By now, mezcal, much like tequila before it, has crept into just about every cocktail template, from Negronis to Mai Tais. But for many stateside drinkers, the first taste of the agave spirit comes in the form of a Margarita. Swapped in for tequila, mezcal imparts an extra-earthy kick to the classic. As much as its distinctive flavor profile can be an advantage, however, it can also present a challenge.
When surveyed, a number of experts noted that smokiness, a common attribute of the spirit, can sometimes overpower a Margarita. With that in mind, consider a more nuanced bottling when selecting a mezcal for the job. “A mezcal from an arid environment that uses traditional methods and copper distillation is ideal” because those environments yield the kind of roasted, agave-forward profile one expects in a Margarita, says Bobby Heugel, an owner of the Thorough Fare group of bars in Houston. Also key, according to Ivy Mix, owner of agave-focused New York bar Leyenda and author of Spirits of Latin America, is selecting something that is 40 percent ABV or higher: “Generally, mezcales [that are] so low in proof aren’t carrying the oomph you’re looking for,” she explains.
Doing research into the practices of mezcal producers is crucial to enjoying the spirit with integrity. As a quick starting point, however, we asked a handful of bartenders for their top choices at a range of price points. Here’s what they had to say.
The Best Mezcal for Margaritas
Los Vecinos Espadín Mezcal
Leyenda’s house Margaritas are made with Los Vecinos Espadín. Mix praises this mezcal’s affordability, higher proof than other “mixing mezcals” and “nice amount of smoke, but not too much.” Roasted pepper notes in the spirit lead with spice, followed by fruitier flavors. The balance of earthiness and brightness is an ideal combination for mixing, and plays especially well in a spicy Margarita.
- Price: $32
- ABV: 45%
Banhez Espadín & Barril Mezcal
Banhez is owned and operated by a Oaxacan cooperative, part of a growing trend of farmers and distillers banding together for economic and environmental sustainability. The producer’s Espadín & Barril mezcal is a budget-friendly option from the lineup. Acknowledging the potential for mezcals to dominate a Margarita, Alicia Perry, beverage director for San Diego’s Consortium Holdings, likes that this bottling is less smoke-forward, with a flavor profile she describes as possessing “tropical fruits and bright citrus, with a fairly herbaceous quality.”
- Price: $40
- ABV: 42%
Agave de Cortes Joven Mezcal
Family-owned Agave de Cortes is one of the oldest mezcal producers in Oaxaca, having made the spirit since 1840, and has long been a high-value option. Recommended by Dan Greenbaum, owner of Brooklyn’s Diamond Reef, the spirit has bright citrus notes balanced by earthy clay, without too much acidity, he says.
- Price: $45
- ABV: 45%
Rey Campero Espadín Mezcal
Rey Campero was the most cited among the surveyed bartenders. The Espadín expression is “delicious on its own,” says Kristina Magro, beverage director for Chicago bars California Clipper and Segnatore, but in Margaritas, “it adds a beautiful salinity and stone fruit quality.” Heugel agrees, calling the mezcal “consistent, affordable and everything someone is looking for in a mezcal Margarita.” For a top-shelf take, Mix also recommends Rey Campero’s Tepextate, made from wild agave that’s at least 15 years old.
- Price: $55
- ABV: 48%
Natasha Bermudez, bar director for New York’s Llama San and Llama Inn, favors Tommy’s-style Margaritas, and therefore looks for a flavor profile that can hold up against agave syrup. Doce Mezcal is her ideal pick “when I am looking for a cleaner and brighter Margarita,” given its green spice and citrus notes. The fresh palate is versatile in flavored Margaritas, too, and works when leaning into the spicier side by adding jalapeños, she says.
- Price: $60
- ABV: 46%