These top-notch bottles are terrific in cocktails, and worthy of straight sipping, too.

By Ray Isle
August 28, 2020
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There's never been a better time to explore the remarkable complexities of mezcal. For more on the artisanal spirit, check out our guide to centuries-old, remarkably modern mezcal here. Or go straight to the good stuff and read on to find out more about the best bottles available online.

Credit: Victor Protasio

Rey Campero Espadín ($50)

“Rey Campero is a sustainable project run by a single family,” says Yana Volfson, the beverage director for chef Enrique Olvera’s restaurants in the U.S. (Cosme and Atla in New York City, Elio in Las Vegas, and the yet-to-be-opened Damian in Los Angeles). “Their espadín is a solid expression of traditionally made mezcal. It’s at a price point where you can make a cocktail with it, but it’s also great as an introduction to what espadín mezcal is like.” Find it at wine.com

Marca Negra Espadín ($60)

“Marca Negra works with several maestro mezcaleros, but this espadín has been in their portfolio from the beginning,” Yana Volfson says. “It showcases the way espadín expresses terroir and can stand up to the stronger flavors in a Mezcal Negroni.” Find it at caskers.com

Del Maguey Minero ($99)

Bobby Heugel of Houston’s The Pastry War says, “This comes from a palenque in [Santa Catarina Minas] Oaxaca, where the agaves are crushed by hand with wooden bats. That approach is increasingly rare, but it makes for a greater range of complex flavors.” Find it at wine.com

Sombra ($35)

“I like Sombra’s sustainability efforts, like using bagasse (cooked and pulped agave fibers) to build houses for people who lost them in the 2017 earthquake,” says Miguel F. Lancha of D.C.’s Think Food Group. “Sombra’s smoky and intense but great for the adventurous.” Find it at wine.com

Bozal Ensamble ($50)

Ensamble mezcals are a traditional style in which different varieties of agave are roasted and distilled together. Bozal uses cultivated espadín plus wild barril and mexicano agaves; it’s emphatically smoky up front, but herbaceous green pepper, pine, and mint notes linger as you sip it. Find it at totalwine.com

Koch El Espadín De Sola De Vega, Olla De Barro ($97)

An olla de barro is a clay cooking pot; for mezcal, it means the spirit was distilled in clay rather than copper. “I like the en barro process, which gives a more mineral, earthy, chocolaty tone to mezcal,” Yana Volfson says. Find it at mezcalkoch.com

Yola Mezcal ($60)

Oaxaca native Yola Jimenez seeks to empower women in Oaxaca’s rural community with her brand. “We employ 98% women. I wanted them to be able to make a product they could be proud of,” Jimenez says. Espadín plus a little wild madrecuishe gives Yola a soft subtlety. Find it at drizly.com

Mezcal Vago Elote ($57)

Mike Barrow of San Francisco’s Mosto says, “The agave used for this mezcal is grown together with corn, then dried corn kernels are toasted and put in the still to infuse it with flavor. Since corn is a bedrock of Mexican cuisine, that’s just a lot of cool culinary synergy.” Find it at flaviar.com

El Jolgorio Cuishe ($160)

Miguel F. Lancha recommends all of El Jolgorio’s mezcals. Of this one, he says: “It’s unusual because cuishe is a wild agave—you have to head up into the foothills to harvest it. Like tobalá, it makes a mezcal that’s fruity and incredibly complex.” Find it at wine.com

Real Minero Barril ($145)

“Barril is vegetal and crisp but also dark and musky, like fresh-cut grass on a damp forest floor,” Ivy Mix, of NYC’s Leyenda, says. “You get classic cooked agave flavors of papaya, banana, and vanilla and a lot of minerality. It’s a fantastic sipper.” Find it at caskers.com

The Deep Dive

The best artisanal mezcals are made in tiny amounts. But seek them out. Yana Volfson loves Lalocura, “the epitome of maestro-driven mezcals that respect tradition and nature,” and also recommends Neta, a brand that works with a community of maestro mezcaleros in Miahuatlán. Gonzalo Goût says: “Look outside Oaxaca, too—Origen Raíz, for instance, up north in Durango. And also, look for anything from Cuish—they just have amazing quality across all of their mezcals. Unfortunately, these two names aren’t easy to find in the U.S., but there’s quality behind every bottle they make.”