If you like tequila but wish it had more oomph, it's time to dig into the wider world of mezcal, the category of Oaxacan agave spirits that includes tequila but also other more smoky and brawny elixirs. Though traditionally drank straight, mezcal's intense smokiness and slight savory edge make it especially compelling in cocktails. Herbal, spicy, tart, and bittersweet, these 15 playful drinks show everything mezcal has to offer.
Looking for a bottle? Here are five excellent mezcals to start your collection.
This riff on a Martinez features earthy, smoky mezcal as its base spirit, the smokiness amplified by a flaming orange twist; Cynar brings in a complementary bitterness, balanced out with sweet vermouth and cherry liqueur Luxardo Maraschino. Get the recipe for the Mezcal Martinez »
Smoky mezcal and sweet dark rum combine to form a unified spirit in this Cuban-inspired cocktail from Jason Asher of Counter Intuitive. Bittersweet Campari and fruity Cherry Heering add balance while cinnamon syrup adds a spicy, warming bite. Get the recipe for the Walking Stick »
The Margarita is essential to America's canon of summertime drinks, and adding a grilled element makes it that much more American. Burnished pineapple adds a rich layer of fruitiness while mezcal lends a veil of smoke and spice. For even more smoke and spice, add a salt rim laced with chile powder and coriander. Get the recipe for Grilled Pineapple Margarita »
At first sip, lime juice and fresh mint refresh the taste buds, but soon the smoky and spicy undertones of chipotle-infused mezcal creep over the palate. A touch of Cynar, an unusual liqueur made from artichokes, adds a veil of mystery. Get the recipe for the Devil's Garden »
This mezcal-based cocktail from Portland, Oregon restaurant Toro Bravo hits all the right notes: smoky, tart, and sweet, with just the slightest hint of salt. They use Maraska maraschino for its sweet, subtle almond flavor, but you can substitute whatever brand you have on hand. Get the recipe for the Rising Sun »
In this green cocktail, Los Angeles mixology consultant Matthew Biancaniello of Eat Your Drink (HarperCollins; 2015) doubles up on smoky flavors with both mezcal and grilled asparagus. Get the recipe for the Health Kick »
Leo Robitschek, bar director of The NoMad restaurant in New York City, pairs smoky mezcal and cinnamon syrup with floral pisco and fresh pineapple juice for this layered, tropical-style drink. Get the recipe for The Shaman »
Adapted from a cocktail served at the Skylark in New York City, tequila and mezcal get a sweet-spicy accent from cherry liqueur and Ancho Reyes, a spirit made with macerated dried poblanos that adds a delicate, lingering heat. Get the recipe for The Little Devil »
This dark, smoky brandy cocktail from Manhattan's Rotisserie Georgette has a surprising brightness that cuts through the heaviness of holiday dishes, thanks to a splash of fruity Italian fortified wine and grapefruit bitters. Get the recipe for The Velvet Gentleman »
Lemons and raspberries add tartness and a beautiful pink hue to this punch, slightly smoky thanks to the addition of mezcal. Get the recipe for Touch of Evil Punch »
This drink takes cues from mole's combination of smoky, sweet flavors, incorporating mezcal, sherry, dark rum, and cognac. Get the recipe for Last Pontoon »
Made with mezcal, grilled pineapple, jalapeño, and lime, this take on the classic margarita is smoky, sweet, and spicy, with an herbaceous kick from cilantro. Get the recipe for Mezcalita de Piña »
The vegetal sweetness of licorice-like fennel pairs beautifully with tart grapefruit and smoky mescal in this cocktail from the Manhattan restaurant Perla. Get the recipe for Fennel Delight »
Muddled cucumber, lemon, and a pinch of chili salt are a refreshing match for Oaxacan mezcal. (This drink works best with a non-traditional, unsmoked agave mezcal.) Get the recipe for Oaxaca Cooler »