harvesting more agaves than is sustainable, each batch contains only a limited supply of bottles and is released on a rotating basis - meaning each new edition might be produced by a different mezcalero from across a network of sixteen different families. The brand also produces rarer expressions made from exceptionally limited varieties of agave, and these can be differentiated by their black bottles, which differs in look from their regular clear glass bottles.

Neta

 

Neta works with over twenty small, family mezcal producers in Miahuatlán, Oaxaca to bottle single-batch agave spirits. Their single batch mezcals are all produced from a single oven or harvest of agave, in accordance with traditional practices - meaning spirits produced from different ovens are not blended, homogenised or standardised to a particular ABV. This results in each mezcal bottle being unique and bottled at still-strength at variable quantities depending on the yield of each agave harvest. 

If you're wondering, Neta is a Mexican colloquialism that translate to "the real deal”. Like 5 Sentinos (see 1.), NETA's mezcals are not regulated by the Consejo Regulador del Mezcal and hence, it's labels do not state "mezcal" on them and rather "destilado de agave" instead.

Real Minero

 

The celebrated Real Minero distillery has been helmed by the Angeles family in Santa Catarina Minas for many generations. Uniquely, Real Minero's mezcals are distilled in small clay pot stills and are wild fermented in open wooden vats. Most of their mezcals are even aged in glass for a few months after distillation, giving their mezcals a trademark softer and rounder character. 

Real Minero is also known for running one of the largest diverse sustainable agave reforestation projects, according to the Bard Center for Environmental Policy. Heading the Real Minero distillery, having taken over from her father, Graciela Angeles, identifies adaptable agave species such as Karwinskii Teotitlan to help rescue endemic species of agave that are on the brink of extinction. 

Mezcalero

 

Dedicated to producing mezcals the artisanal way, in small batches, each mezcal from Mezcalero is distilled from at least 50% wild agave, thought most of the time 100%. This is no mean feat, as such wild agaves can require an extensive amount of time and effort to be searched for across the mountains, harvested and brought back to the palenques. Yet, wild agaves are worth the work, yielding flavours of both distinct and complex. The brand has worked with a number of different wild agave varieties, including Arroqueño (agave Americana var. Oaxaqueña), Bicuishe and Madrecuishe (separate varieties of agave Karwinskii), Papalote (agave Cupreata), Dobadán (agave Mexicana), Sierra Negra (agave Americana), Tepeztate (agave Marmorata), and Tobalá (agave Potatorum).

Mezcalero works with tiny family distilleries, many of whom embrace old-fashioned, labour-intensive operations without the use of stone mills. According to Mezcalero, it takes a month of continuous labor to produce a single batch of mezcal, which is usually between 600 - 700 bottles. 

Mezonte

 

More accurately a non-profit organisation, Mezonte was started with the aim of promoting and preserving the traditional production and practices of agave spirit distillation. They work with producers from across Mexico, though primarily in Jalisco and Michoacán, to bottle and retail a range of distilled agave spirits. This extends beyond mezcal, but also to raicilla, barranca, tuxca, sikua, or any other name used for distilled agave in the region.

Most of their expressions are made by different producers using agaves endemic to the region they are based in. Each product is produced using underground cooking methods, wild fermentation and distilled in Filipino style stills (made from hollowed wooden trunks or bound wood) or clay pot stills. Mezonte was founded by Pedro Jimenez Gurria in Guadalajara, Mexico. You can visit Pedro’s bar, Pare de Sufrir, in Jalisco to try the full range of producers they support. 

Mezcalosfera

 

Mezcalosfera is the house-brand of mezcals exported from a famous bar in Oaxaca City of the same name. The bar, Mezcalosfera, organises educational tastings where participants can learn about traditional agave spirits and the unique characteristics of various mezcals. The bar sources their mezcals from mezcaleros located off the beaten track in Oaxaca, releasing them in limited batches. It might be hard to get your hands on them due to the small batches of exports, but if you're ever in Oaxaca City, be sure to book a seating at their tasting room to sample all the different varieties available for sale. 

Maguey Melate

 

Maguey Melate means "mezcal makes my heart beat", which should already be your first indication of the amount of passion and heart that goes behind the brand's mezcals. The brand works with family owned palenques to produce small-batch artisanal mezcals made with 100% agave and no additives or fermentation agents. 

The brand also has a Mezcalero of the Month Club subscription program, where members get two different mezcals delivered each month alongside a curated tasting card, allowing you to sample various distillation styles and agave varieties as produced by the many small-batch family owned palenques that they work with. 

Lalocura Mezcal

 

A cult favourite amongst chefs, mezcal fans and in-the-know travellers, Lalocura is a brand of mezcals produced in Santa Catarina Minas, Oaxaca. The brand is helmed by Maestro Eduardo Ángeles, who was born and raised in Santa Catarina Minas, where he learned to distill from his father, and where his palenque is located today. Like all traditional mezcales made in Minas, the agave piñas are roasted in an earthen oven, mashed by hand, fermented outdoors, and distilled in clay pots.

Lalocura's product range include mezcals made with Espadin, Tobala, Tobasiche, San Martinero, and Cuishe agave varieties. The palenque is open to visitors looking for a tour, though make sure to call ahead and ensure you have a Spanish-speaking friend to accompany you! 

 

Happy sipping!

 

@lotusroot518