Agave roasting at Mezcal Mal Bien Agave roasting at Mezcal Mal Bien


How to buy and drink
the Mexican spirit like a pro

Agave plants about to be roasted the old fashioned way, in a pit oven that's dug into the ground, by the distillers at Mezcal Mal Bien.

The first time I heard of mezcal was in about 2009 at one of the best restaurants in Miami. My wife ordered a cocktail that featured it and the server said “Have you ever had mezcal before? Because half the time it's returned and 100% of the time it's by women.” 😮 My wife—a trooper with an adventurous palate—told the bartender to bring it on ... and she loved it. If the mic-dropping gesture was a thing in 2009, that would have been the move.

“Smoky” is usually the first—and sometimes only—descriptor people use for mezcal. And it's not wrong, but that's like saying Jordan was a scorer or Virgil had a vision. In truth, mezcal is a wildly diverse spirit that can seem inaccessible to some because it's so rich in complexity and possibility. To help us get a grip on this mystifying spirit, I reached out to my go-to-guy for all things agave, Los Angeles-based cocktail expert Lucas Assis, whose deeply insightful reviews and recommendations are simply indispensable. I never enter the agave aisle without his feed open on my phone so I can hunt for Assis-approved bottles.



What do you love most about mezcal?

The complexity of the spirit. Not just on the nose and palate. But the history, the production, the stories, the people, the origins. It is all so complex. As someone who loves learning, that is one of my favorite parts—the more you know about Mezcal, the more you realize you know nothing.

We still hear people ask things like, “What do you like better, whiskey or bourbon?” Are we making the same mistake when we do that with mezcal and tequila?

Yes and no. As the saying goes, “Every tequila is a mezcal, but not all mezcal is a tequila.” Put simply, tequila is a style of mezcal. Before tequila was called that it was called Vino Mezcal de Tequila— basically a mezcal from the region of Tequila. Today it is a little more complicated than that, both tequila and mezcal have their own Dominations of Origin, meaning very specific places in Mexico can register theirs spirits as tequila or mezcal. So, they are the same, but also very different. If you ask me, if it's made from the agave plant and made in Mexico, it doesn't matter if it is raicilla, tequila, bacanora or tuxca—in the end they are all mezcal.

How do you recommend people enter into the world of mezcal?

The first thing to note is that good mezcal is not “cheap.” I put that in quotation marks because it may seem expensive, but once you see how some of these spirits are made and how it can take up to 30 years from planting an agave to drinking the mezcal from it, it is pretty inexpensive. What other unaged spirit or wine can say that?

3 Bottles
to Try


San Luis Del Rio Mezcal
by Nuestra Soledad

“In the beginning it is good to start with the Espadin, and a great brand to start is Nuestra Soledad. They only work with the Espadin, but they all come from different regions of Oaxaca. It is a beautiful way to learn the different methods and how Terroir can affect the mezcal.”

$51.99 by Nuestra Soledad



Alto Mezcal
by Mal Bien

“Next, branch out and start exploring other agaves and regions in Mexico. Brands like Mezcal Mal Bien will work with various producers.”

$79.96 by Mal Bien


Michoacan Mezcal
by Mezonte

“Now that you have a sense of the different methods, agaves and producers, you'll enjoy diving deeper into things like lactic fermentation, ancestral distillation in tree trunks of clay pots and 30 year old agaves. Bottles like this one from Mezonte will blow you away.”

$159.99 by Mezonte

Mix It Up

For those who prefer to explore spirits via the vehicle of cocktails, our go-to fail safe bottle is Illegal Mezcal ($44.99). It works perfectly to highlight the magic of Mezcal when swapped into classic cocktails like a Negroni, Old Fashioned or Paloma. And looks damn good on your bar cart, too.

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