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Bartenders Shout Out The Mezcals They Wish More People Knew About

Just because we’re both socially distancing and sheltering-at-home, doesn’t mean we can’t still enjoy some of the fun holidays coming down the pike. In fact, we might as well go all out on renowned party holidays like Memorial Day and The Fourth of July. No need for a designated driver and your bed is just steps away.

Next week, Cinco de Mayo will kick off the summer party season in full. This holiday — celebrating the Mexican army’s victory in the battle of Puebla (not Mexico’s Independence Day) — is perfectly suited for sampling Mexican beers, tequilas, and mezcals. It’s the latter spirit that we’re looking at today.

Mezcal, for the uninitiated, is similar to tequila as both are made from agave hearts. The difference is that while tequila can only be made from blue agave, mezcal can be made from any type of agave. It’s also typically roasted in underground ovens — giving it a deep smokiness and a raw, vegetal flavor — elements that are less common in tequilas. It’s a perfect spirit for mixing, slow sipping, or balancing with cheesy, savory Mexican fare. It’s also a great way to dip a toe in Mexican spirits if you’re normally a fan of smokier whiskeys.

“There’s so much about mezcal that appeals to whiskey drinkers,” says Nicole Quist, beverage director at Bartaco in Aventura, Florida.

With Cinco de Mayo coming quick, we asked some of our favorite bartenders to tell us the mezcals they wish more people knew about.

Banhez Mezcal

Nicole Quist, beverage director at Bartaco in Aventura, Florida

Banhez has some beautiful single expression mezcals right now, and I’m quite taken with the Arroqueno. The Arroqueno agave takes 25 years to mature, found only in rural Oaxaca. Its smoke-meets-sweet notes are perfect for a whiskey lover and this mezcal is so smooth.

Wahaka Reposado

Ellen Talbot, lead bartender at Fable Lounge in Nashville

Wahaka Mezcal is fabulous mezcal made in Oaxaca, Mexico. They produce a barrel-aged reposado that makes a beautiful old fashioned. It’s a mezcal I serve to people who aren’t sure about making the leap from tequila, because it’s smooth and subtle.

Illegal Mezcal Reposado

Matt Shields, bartender at The Bay Restaurant in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida

Illegal Mezcal Reposado is a brand The Bay carried for a long time and I believe it will compete with any Mezcal out there. It has just enough smoke and sweet to make a great craft cocktail or to drink straight on the rocks or neat.

Doña Vega Espadín

Sean Pearson, beverage director at La Esquina in New York City

One mezcal people really need to keep an eye out for is Doña Vega Espadín. It’s one of the most well-balanced and flavorful Espadíns on the market. It perfectly exemplifies the complex beauty and versatility of mezcal in its youngest form, all-the-while capturing the same essences of agave that traditional mezcaleros have been trying to achieve for centuries. Whether enjoyed in a cocktail or on-the-rocks, Doña Vega offers a silky, vibrant, and long-lasting burst of flavors that will have even the most hesitant of mezcal drinkers landing on a new favorite.

Ilegal Mezcal Joven

Blake Jones, bartender and director of beverage at The Kennedy in Pensacola, Florida

Ilegal Mezcal Joven. This stuff is just incredible. Their reposado joven is one I could drink straight anytime. The flavor profile is so clean and has a nice sense of smoke with a little bit of natural salinity. Their marketing is also super rad, so it’s hard not to love them. Also, El Silencio. A little lesser known in this region but give it time, their product is great, and they truly care about bartenders which is not as common as you’d think.

El Silencio

Gabriela Dimovska, general manager at V DTLA in Los Angeles

El Silencio Mezcal. Easy to drink on its own or in a good spicy mezcal margarita. I especially love it because it’s local to L.A. and the guys behind it are such friendly, down to earth people that just want to enjoy life and share their favorite spirit with the rest of us.

Wahaka Espadin

Danielle Becker, bartender at the Aspen Meadows Resort in Aspen, Colorado

Wahaka Mezcal Espadin. A group of friends fulfilling a dream and bringing community together to make amazing juice. There are a few different styles, and all are delicious. The Dionisio Ocotepec from Oaxaca is super fun — full of winter spice and vanilla.

Mezcal Zignum Añejo

Freddy Concepcion Ucan Tuz, bartender at JW Marriot in Cancun, Mexico

Mezcal Zignum Añejo. A mezcal aged for 16 months in a French barrel. A smoky mezcal with a fine and persistent finish in the mouth. I often try to convince guests to have a mezcal tasting in order to highlight this exceptional mezcal.

Palenqueros Mezcal

Wesley MacDonald, owner of Caña Bar and Kitchen in Curaçao

Palenqueros, pure single palenque mezcal. These mezcals focus on the craft of a single mezcalero from a single distillery, hence the name “single palenque mezcal.” It is bottled by Velier, an Italian independent bottler. Only the best mezcaleros are chosen and the focus is on them and the spirit. Due to the popularity of agave spirits, some unsavory producers cut corners with regards to environmental and labor issues. As consumers, it is important we educate ourselves about the story behind the bottles we buy, and this is a great example. The mezcals in this line being ridiculously good helps as well.

Los Amantes Reposado

Alan Walter, spirit handler at Bar Loa in New Orleans

The one mezcal I wish more people knew about is Los Amantes Reposado Mezcal. It’s a refined mezcal that is reminiscent of honey basted apples over a suburban fireplace. Perfect for drinking neat or mixed into a cocktail.