Mexico's hottest export is made from the agave plant, but unlike tequila, most of which is factory-produced and homogenous in taste, authentic mezcal is handcrafted in Oaxacan villages, so no two batches of the good stuff are the same. Smoky like a single-malt scotch and rich in terroir like quality red wine, the spirit is winning over bartenders as imports from Mexico's micro-distilleries hit the American market.

THE FIVE TO TRY

1. Pierde Almas Tobaziche

Favored by Mexico's top restaurateurs, this rare variety made with tobaziche agave delivers rich, vegetal notes backed by sweet anise and a long, earthy, floral finish.
$120; drinkupny.com

2. Sombra

An affordable, mixable smoke bomb packed with citrus, spice, and salt, this is a mezcal that fans of peaty single-malts will love and a good entry point for neophytes.
$50; wallywine.com

3. Mezcalero Release #2

This small-batch spirit merges a cultivated agave with two wild ones. Don't let its moderate smokiness and hints of mint fool you—at 96.4 proof, it'll knock you on your culo.
$70; astorwines.com

4. Ilegal Reposado

Mezcal is usually sipped young (joven) and clear (blanco), but this amber one rests about four months in charred-oak barrels. The result is a mellow tinge of smoke with a vanilla streak.
$70; klwines.com

5. Del Maguey Tobala

Made from the rare tobala agave, this pricey-but-worth-it option is complex, displaying notes of cinnamon, pepper, and papaya.
$130; mezcal.com

WHERE TO DRINK IT
Mezcalerias, the watering holes of choice in Mexico City, are coming to America.

New York City
Casa Mezcal, 212-777-2600

This three-story temple to mezcal, music, and art brings Oaxaca to the Lower East Side. Try the choriqueso (chorizo with melted cheese) and a glass of mezcal from the owners' distillery, Los Amantes.

Los Angeles
Las Perlas, lasperlas.la

Resembling an upscale cantina, the city's first mezcaleria is owned by Cedd Moses—the impresario behind L.A. haunts Tony's and the Varnish—and specializes in mezcal cocktails like the spicy Poblano Escobar.

San Francisco
Nopalito, nopalitosf.com

Two former cooks from Nopa made such spot-on Mexican fare, the restaurant's owners gave them their own joint. The Lower Haight bar has a lush garden patio and serves nearly every small-batch mezcal.

5 DELICIOUS TWISTS ON THE MEZCAL COCKTAIL

The spirit of the moment is more mixable than you think. The proof is in these recipes that layer tequila's kid sister with everything from absinthe to brandy, beer to scotch.

Red Ant River Swizzle
Courtesy of Philip Ward of Mayahuel in New York City; mayahuelny.com

1.5 oz Del Maguey Vida mezcal
½ oz cane sugar
¾ oz fresh lime juice
2 dashes absinthe, preferably Vieux Pontarlier
1 mint sprig
Crushed ice

Pour the mezcal, cane sugar, juice, and absinthe into a Pilsner glass. Add crushed ice and stir with a bar spoon. Garnish with the mint sprig. Serves one.

Mezcal Margarita
Courtesy of Rick Bayless of Frontera Grill in Chicago; fronterakitchens.com

⅔ cup fresh lime juice
¼ cup sugar
¾ cup water
1 cup Del Maguey mezcal
⅓ cup brandy
1 tsp Peychaud bitters
1 lime, halved
Kosher salt
Crushed ice

In a large pitcher, stir together the juice, sugar, and water until the sugar has dissolved. Add the mezcal, brandy, and bitters. Cover and refrigerate until chilled, about 1 hour.

Moisten the rims of eight 6-ounce martini glasses with the cut side of the lime half. Spread coarse salt on a small plate, then upend the glasses into the salt to crust the rims. Fill a cocktail shaker about ¾ full of ice and measure in ¾ cup of the mezcal margarita for 3 drinks. Cover and shake for about 15 seconds to thoroughly chill the mixture. Strain into the prepared glasses. Repeat with the remaining mixture to fill the remaining 5 martini glasses. Serves 8.

Mezcal Mary
Courtesy of Aaron Butler of Russell House Tavern in Cambridge,
Massachusetts; russellhousecambridge.com

5 serrano peppers
1 bottle of Del Maguey Vida mezcal
28 oz tomato juice
2 oz worcestershire sauce
2 oz stout beer
4 tbsp of horseradish
1 tsp Tabasco sauce
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp Old Bay seasoning
1 tsp of pepper
1 tsp of salt
4 pineapple slices

Chop the peppers and place in large glass container. Pour the mezcal over the peppers, let sit for two hours, then strain.

Mix the juice, worcestershire sauce, beer, horseradish, Tabasco, lemon zest, Old Bay, pepper, and salt.

In a pint glass over ice, add 2 ounces of the serrano-infused mezcal, then fill to the top with the Bloody Mary mix. Garnish each glass with a pineapple slice. Serves 4.

Mango En Fuego Paloma
Courtesy of Sean Beck of Backstreet Cafe in Houston; backstreetcafe.net

1 ½ oz Del Maguey mezcal
½ oz fresh lime juice
Pinch of chili powder
1 tsp cilantro, roughly chopped
6 oz. mango soda, preferably by R.W. Knudsen or Hansen's
1 lime wheel

In tall Collins glass, stir in the mezcal, lime juice, chili powder, and cilantro. Fill a glass with ice, then top with the soda. Pour the contents into shaker, then back into glass. Garnish with straw and lime wheel. Serves one.

Grady's Mezcaltini
Courtesy of Grant Skokan-Guinn of Grady's Restaurant in Fort Worth, Texas; gradysrestaurant.com

1 oz Del Maguey Tobala mezcal
⅓ oz scotch, preferably Dewar's
⅓ oz Campari
⅓ oz Bend Distillery's Mazama-Infused Pepper vodka
2 dashes orange bitters
A quarter-size piece of crispy bacon
1 jalapeno, halved, de-seeded, de-ribbed, and sliced long-wise

In an ice-filled shaker, pour the mezcal, scotch, Campari, vodka, and bitters and add the bacon. Shake thoroughly until the bacon is pulverized. Strain into a chilled martini glass, and garnish with the jalapeno sliver. Serves one.

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