Mexico's smoky signature spirit is becoming a household name.

Credit: Victor Protasio

There is an abundance of amazing mezcals in Mexico—and perhaps 10 times as many awful ones, which can make navigating this world daunting, to say the least.

But first things first. For mezcal, the hearts of agave plants (piñas) are roasted for days in underground pits lined with volcanic rock. That slow infusion of smoke before fermentation is part of what contributes to the distinctive character of a great mezcal—though the variety of agave (there are over 30), the wood used for the fire, the roasting time, and even the minerals in the soil all contribute to the flavor of the finished product.

If you find yourself in Mexico City, stop by a mezcalería like El Palenquito to try a flight of top bottlings. Or mix up a Mezcal Old Fashioned at home, a smoky tweak on the classic that’s popular right now in top Mexican cocktail bars. You may never yearn for a bourbon-based version ever again.

4 Great Bars to Visit Now: Our favorite spots in Mexico City

Natural Vino: Loup Bar

This natural wine bar’s offerings are mostly French, with some Mexican selections, and the food is top-notch, too.

Sangrita Star: King Cole Bar

Try the Sangrita Maria, a blend of mezcal, sangria, and pasilla chile puree, at this bar overlooking the Reforma.

Dominos and Duck: Salón Rios

The clever take on traditional cantina culture—ranchero music and dominos—is great. So are the duck carnitas.

Local Essence: Xaman Bar

The vibe is firmly bohemian at this top cocktail spot, where bartenders mix up drinks with local flavors like guava and hoja santa.