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!
Real de Jalpa is a very interesting entry level mezcal which is available on sale for about $10.00 ( normally $ 20.00 ) per bottle at Goody Goody in Highland Village , Denton County, TX.
This is a 100% blue agave reposado mezcal and is exceptionally smooth and drinkable straight up.
I am just beginning to explore mezcal and highly recommend this tasty dram.
PS – I bought your book and am really enjoying it.
Thanks for the comment on the book! But a $10 repo that is good? Is that a 750 ml bottle? If so, and it is good, that is pretty shocking! I will have to try to get my hands on a bottle!
You should stack it up against a few other repos and see how it compares…..
From Real de Jalpa’s web site:
“It is the first process applied to agave when it gets to our facilities. The piñas (pineapples) are steamed and cooled before being crushed in big mills.”
Their products are essentially tequila. They’re made in the same mass production way most tequilas are today, just made in states where they can’t label it tequila but can call it mezcal. They may be good as tequila but are probably lacking when compared to traditional and artisanal mezcales.
Cool. Thanks for the legwork! Sounds very industrial and not very romantic!
Thank you for the information on the production process . As a rookie, I said to myself, self, that tastes a lot like a tequila not a mezcal . Now I know why because it seems to be as stated by Edward above a tequila in all but location .
That stipulated, it is a decent drink and worth what I paid for it .
The Real de Jalpa really ( no pun intended ) is US $10 for a 750 ML bottle in North Texas . It has been on sale at that price for several months .
I am not sure I have tried Real de Jalpa. For $10 a bottle I am highly suspicious that it can be any good. Is there a bottle of liquor in the US that is good at $10 a bottle? Not so sure. But if you like it and tell me that it is good, then drink it. As you drink more mezcal over time, I wonder if you will have the same opinion. I will pick up a bottle if I see it! Thanks for contributing.
Congratulations, I have to say, that that list is very well put out. I’ve just acquired a couple of years ago the taste for mezcal and have become incredibly fond of it, mostly for mezcales with 40+. If anyone has a chance to try the line of Sabios de Lua (Wise men of Oaxaca) which will come soon to the US, it’s going to blow your mind. I purchased a limited edition bottle from this same house, being “mezcal de puntas” with 70+; tried some sips, but my liver still not fit for that beat yet…
From my end I can deeply recommend, as you all know, Pierde Almas Dobaadan, also Bruxo 1,2,3 and 4, Marca Negra Tobala, Alipus San Miguel Sola and for me, one of the rarest and hard to get mezcal, Lucifer Espadin which is only sold in Ensenada by Adobe Guadalupe Winery made in Ocotlan, Oax.
Hope you all keep enjoying this spirit that has been rising by its high quality and true craftmanship from our Maestros Mezcaleros in Mexico.
Thanks for the contribution. I know Bruxo is coming to the U.S. soon…..
First time on your site, you have a lot of great advice. I was wondering if you know of any Jabali I could get my hands on in NY.
No Jabali’s available in the U.S. I have a bottle I acquired in Oaxaca and it is excellent! If you like the site, buy my book!! It’s on Amazon….
Thanks for reading. John
We had something of an informal mezcal tasting here at a gathering to watch a World Cup game. Most of our friends had not tried mezcal before, but were reasonably familiar with tequila. We sampled Del Maguey Chichicapa, Delirio, Wahaka Tobala (ok, not a “starter” one), Ilegal Joven, and also tried some Hacienda de Chihuahua Sotol Anejo. It was the Delirio that was the favorite for those who had never tried mezcal before with the Del Maguey was just a distant second.
Oh, and the one person who ended the day with a strong dislike of mezcal? My wife, the only Mexican in crowd. Go figure. 😉
Interesting on the Delirio as I have heard some unflattering things about it. I tried their repo once and thought it was just OK. My wife used to hate mescal as well and putting it in cocktails helped her get there! As you know, I have many in the book!!
Thanks for the comments!
How do you recommend enjoying mexcal? With lime as a shot…?
I always say drink it as you like! However, good mezcal should rarely be taken as a shot. It is meant to be sipped and savored as it is worthy of doing so. You can shoot it but it is a bit of a waste of any fine spirit, not just mezcal. So it is up to you. Personally, I drink mezcal neat, in cocktails, or in the summer on the rocks with a lime squeeze. The purists would say neat only………
I am a mezcal newcomer ( less than one year ) but have become a convert . We first tasted mezcal in San Antonio TX and our waiter suggested serving the mezcal with orange wedges lightly coated with a mixture of salt, chile powder and cinnamon . In Plano TX we were offered the mezcal with sal de gusano ( salt, ground dried maguey worms, chile powder, spices ) . The idea presented was to sip the mezcal, hold it in the mouth while savoring and exploring the flavors and mouth feel . Then after swallowing and before the finish is done to suck on the spiced orange slice to accentuate the lingering flavors and to excite the tastebuds . Both methods proved to be excellent .
All sounds good to me! I have never tried an orange slice and sal de gusano with cinnamon but I can see where that would work. I always say, drink it how you like it! So if it works for you, keep on doing it.
Thanks for the advice. Well then exploring I shall go!
I just got back from Rosarita, Mexico and found a shop that had a ton of different bottles. He recommended Zignum Reposado and Beneva Anejo. Have you tasted any of these?
I think you are teasing me! But if you are serious, the only reason the guy at the shop was recommending those to you was because he is being paid by those mezcals to sell their industrial Mezcal to unsuspecting tourists! Those are not the artisanal mezcals that this site is all about. If you read some of my other posts you will see I talk about many great mezcals – Zignum and Beneva are not among them!
I am going to Mexico next month and want to purchase Mezcal to take home.
Mezcal is new to me as I have only drank it a few times and I want to expand my horizons’.
I am not so concerned with price, but like a Joven, and the smokier the better.
From the Mezcal starter kit I picked the following to purchase if I can find them.
Del Maguey Minero; Ilegal Joven; Pierde Almas Espadin and San Juan Del Rio.
Hopefully, I am on the right track, but if you have any other suggestions please advise.
All of those mezcals can be found in the US. Maybe I failed to make that clear. Do not go to OAX to buy those! There are great mezcals there so go exploring and bring many back!
I would take advantage of the trip by finding bars that feature mezcal (mezcalerias) and sample the various local varieties. And then, I’d select my favorites of those to buy bottles of for the return home. You should use this opportunity to locate mezcales that are unavailable for us poor gringos who can only obtain what’s available via import into the US. 🙂
Hello, love your blog! I just received this as a gift: Danzantes “Los Nahuales” Reposado Mezcal… What are your thoughts on it?
That is a fine Mezcal and a great gift someone gave you. I get a bit of spice in that Mezcal. The kind of spice you find in a Caribbean rum for example. So it’s unique. Let me know what you think!
Hey, great blog! I’m in BC, Canada, and seem to be totally isolated from the cheaper quality mescals. Seems like most decent bottles are at least double what they cost in the US… Is there any hope for us?
I have heard similar despair from north of the border. Feeling your pain. Maybe a drive down to Seattle for the weekend to load up???
Thanks for your comment. Where is a good source for mezcal in Seattle? I go down there a couple times a year so it could work out.
I’ve been meaning to email you guys about a couple of good starter-bottles, so this is perfectly timed! Next time I head out to our Premier, I know what to look for! Can’t wait for the book!!
Like the sound of that ensemble! I’ll trade you a bottle of that for a book!
Excellent post, I am always looking forward to reading all ofthem. BTW the other mezcal Andrew Friedman tried was an Ensamble (blend) of three agaves: Espadin, Bicuishe and Madrecuishe from Santa Maria La Pila (Miahuatlan), something you have to taste soon! I’m sure the book will be excellent, I hope we can get our hands on it down in Mexico. Best!
I was noticing that between your list and Andrews list of introductory mezcals you seem to cover allmost every silver mezcal on the market .
If these are the entry level mezcals , what are the more in depth advanced mezcals?
Good question. My Mezcal Starter Kit was really designed around price (less than $75) and availability. I get many questions from people about where to start in the mezcal world and price is frequently intertwined in the question. Andrew goes well into the advanced kit with great comments and recommendations. I think your aged offerings would fit into an advanced conversation as well as the many bottles that top $100 or more. Someday I will do a next level post though I talk about a lot of these brands all the time in tastings, etc.
You should include Astor Wine and Spirits in this spreadsheet, they have a good selection and prices.
Oh yeah forgot to mention – free shipping on first-time online orders over $99.
Agree. I buy from Astor all the time but I did not have room for them and also a lot of times you cannot ship certain bottles out of state. I have never figured out why. But you are right, it is a great store both in NYC and online.
I think Astor has a really simplistic basic intro level selection . It is really lacking in depth. Such a shame . A quality store like that having limited tunnel vision in the most important new category to come into the market . Very disappointing.
Astor does a better job of promoting mezcal better than any liquor store in NYC because they actually have a “Mezcal” labeled section in their physical store. That’s the only place I know. I think you are selling them short. They have many Del Magueys, many Pierde Almas offerings, Vago, Ilegal, Buho, etc. I just checked their online store and they do have a lot out of stock right now, so hopefully they will be filling in those gaps. Maybe now is your chance to get Scorpion in there???
Nice reviews .
I’m surprised that you are going to write a book and you haven’t taken the 4 levels of the Master Mezcalier courses. Interesting.
Hey Doug. You t’eed this up for me perfectly so I cannot resist! You imply that a minimum criteria to write a book on mezcal is to have taken the 4 levels of the Master Mezcalier courses. Has Ulises taken it? Ron Cooper? Steve Olson? John Rexer? Jonathan Barbieri? Judah Cooper? Team Mezcalistas? See my point? There are many ways to learn a lot about mezcal other than your classes (though I think it is great that you are doing them by the way).
That said, there are a lot of people who know way more about mezcal than I do, including you. But if books were only written by the singular ultimate authority on a topic, not many books would be written. My book is deeply researched, well-vetted, alive with personal experiences, and fun to read (he said hopefully)! It is for those who have just begun to take an interest in mezcal and for those who already know a lot as well. I will give you a money back guaranty – if you think it sucks, send it back!! Really.
In the meantime, I am happy to trade good natured barbs as this was intended to be. Let’s drink some mezcal together soon…..
You are absolutely right, anyone can write anything they want at any level of knowledge on a subject . I have seen some pretty bizzare ideas in some of the books . I have not read all of them . But this is what makes the free world go around. This is a good thing. I wrote a booklet also.
I was wondering , because I thought that you had been a student in #1 Master Mezcalier . But I tend to get confused , I have had over 300 students and I am not good with names anyway.
Good luck with your book.
One problem with this list is that some states have regulations that prevent you from being able to buy online. 🙁 Here in Houston, I’m restricted to what I can find locally (or least from a retailer somewhere in Texas). I have yet to even see most of the brands in your list, and I’m not able to purchase from these online sellers (that’s probably better for my wallet). 😉
What do you think about Union Uno as belonging to a “Mescal Starter Kit”? I think you list it as premium and it was “well received” in one of your tastings. It certainly meets the price criteria, around $36 locally, and it’s easier to find than the rest of your list around these parts (northwest Houston suburbs).
Not being able to ship stuff in stinks! I feel your pain and hope that my home state (Hook ’em!) gets more mezcal. As for Union, wave it in. Excellent mezcal at a good price. Probably a bit better for cocktails than sipping but still works either way. Enjoy!
A Houston store with fair mezcal inventory, Tony K’s on Bissonnet. Be sure to ask for a desired product if not seen on the shelf. There are spirits in the warehouse that don’t make it to the retail floor, plus special orders are possible.
For a night of tasting, I highly recommend The Pastry War. Visit their Twitter page for specials.
I have heard it is tough to find a good selection in Houston so thanks for the tip!
There are actually a couple of places to buy Mezcal. Best, by far, is Houston Wine Merchant. They can order almost anything and have a superb collection. I am pretty sure they source most of the bottles for the Pastry War. The Richards on Kirby and Westheimer and Spec’s downtown also have a few bottles (typically DM and Vago). Richards found me two bottles of the elusive Del Maguey Espadin Especial.
That’s quite a list.
Not to ruin anyone’s day, but that Delirio? Please don’t. The Zignum, too. No. Just…no.
Here’r some more to check out.
– El Jolgorio. Probably the best line in the country – amongst some great mezcal, to be sure. There are seven different agaves, and until you taste the Tepestate, you’ve not had the best of all’of’m. They’re all great.
– La Niña del Mezcal. A great new addition. There’s an espadin, a mexicano and a pechuga.
– Tosba. A really, really well-made line of mezcal. There’s a espadin and a pechuga.
– Koch el Mezcal. They make a few, but the most available is an ensamble. In fact, I think that’s all that they have, a few different ensambles. Really tasty.
– Mezcalero. You liked the Alipús? Well, it’s good, but wait ’till you taste the Mezcalero. From three different pueblo’s, I do believe.
– Pierde Almas. Just go and find some of the Dobadaan. Along with the El Jolgorio Tepestate, it’s one of the better ones available in the ‘States.
– San Juan del Rio. This is made by the same people that make the Benezin mezcal. But, this one tends to be pretty great.
– Siete Mysterios. Don’t get me started. The Tobala and the Arroqueño are ridiculously good.
OH! Marca Negra! They have a Espadin and a Tobala, but wait ’till you taste the next two that’r coming out. I think that it’s another Dobadaan…and I forget what else.
I’m sure that I have forgotten a few – but this is probably a good list to start off with.
Or, come into Liberty here in Seattle. I’ll give you a taste.
Thanks for all the comments! A few of my comments on your comments.
– Some of the mezcals you mention can be found online for less than $75 but I could not find them at more than one place so they were not included. Maybe I should rethink that criteria…
– Jolgorio is awesome but far above $75.
– La Nina and Tosba need to make it to the east coast.
– Koch is excellent (only the ensemble can be found in the US) and well-priced but they may have lost their importer so it is hard to find now.
– Mezcalero rocks but rarely below $75. Their new Release #9 is great – a single expression arroqueno. About $85 at Craft Distillers.
– Concur on the Pierde Dodadaan.
– Siete Arroqueno is unavailable these days. Too bad as it is amazing. Hear Siete is looking for a new importer.
– The founder of Marca Negra promised me samples, but THEY ALL SAY THAT! Ha! Good mezcal though.
I look forward to my Seattle trip!
Caballeros Inc. is the new importer for KOCH we should have it in USA by Fall- we are bringing up other brands including Mayalen which is a wild Cupreata Excellent!! and two certified Organic Mezcals ZACBE and SHAWI which we have small amount of inventory in US just need to assign distributors- also your retails for Scorpion Mezcal SIlver- wow-that is NOT average across the country- in NYS it is retailing for around $35- so average price is not $49.99 across the country- some distributors have larger mark ups than others.
Good stuff. Look forward to your new brands and happy to see Koch staying in the market!
Love to read this post! Looking forward to your book!
Thanks! I look forward to the book getting out as well! Been a long process……..
Awesome list, but you are becoming a very bad influence on me. 😉 I went into the Twin Liquors saying to myself, “I’m only going to look, I’m only going to look…” But they had Los Nahuales joven for just $39. So, I mean, really. I had no choice now, did I? 😀
You’re bringing tears to my eyes (sniff sniff). You had no choice indeed!!! That’s a great price for a nice mezcal. Enjoy!
OK, how ’bout Wahaka Espadin Joven for just $20? A co-worker brought me back a bottle from his trip to Mexico. The place he bought it? Sam’s Club Cozumel.
That is a great price for a nice mezcal. I have to calculate how many I have to buy to pay for my flight to Coz!!
La Nahuales is at least 50 bucks a bottle here in OKC. IF you can find it.
I was off put by the Wild Shot at first, and only finished it after the Las Nahuales ran dry, and you know, it really grew on me. Not as much smoke, but a hint of jalapeno. Being a vegetarian, the protein in the bottom of the bottle hit the spot as well!
(I’ve been searching for Illegal, but to no avail….. )
I always say drink what you like, so if WS is working for you that is great. Can you buy online and ship into OK? I know some states won’t allow you to ship in….either way, enjoy what you can find!
Good job Dr! I agree with almost all. (I hear something about a book?)
Almost all?? Opinions can be shared here. Just keep them polite! As you know, mezcal is always changing. You might try something one day and think one thing and then try the same mezcal a month later and reach a very different conclusion. On this list, as I have had almost all of these many times, my opinions have varied over time as well. So theses thoughts are not truisms, just my latest iteration. Feel free to share your iterations….
This time, seré dueño de mi silencio 😉 Cheers!