I get a lot of emails asking me where to start when it comes to buying a bottle of mezcal. Some are from people looking to dip their toes into the mezcal waters, and others are from people who already know they love mezcal but are looking for that price/value tradeoff. Also, many want to know where they can buy mezcal since it is not available at their local liquor store.
With that in mind I thought it would be useful to put together a list of brands, prices, and online liquor stores for your convenience. My book, Holy Smoke! It’s Mezcal! has a complete list of every brand available in the U.S. Now this list by no means contains every brand you can find (I have another post on that too), and I stopped it at $75 because we are clearly getting past the entry level at that price. I focused on the brands that are the most commonly seen PREMIUM mezcals, so admittedly it is a bit subjective (but that’s what I do). For the price comparison, I chose six online sellers that I think have a combination of wide selection and good pricing, and they also happen to be where I buy a lot of mezcal.
I generally took the entry point for each brand, which is usually the joven. In a few cases, brands have a cocktail oriented version which is even more attractively priced and I included those as well. But if a brand has a reposado or other expressions for under $75, I did not include those. Maybe next time. Again, the focus is the brand’s entry point.
Here are my Mezcal Starter Kit Recommendations:
|Brand||Andrews Wine Cellar||Binny’s||Old Town Liquor||Hi-Time Wines||K&L Wines||DrinkUpNY||Average Price|
|El Buho Mezcal||29.99||34.99||29.99||31.66|
|Del Maguey Vida||34.99||38.99||38.99||33.99||36.74|
|Fidencio Clasico Joven||33.99||44.99||39.99||35.99||34.99||34.99||37.49|
|Pierde Almas La Puritita||37.99||44.99||39.99||40.99|
|Don Amado Plata||39.99||44.99||38.99||40.99||41.24|
|Alipus San Andreas||43.00||39.99||41.50|
|Ilegal Mezcal Joven||42.99||44.99||41.99||46.99||44.24|
|Mezcal Vago Espadin||45.99||49.99||47.99|
|Mezcales de Leyenda Oaxaca||48.99||45.99||49.99||51.99||49.24|
|Delirio de Oaxaca Joven||54.99||47.99||51.49|
|Marca Negra Espadin||56.99||51.99||54.49|
|Los Amantes Joven||49.99||59.99||55.99||54.99||55.24|
|Los Nahuales Joven||58.99||58.99||59.99||59.32|
|Pierde Almas Espadin||65.99||69.99||59.99||68.99||66.24|
|Del Maguey Chichicapa||62.99||79.99||69.99||62.99||68.99|
|El Silencio Joven||70.99||69.99||70.49|
I enjoyed putting this together because I learned a few things as well. A few observations:
- There really are not a very large number of widely dispersed good mezcals. There are only twenty names on this list – so only twenty premium mezcals can be found at at least two places online. By comparison, if you did this with tequila, I am sure you would get well into the 100s of brands. That said, there are probably another 10-20 brands that are quite good but I could only find them at one place online.
- You generally get what you pay for with mezcal. The brands at the top of the list with the lowest prices are geared toward cocktail consumption. Most of them I would sip in a pinch no problem, but if I really want a sipping mezcal I am moving into the $40+ price range.
- I am not deeply familiar with every brand here. I have most of these bottles, and have tried them all, but a few I have tasted only sparingly.
- There are some brands in the $30-$50 range which you will not find here even though they are readily available – names like Wild Shot and Zignum come readily to mind. They are not here because I don’t recommend them.
- You also will not find cheaper brands like Monte Alban and Oro de Oaxaca here because I would not drink those either. If you are not willing to spend at least $30, you are not going to get a very good mezcal. If you have a different opinion, let me know!
A few brand specific comments:
- Of the first five names on the list, I would give Wahaka Espadin the best marks for versatility because it works great in cocktails, but I also find it to be the best sipper of the five.
- For another $10 or so Don Amado has a “Rustico”, which is an espadin joven and far better than their plata. I would spend the extra $10.
- Alipus has four different versions – I think San Andreas is the best, and they are generally all priced the same. Last fall they came out with their Santa Ana Del Rio, and I was not very fond of it on one tasting.
- Scorpion is a fine spirit but it lacks the smokiness that I love in mezcal as it is produced in above ground ovens. Still artisanally made, but a different taste profile if you like a smoky mezcal.
- Ilegal is an excellent introductory mezcal as the smoke, while strongly present to the uninitiated mezcal drinker, is less pronounced than most other brands so it is more approachable.
- Vago made a splash as a new brand in 2013 by bringing in excellent quality mezcals. They also have an “Elote” which has a roasted corn infusion for a few dollars more than the espadin. I cannot quite get the sweetness of the corn on my palate but it is a great mezcal.
- Delirio is relatively unknown to me as I have only tried it once and it made an uninspiring impression. Admittedly, it needs more investigation. They are a west coast brand and I have never seen them in NYC.
- Los Amantes is triple distilled so a very soft mezcal. This can be appealing to mezcal newbies.
- Pierde Almas Espadin, while expensive, is worth every penny.
- El Silencio, another 2013 newcomer, is pricey but also very good – it is an ensemble of three agaves (it does not say which on the bottle but I seem to recall espadin, tobasiche, and mexicano).
Of these online sellers, I use them all regularly depending on what I am buying. Andrews is great if you are buying many bottles because shipping is free with orders over $250.
So that’s it for now. I have been a bit quiet on the blog in recent months as I have been pouring my energy into a book. This is perhaps the first official mention of it (though I promise you will be bombarded in the future!). The book is “Holy Smoke! It’s Mezcal! The Complete Guide from Agave to Zapotec”. I wrote it because I believe mezcal needs this book. It will be out in the next few months, and I am pretty sure it will not be a waste of your hard earned dollars. Until then, drink mezcal!
You mention some “$30-$50 range which you will not find here even though they are readily available – names like Wild Shot and Zignum come readily to mind. They are not here because I don’t recommend them.” Any specifics on why you do not recommend them??
For sure. I would not recommend them because they are industrial mezcals. I am actually not sure about Wild Shot, but I know Toby Keith knows nothing about his own mezcal, it has a worm in it, and it is simply not very good – so even if not industrial (though I suspect it is) I would not recommend it. Zignum is completely industrial and is wasting valuable resources to make their crap. The bottles on that list are all worthy mezcals, made in the right way, and their quality reflects that. I hope this helps! Thanks for writing in!
Hi! I’m looking at your fantastic page about mezcal. It has been extremely helpful as well as the list above. I have a dilemma and would like your professional advice. I would like to get my father a really nice smokey mezcal for his 60th birthday. I usually get him really fantastic whiskeys from all over the world but I wanted to try something different because mezcal is smokey which he likes and he also like tequila so that’s a great combination. I want to get him a bottle where he can enjoy a slow drink after a long day of work. I’m looking to spend between 75-100$ and I live in New York so I can get it shipped. Do you have any great recommendations aside from this list? Thank you so much in advance!
Thanks for writing! The perfect fit for a scotch drinker intro to mezcal is Ilegal Anejo. Around $100 depending on where you buy it. It is amazing. Enjoy!
That sounds great. My father is a pretty experienced Tequila drinker; he’s been drinking in the jungles of Puerto Rico since he was young (haha seriously). I am looking into the Anejo and I read that is not that smoky, what do you think? Also how do you personally feel about Del Maguey Arroqueno Single Village Mezcal and Del Maguey Chichicapa Single Village Mezcal, do you recommend any of those? Thanks again! liz
It depends on the palate. For me, it is not that smoky but plenty of non-mezcal drinkers I know think it is very smoky. If you want max smoke and very good mezcal, the Chichicapa works. Their Arroqueno is brilliant but not as smoky. All 3 are a great choice!
I’ve used your starter kit quite a bit. It’s been very helpful. I’m curious about Don Amado. It seems they rebranded their Plata as Rustico. I found a couple bottles of Rustico with an old label online and was wondering if this is what you had referred to when you said spend the extra $10 to get Rustico. The new “Rustico” label is priced like the Plata and I don’t see a separate Plata for purchase. Just wondering since I haven’t tried either what happened and if the quality of the new Rustico is as good as the one you were talking about.
Thanks for the note and glad the list is helpful! I don’t really have an answer for you as to what they have done here. I will say it is a fine brand and if the new plata is labeled Rustico, I am sure it will be pretty good at worst and excellent at best. The only way I could tell is to do a side by side of the two. But of course, that is flawed as well because no two batches are the same! Bottom line: I would buy the new Rustico. Let me know if you do and what you think.
I appreciate the information you have on your site. My wife and I travel to Mexico with some frequency, and we had made a habit of making a stop in Oaxaca. We found a small Mescal operation on the outskirts of the city working out of an adobe building (basically a four car garage). We stopped there so often, and brought him so many new customers, that he now will make monthly deliveries to us up near Oaxtepec. I’m not sharing who he is, because I don’t want him to get more popular. I pay $15 U.S. per bottle. It will never make your list, because he doesn’t import, but your readers should be sure to stop at the tiny family distilleries if they are ever in Oaxaca.
Glad you found something you love. If he is making monthly deliveries to you, you are clearly putting down some serious quantities of mezcal! Rock on!
In which order would you place the following three Mayalen mezcals : Guerrero , Borrego, Wild Cupreata ? I am visiting a state where these three are sold and wish to try one but can not come to a conclusion which is best, smokiest, frutiest, whatever . Please provide your ranking order . Thank you . K D K
Can’t help too much as I only have the borrego. I THINK I have tried the other two at bars but no opinion for a ranking. I like the borrego and it gets high points for uniqueness (only lamb pechuga I have heard of). Wish I could give you more!
That was plenty. I am grateful for your kind and speedy response .
[…] bottles to choose from. Lucky for you I have several guides geared to help you. Check out my Mezcal Starter Kit for some great ideas if you want to give some moderately priced mezcal bottles as a […]
One mezcal brand I haven’t seen mentioned here or pretty much anywhere else on the internet is Joyas Oaxaqueñas. It’s super cheap (less than $30) but based on my limited experience, seems to be the quite good for its price. Anyone else have experience w/ this stuff?
They are not on here because I am unaware that this offering can be found in the U.S. This brand does make something called Gran Joya, which is an anejo, and not very good in my estimation (pretty bottle though). So actually, even if their joven were found in the U.S, I doubt it would be on this list because I doubt it is any good when compared to the brands that I have listed here. Not trying to rain on your parade, and I appreciate you writing in, but I share my opinions, good and bad, on my blog!
By all means thanks for the response! I’m sure you’re right, as I’m simply here to learn. It’s indeed available in Los Angeles, for the record. Thanks for the great blog!
If it works for your palate and your wallet, then enjoy! I always say you should drink what you like. But I would recommend that you try it side by side with a few of the other offerings listed here. I would be curious if you think it is similar in quality. In which case, I will track down a bottle myself!
I’m really enjoying your blog. Thanks!
I just got started with mezcal, and I’m hooked after a trip to The Pastry War in Houston. I really enjoy smokey mezcal, and they gave me a few Del Maguey wild mezcals that blew my mind with smoke. Do you have any suggestions for big, smokey, mezcal that is available online?
So far, my collection is:
Del Maguey Chichicapa – my favorite of what I have so far
Del Maguey Vida – great for cocktails
Fidencio Clasico – great starter. harsh nose, but still smooth.
Wahaka Reposado – smooth and filled with oak. great drinker, but not too potent.
Vago Elote – packs a punch. I can really taste the corn.
and I just purchased a bottle online of Del Maguey Arroqueno.
So far I’m loving this stuff, and Del Maguey is really standing out to me. I’m in love with the Chichicapa.
You are already in a big smoky spot with the Chichicapa. Sombra is a smoke bomb if you like smoke. For me, if a mezcal is too smoky it masks and overpowers many of the other tastes you may find in a mezcal. For the most part, I rarely even taste the smoke as I am so used to it, ans I am right past it looking for other things. But if you like smoke, drink those that you like!
You have a good starter kit there for sure. Keep moving in the Vago line as they are exceptional. Also, try a few of the Pierde Almas, their espadin is one of my favorites as is their Dobadaan. My list can keep on going. Check a few of my other posts for additional ideas and keep exploring. That’s one of the things that is great about mezcal – so many differences in the high quality brands and even within the brands. And have fun! Drink Mezcal! Thanks for contributing….
[…] looking for some guidance, so much so that I did a whole post on this subject which you can view HERE. But if you are looking to buy a few bottles as an awesome gift, and don’t want to break […]