All about mezcal, the tequila-like drink you should try

Tacombi serves mezcal with the customary orange slices. Credit: Provided
Tacombi serves mezcal with the customary orange slices.
Credit: Provided

Picture this: You’re on vacation in Mexico, ready to dive fully into the culture. In order to do so successfully, you’ll need a margarita in hand, right? Wrong.

Margaritas are for tourists, says Dieter Wiechmann, creative director of Tacombi at Fonda Nolita. To get the true Mexican drinking experience, you’ll need a glass of mezcal — a smoky twist on tequila that is traditionally enjoyed neat.

Like tequila, mezcal comes from the maguey plant, a type of agave that is native to Mexico. But unlike tequila, which can only be derived from one specific type of maguey plant (blue agave), mezcal can come from all different regions of Mexico. “It goes all the way back to the Aztecs,” Wiechmann says, “not in its refined form, but the fermented sugars from the same plant. … When the Spanish arrived, they brought their technology of distillation. That’s when they started making mezcal as it is now.”

Like wine, the different regions produce different flavors. And like whiskey, aging mezcal changes the flavor too. Joven mezcals, the youngest, are bottled immediately after distillation. The next oldest, Reposado, is aged three to six months in oak barrels, creating “a little more color, subtle flavors and sweetness,” Wiechmann says. The oldest form of mezcal, anejo, “gets a much deeper color because it’s in a barrel for a year or more.”

But unlike wine and whiskey, mezcal won’t stick around all that long — it’s not very customary to drink a 10-year bottle, he says.

Do’s and don’ts for drinking it

Don’t ask for extra lime when ordering: The proper garnish is an orange to balance out the flavors, Wiechmann says.

Don’t stress about pairing yours with certain foods — the drink is meant to stand on its own.

Don’t down yours like a Jager Bomb — mezcal is a sipping spirit, meant to be enjoyed.

Do pour a little out before you drink: It’s customary to do so to honor Mayajuel, a fertility goddess who is also the goddess of the agave plant.

Get your fill

Where to drink mezcal in the city

Tacombi at Fonda Nolita
267 Elizabeth St., 917-727-0179

Empellon Cocina
105 First Ave., 212-780-0999

Sembrado
432 E. 13th St., 212-729-4206


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