The tequila boom has well and truly arrived, but sister spirit mezcal is only just beginning its reign. Unlike tequila, which is produced by steaming the agave plant inside ovens and then distilling it in copper pots, mezcal is more rustic. It's cooked inside earthen pits that are lined with lava rocks and filled with wood and charcoal, before being distilled in clay pots.
Sound intense? Don't worry, this unique process is what gives mezcal its characteristic smokiness and botanical flavour, meaning that it is a spirit great for enjoying on its own as well as adding depth to cocktails.
Whether you're looking for something to dip your toe into the trend with or a more advanced spirit to add to your collection, here's our recommends for the best mezcal you can buy in 2020.
Celebrity liquor gets a bad name, but this fragrant, artesian blend from Breaking Bad stars Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul is truly excellent. Dos Hombres uses agave grown in a remote section of Oaxaca, an area blessed with rich soil and plenty of rainfall to give a flavour which includes apple, mango and smoky wood notes.
This honey-coloured añejo mezcal (that means it's been aged for one to three years, which gives it a smoother, deeper taste) from the Ilegal company is twice distilled in copper in the Tlacolula area of Oaxaca, Mexico. The aged brew has won awards for its complex flavour which has notes of orange rind and peppermint oil. It's brilliant neat, but also makes a very moreish Oaxacan old fashioned (stir with agave nectar and bitters, then serve over ice with an orange twist).
£87, Masters of Malt
This Derrumbes mezcal from Michoacan uses ancient production techniques and two different species of agave: the fruity Cupreata and the herbal Cenizo. The liquid is cooked in a stone pit using black oak and fermented in underground tanks lined with pine, giving the drink a uniquely woody flavour.
A smooth mezcal which still has distinctive oak flavour and earthy notes, this joven mezcal ('joven', meaning 'young', refers to unaged mezcal) is a blend of two agaves, one from Espadin, harvested between 8 and 12 years, and the other from Madrecuishe, harvested between 11 and 15 years. The two plants meld to make a distinctive and delicious flavour profile and a mezcal which is growing in popularity.
Del Maguey's vibrant mezcal is produced by families who live in remote villages in Oaxaca, Mexico. This particular bottle is a great way to kick off your new mezcal habit, with a combination of spice and fruit and a smokey nose which will have you reaching for the bottle over and over again.
Corte Vetusto's multi-award-winning mezcals are crafted using traditional methods – earth pit ovens, natural yeasts, stone-milling – by fourth-generation distiller Juan Carlos Gonzalez Diaz. The results are astonishing, especially the Espadín, which is roasted with mesquite to produce a wonderfully smoky nose. Though it's very much a sipping mezcal, you won't regret using it in the best Paloma you've ever tasted.
From £59.22, masterofmalt.com
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