Mezcal Cocktails That Put This Smoky Oaxacan Spirit Front and Center

Courtesy Belmond El Encanto

Mezcal can provide a striking dose of smoke and flavor to a variety of different cocktails.

While still not as popular as tequila, mezcal has been gaining traction among the cocktail crowd here in the US. Bartenders have led the way, using this smoky agave spirit in a number of cocktails, from the classic Margarita to other less conventional creations. Mezcal predates tequila (which is actually a type of mezcal), and the two spirits differ in significant ways. While tequila can only be made from blue agave, mezcal can be distilled from different types of agave, and each imparts a unique flavor into the spirit. Also, the heart of the agave plant, or pina, is traditionally roasted in an underground pit, imbuing mezcal with its rich, smoky flavor. While Oaxaca produces most of the mezcal we drink, it can legally be made in nine Mexican states total.

Related: Mezcal Is Taking Over the Cocktail World—Here's What You Need to Know About Mexico's Famed Spirit

Yes, you should certainly sip mezcal neat to fully understand its flavors, but it does work extremely well in many cocktails. "While traditional mezcal is enjoyed neat and at room temperature, its smoky profile makes it a particularly compelling twist to typical tequila cocktails such as a Margarita or Paloma,” said Camilo Mendoza, co-founder of the new ultra-premium mezcal brand OAX Original. “Worth noting, different agaves range from herbaceous and citric to smoky and earthy, so they can offer a wide variety of nuances and textures. This depth of flavor makes mezcal a standout base spirit in cocktails that will hold up against sweet or bitter components, elevating more sophisticated classics like the Negroni or Old Fashioned."

We spoke to some top bartenders to get mezcal cocktail recipes that really highlight the spirit, but are easy enough to make at home with some basic ingredients—most importantly, a good bottle of mezcal.

Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Courtesy Eaton Hotel

Created by Deke Dunne, manager and bartender at Allegory at the Eaton Hotel, Washington, DC

  • 1.5 oz Banhez Ensamble Mezcal
  • .75 oz fresh lime juice
  • .5 oz Cynar
  • .5 oz demerara syrup
  • Tsp mole bitters
  • Star anise for garnish

Method: Combine all of the ingredients into a shaker tin. Add ice and shake for ten seconds. Strain cocktail into a glass. Toast a star anise and float on top of cocktail and enjoy.

Mezcal Smoky Tea

Francesco Mion/Courtesy Principe do Savoia

Created by Daniele Confalonieri at Principe Bar at Principe do Savoia, part of Dorchester Collection, Milan

  • 1.5 oz mezcal
  • .75 oz Savoia blue black tea
  • .75 oz  orange liqueur
  • .5 oz agave sour syrup
  • Dash egg white

Method: Combine ingredients and shake over ice. Strain into Old Fashioned glass. Garnish with lime and Amarena cherry.

Birds of Mexico

Fred + Elliott Photography/Courtesy Common House

Created by Erin Scala, beverage director for Common House in Charlottesville and Richmond, VA

  • 2 oz Del Maguey Vida Mezcal
  • .75 oz freshly squeezed lime juice
  • .75 oz Ancho Reyes Verde 
  • .5 oz agave nectar

Method: Prepare a rocks glass with cayenne-salt rim, and place a large rock of ice in the glass. Shake ingredients together with ice. Double strain into prepared glass.

Related: The Best Smoky Whiskey to Drink This Winter

Giacca Da Fumo

Osteria Morini

Created Kelly Verardo, bartender at Osteria Morini, NYC

  • 2 oz Creyente Joven Mezcal
  • .5 oz Montenegro Amaro 
  • .75 oz lemon juice
  • .5 oz simple syrup 
  • Cinnamon stick for garnish

Method: Dry shake, add ice and shake a second time. Double strain into coupe. Garnish with a toasted cinnamon stick and a couple dashes of Sfumato Amaro on top to create design.

A Dustland Fairytale

Bank and Bourbon

Courtesy of Bank & Bourbon, Philadelphia

  • 1 oz mezcal
  • 1 oz tequila
  • .5 oz Aperol
  • .25 oz grenadine

Method: Combine ingredients over ice and mix. Strain into glass over ice, or serve neat.

Single Mariachi

Courtesy Sugar, East Miami

Courtesy of Sugar, EAST Miami

  • 1 oz single malt whisky of choice
  • 1 oz mezcal joven
  • 1 oz honey syrup
  • .5 oz ginger
  • .75 oz lime juice
  • 1 oz egg white
  • Ginger candy for garnish

Method: Add all ingredients to shaker and do a dry shake, pour over ice into a rocks glass, and garnish with ginger candy.

Holy Smoke

Courtesy Belmond El Encanto

Courtesy of Belmond El Encanto, Santa Barbara, CA

  • 2 oz Del Maguey Vida Mezcal
  • 1 oz lemon juice
  • .5 oz St. Germain
  • .5 oz pomegranate syrup

Method: Combine ingredients over ice, shake, strain into rocks glass. Garnish with black Hawaiian sea salt on the rim, lemon wheel, and rosemary sprig lit for smoke.

Spirit of Oaxaca 

Andrew Thomas Lee/Courtesy The Betty

Created by Trey Ledbetter, bar manager for The Betty, Atlanta, GA (opening early 2021)

  • 2 oz Del Maguey Vida Mezcal
  • .75 oz raspberry cilantro shrub*
  • .25 oz fresh lime juice 
  • .25 oz Ancho Reyes Verde Poblano Liqueur 
  • Topo Chico

Method: * Chop 2 cups raspberry and 2 cups cilantro in a bowl. Coat in sugar, and toss to combine. Cover and let sit at room temperature for 6-24 hours. Strain raspberry-cilantro mixture through a fine mesh strainer, reserve liquid from straining, and combine with 2 cups rice wine vinegar. Stir to dissolve sugar. Once sugar is dissolved, label, date, and refrigerate for up to two weeks. Combine first four ingredients into a cocktail shaker and shake. Fine strain into an ice-filled Collins glass, top with Topo Chico, and garnish with lime wheel and raspberry.

Smokey Robinson

Courtesy Bar Beau

Created by Claire Chan, owner of Bar Beau, Brooklyn, NY

  • 1 oz Montelobos Mezcal
  • .25 oz Chamomile Demerara
  • .75 oz cucumber water
  • .5 oz Lustau Solberg
  • .5 oz Lustau Amontillado
  • Dash of Hellfire Bitters

Method: Combine ingredients in shaker with ice. Shake and strain into glass.

Mezcalita Royale

Courtesy Thompson Zihuatanejo

Courtesy of Thompson Zihuatanejo, Playa la Ropa, Mexico

  • .5 oz mezcal
  • .75 oz cinnamon syrup
  • .5 oz mango puree
  • 3 oz sparkling wine

Method: Combine first three ingredients in shaker over ice. Shake and strain into glass. Top with sparkling wine.