You know mezcal to bring the smoke in cocktails. But this terroir-driven spirit—which can be derived from more than 30 different types of agave plants—is so much more versatile, capable of adding earthy, floral, and even citrus notes to a number of cocktails.
“Most people will default to using mezcal like they would tequila, but I think it’s equally successful when used as a substitute for gin in classic cocktails,” says Tim Wiggins, co-owner and beverage director of Lazy Tiger cocktail bar and Yellowbelly in St. Louis.
The depth of its expressions allows it to also shine in cocktails that traditionally have an aged spirit, like an old fashioned, Manhattan, or penicillin, Wiggins says.
Plus, the beauty of making cocktails with mezcal is you can bring out flavors you didn’t know were there, says Luke Detraz, a market manager with El Silencio Mezcal. For example, using blood orange with Mezcal El Silencio’s Espadin brings out the citrus notes. Add mezcal in a margarita to help pull pepper flavors forward and the smoke in a mezcal old fashioned can resemble that of a toasted bourbon barrel, he says.
Here, bartenders share how they are reinventing classics with mezcal. These seven recipes use mezcal to create everything from tropical to vegetal to citrus-forward cocktails.
1. Strawberry Firing Squad
Try this if you like…spicy margaritas
This mezcal cocktail calls in a scratch-made strawberry syrup to tame the heat. “The earthy, smoky notes of mezcal play extremely well with the brightness of strawberry and spice of hellfire bitters,” says Ryan Williams, bar lead for Kachina Cantina in Denver.
- 1.5 oz Mezcal Union Joven
- 0.5 oz Ancho Reyes Chile Liqueur
- 0.5 oz fresh lemon juice
- 0.5 oz strawberry syrup*
- 2 drops Bittermens Hellfire Habanero Cocktail Shrub Bitters
* Strawberry syrup ingredients