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Our Best Mezcal Cocktail Recipes

Saveur logo Saveur 8/4/2020 Liz Steelman
a close up of a bowl on a table: Saveur © Matt Taylor-Gross Saveur

If you like tequila, but want a Mexican spirit with extra oomph, it's time to explore the wider world of mezcal. While tequila is distilled exclusively from blue agave—often by large commercial brands—most mezcal remains the purview of small, local producers who work with a number of different agave varietals. As a result, the spirit offers a more poignant expression of terroir, with flavor notes ranging from herbal to spicy, tart to smoky, savory to bittersweet. Traditionally enjoyed straight, or accompanied by orange slices and sal de gusano (a mixture of salt, dried chiles, and ground agave worms), this complex spirit has also given rise to a number of compelling mezcal cocktails.

a glass of wine: Mezcal Martinez cocktail © Matt Taylor-Gross Mezcal Martinez cocktail

The easiest way to try your hand at mixing mezcal is to swap it for tequila in a classic margarita, or even for whiskey or gin in a simple old fashioned or negroni. Feeling slightly more adventurous, but still want a simple mezcal recipe? Try this grilled pineapple margarita, which incorporates both tequila and mezcal (an infused, spicy mezcal adds a nice kick), or mix up the “Rising Sun,” a smoky mezcal cocktail that builds upon the expected lime juice with grapefruit juice and Maraschino (instead of orange) liqueur.

a glass of wine sitting on top of a wooden table: Walking Stick cocktail © Matt Taylor-Gross Walking Stick cocktail

The best mezcal cocktails, however, involve offbeat ingredients that play well with the spirit’s particular flavors. Smoky mezcal benefits from the addition of fresh garden veggies and herbs, like asparagus (“Health Kick”), cucumber (“Oaxaca Cooler”), and fennel (“Fennel Delight”). Warm spices (think cinnamon and chiles) amplify mezcal’s toasty agave flavor in “The Shaman” and “Little Devil.”

a piece of cake sitting on top of a wooden table: Grilled Pineapple Margarita © Eric Medsker Grilled Pineapple Margarita

Of course, the first step—for all of our mezcal recipes—is to procure yourself a fine bottle of agave liquor. Need help choosing one? These five excellent mezcals are good places to start. Enjoy!

Mezcal Martinez

a glass of wine: Mezcal Martinez cocktail © Provided by Saveur Mezcal Martinez cocktail

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 »

Walking Stick

a glass of water on a table: Walking Stick cocktail © Provided by Saveur Walking Stick cocktail

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 »

a glass of wine sitting on top of a table: Devil's Garden cocktail © MacKenzie Smith Devil's Garden cocktail

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Grilled Pineapple Margarita

a piece of cake sitting on top of a wooden table: Grilled Pineapple Margarita © Provided by Saveur Grilled Pineapple Margarita

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 »

Devil’s Garden

a glass of wine sitting on top of a table: Devil's Garden cocktail © Provided by Saveur Devil's Garden cocktail

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 »

Rising Sun

a glass of wine sitting on top of a wooden table: Rising Sun cocktail © Provided by Saveur Rising Sun cocktail

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 »

Health Kick

a close up of food on a table: Health Kick cocktail © Provided by Saveur Health Kick cocktail

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 »

The Shaman

a glass of wine: The Shaman cocktail © Provided by Saveur The Shaman cocktail

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 »

The Little Devil

The Little Devil cocktail © Provided by Saveur The Little Devil cocktail

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 »

The Velvet Gentleman

a glass of wine: The Velvet Gentleman cocktail © Provided by Saveur The Velvet Gentleman cocktail

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 »

Touch of Evil Punch

a table topped with plates of food on a plate: Touch of Evil Punch © Provided by Saveur Touch of Evil Punch

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 »

Last Pontoon

a glass of orange juice: Last Pontoon Cocktail © Provided by Saveur Last Pontoon Cocktail

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 »

Mezcalita de Piña

a cup of coffee and a glass of beer on a table: Pineapple Margarita © Provided by Saveur Pineapple Margarita

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 »

Fennel Delight

a glass of wine: Fennel Delight © Provided by Saveur Fennel Delight

The vegetal sweetness of licorice-like fennel pairs beautifully with tart grapefruit and smoky mezcal in this cocktail from the Manhattan restaurant Perla. Get the recipe for Fennel Delight »

Oaxaca Cooler

Oaxaca Cooler © Provided by Saveur Oaxaca Cooler

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 »

Oaxaca Cooler

Oaxaca Cooler
© Anna Stockwell

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