Over a year ago I published the Mezcal Starter Kit, which was intended to be a resource for people who are just beginning their heroic journey into the world of mezcal. So I focused on bottles that started at about $30 and did not list anything beyond $70 a bottle. As that post has been digested (perhaps ingested) over the past year, I frequently get emails from people asking “What’s next?” (more mezcal for sure!). These readers have tried a few of these starter bottles and now are looking for something more exotic and potentially more expensive.
Readers want to know about silvestres (wild agave varietals), aged mezcals, pechugas, and other premium selections. “Are they good?” “Should I buy them?” “Do I have to go to Oaxaca to get them?” “Did someone really invent a goldfish walker?”
So this post is a look at some amazing mezcals, that are available in the U.S., without regard to price. Yes, many of these are in excess of $100 or more a bottle. I have often said that with mezcal, you generally get what you pay for. So if they are on this list, and they are pricey, I doubt you will be disappointed. Also, many people will readily buy a $100 bottle of wine and it will be gone in a few hours. But if you purchase one of these brilliant mezcals, you might be enjoying it for the next few months or longer. If you drink it like wine, you probably need professional help!
However, you don’t always have to shell out $100 to get a great mezcal. There are many many in the $50-$100 range that are fantastic – I included many of those as well (and by the way, not that $50-$100 for a bottle of booze is a bargain – but remember this is the Premium Edition!).
Why are some of these mezcals so expensive? First, in general, mezcal is not an inexpensive spirit because it is hand-crafted, small batch, and labor intensive. There are no large column stills, industrial-sized ovens, or factory workers. An exceptional artisanal mezcal is produced at a small distillery, or palenque, and is essentially produced in a fashion that has been unchanged over several centuries.
Second, many of these mezcals are made from rare, wild agaves that are extremely limited in supply, difficult to find and harvest, and can take twenty plus years to mature. I snapped a shot of this wild tepeztate shown here in the cliffs outside Santiago Matatlan – a tepeztate can take thirty plus years to mature!
Third, when you move to aged mezcals, there are additional costs for the barrels, storage, and loss due to evaporation – the angel’s share, as you may know.
So yes, mezcals can be expensive. But again, if you can afford it, you will not be disappointed!
So where do I begin? So many great mezcals – what order should I put these in? Can I possibly rank them by my favorites? Not a chance – all amazing. By bottle height? (“How do you measure yourself against other golfers?”)? Price? That is not the goal of this exercise. So what order have I listed these in? Good ole boring alphabetical order. Not very creative but effective nevertheless. At any rate, you cannot go wrong with any of these…..here we go…..
Now there are many things left unsaid, or bottles not listed, because they cannot be currently found in the U.S. or for other reasons. For example, I love Real Minero but you cannot get that fine ensemble anywhere right now. They sell many varietals in Mexico, but they are not to be found north of the border. And there are many like that. Also, for certain brands like El Jolgorio, Del Maguey, Pierde Almas, or Vago for example, I readily could have included all or most of their whole line – yes they are that good. But I did not want to overload the list with a few brands.
What else? Well, I can’t find much of Siete Misterios in the U.S. anymore (other than their Doba-Yej and Tobala), though they tell me on Twitter that they are shipping their Barrill to the U.S. soon. Also, I am looking forward to the rumored arrival of special offerings from Mezcaloteca, Rey Campero, and Mezcal Koch, but they are not here yet.
At any rate, this is more than enough to get you going if you are searching for your next great mezcal. Nothing on this list will disappoint you. Are some better than others? Well, it is really a matter or palate and opinion – not better or worse when you are playing at this level. For example, I did not put an Agave cupreata on this list because they are not my favorite, though I know many mezcal lovers who disagree. So you have to find what you like and even then it is likely to vary on the day you are drinking it, the food you are drinking it with, and the company you are keeping at the time. It all matters. And it is fun to keep trying the broad range of mezcals to be had. I am sure you are doing just that!
And as you have probably figured out, I do most of my mezcal buying online so I have listed where you can find these bottles. These are the places that I have found to have the best selection – though it is usually best to shop around between them to find the best price.
Finally, if you are a brand owner, representative, importer, fellow blogger (my amigos at Mezcalistas?) or other and think I have missed something important here, please let me know. I have omniscient-like powers of revision! In the interim, drink mezcal!!
I have many of the mezcals on this amazing list..just want to make one recommendation..Clase Azul..one of my absolute favorites.
Interesting choice. It’s one of the more expensive mezcals you can buy at $200+, and while I have not tried it, I have had several very mezcal-y people tell me it’s not very good. But as I always say, drink what you like. So if it works for you, stick with it.
First of all, thanks! I dig your site; great information with your personal touch. It has been extremely helpful as I carve my way into the world of mezcal.
I was raised in San Diego (30+ years) and loved tequila. I didn’t start drinking mezcal until I moved to Raleigh, and went to Gallo Pelon last year. Spent over $300, and had a great time sampling various mezcals.
Just 2wks ago, I bought my first bottle – Wahaka Tobala, and yesterday, after looking at your list, I decided to try an El Jolgorio product (Madrequixe). It arrives Monday – can’t wait.
Again, thanks, for your efforts – keep it going!!!
Btw, I also purchased some Jicaras and Sal de Gusano through your site.
Sorry for the slow reply! Thanks for chiming in and I am glad you are on the right path!! Let me now if I can help. Drink mezcal!
Hello Mezcal PhD and thank you for the starter lists . I have been exploring mezcal for about 2.5 years and have sampled about 2 dozen different joven / blancos and am looking to broaden my palate and experience .
I have two questions :1) which bottles do you consider to be the finest mezcal anejos – can you recommend 2-4 different items or so ? and 2) I have the feeling that you do not like when worms / gusanos are placed in mezcal bottles . What are your thoughts, then, on Scorpion mezcal? Can you in good faith and good taste recommend any of their products?
Thank you for any advice and information you can share .
K D Kearney
Hey KD, thanks for the note. On your aged request, I think Ilegal kills it here. Their repo and anejo are outstanding by any measure. As you may have already found out, there is not too much other aged product in mezcal, so Ilegal wins by a landslide. Two other brands that make excellent aged mezcals are Agave de Cortes and Sacacuento – but both can be hard to find.
And you are correct on the worm theme – hate it! Thankfully it is rare in quality mezcals. As for Scorpion, I similarly do not like the gimmick. If you have a great product, why do you need to put a bug in there? The spirit should speak for itself. Setting that aside, Scorpion is closer to a tequila. They cook the pinas in aboveground brick ovens, not earthen pits. So you will not find the characteristic mezcal smoke in that brand. It is good for what it is, but it does not fit for my mezcal palate. And I have found their aged product to be less appealing than a top notch aged tequila. Hope this all helps. Drink mezcal!
Thank you for your swift and thorough reply . Now I really regret not buying the Ilegal anejo when I saw it last week. Well , there is always next time .
Thanks for the tip on Scorpion , I think I will pass on their products as I like the smokiness of a mezcal vs. tequila .
Feliz Pasqua !
Agree with De Leyenda line: all I’ve tasted have been very nice. The Guerrero was exceptional. I also was told Siete Misterios is available in the US, but I don’t know where to find it. Their Coyote and Pechuga are both very nice! 🙂
I would take Siete over Legend all day long…..just one opinion…..
I’ve only had 2 of the Leyenda line: Guerrero and Durango which were both very good to excellent in my opinion. That said: I think the Coyote and Pechuga from Siete def are a notch above both. The rest of their line is on par in my opinion though. Too bad it’s so hard to find either of these here in the US (let alone on a dry reservation like where I live…. )!
How would you rate a Mezcal named OaxBCN-I was given
A bottle but know nothing about it and the website oaxbcn.com is all Spanish and could not find a translation.
I have never heard of it. Does it list the type of agave? The ABV? Is there a CRM stamp? Is there a NOM number? A good start would be a yes to all those things. You can email me a picture of the front and back babe if you want at firstname.lastname@example.org
Will try to help!
Here’s an article in English on the OAX-BCN mezcal:
Other details from their OAX-BCN website:
The mezcal is produced by a fifth generation mezcalero using traditional methods, but they add “Mediterranean” plants and herbs to the agave during the fermentation step for a unique taste profile.
The agave they use is silvestre madrecuixe. They appear to use a tahona to crush the agave (at least it’s in the pictures). The mezcal is double distilled using a copper still.
And they only produce 1000 bottles per year.
On the pro side they are using traditional methods and appear to be very particular in the product they are producing.
But a couple things struck me as “off”.
First, it’s not quite entirely mezcal in that it’s flavored with other plants. That’s not to say it’s bad. I suspect it is likely very good. But there will be differences in taste from other mezcals.
And the other article made a point saying how these guys are avoiding the “drawbacks of other mezcals.” Excuse me? You can extol the virtues of your product with dissing everyone else.
Flavoring Mezcal with fruit and herbs goes back a long way. Don’t diss what you just don’t know. I haven’t tasted this particular Mezcal, only reacting to your comments about “not quite entirely Mezcal”. If you walk into Casa de Mezcal, an old mescal-driven saloon near the B. Juarez market in Oaxaca with a long history, you’ll have your choice of at least herb infused Mezcals. My personal fave is Albahaca….infused with fresh basil.
I know that saloon and it is pretty sad these days. They have a handful of mezcals and they are all industrial crap. Maybe they have what you are describing hidden away somewhere – I hope so! Because what they have at face value is less than appealing. At any rate, if you like infused mezcals, more power to you. Drink what you like not what I like!
First off, thanks for your excellent website and book, which have been a great guide for my mezcal journey (current collection of 24 bottles)! This is a great list, and I’m happy to see I’ve managed to dip into some of it. I’m surprised there aren’t more Mezcaleros – I’ve tried others, but own and love the Mezcalero #10 Sierra Negra and the #9F Arroqueno (I think the “F” might denote a different batch than the one you found less than stellar in your tasting). The Mezcaleros can also be gotten somewhat less expensively than other brands’ offerings of the same varietals. I also want to mention Ocho Cientos Sotol Blanco, which I enjoy quite a bit (pit roasted, smoky sotol, unlike Hacienda de Chihuahua, which it also crushes). Finally, I stumbled on an Extra Anejo Mezcal that I haven’t seen you mention: Donaji. It comes in an impressive bottle – pyramid shaped with jaguars climbing up the side, and maybe the most informative label, in terms of method of production specifics, that I’ve ever seen. And the stuff inside is pretty darn good! Where the Illegal Anejo is a dessert of butterscotch and caramel, the Donaji is cinnamon, nutmeg, and baking spices, along with lovely roasted agave.
Anyway, thanks again for all you do, and if you ever make it out to Las Vegas, NV, I’d be more than happy to share!
Thanks for the note! 24 bottles is quite a collection. The Mezcaleros are mostly good. They have had one or two misses but I think it is a great product overall. I have the 9L arroqueno and you are right that they are different batches from different producers. I agree with your assessment of Ocho Cientos – I think it is very good.
I have heard of Donaji but have never tried it. Of course, as you may know, there is no such category of Extra Anejo in mezcal. But I guess they just want you to know it is aged more than 3yrs (I presume like tequila). Glad you like it and I will have to search it out based on your recommendation!
Finally, if you liked my book, give me a review on Amazon!
Review submitted! I also wanted to mention that wine-searcher.com is also a great resource for finding obscure spirits for sale. The free version is good, but I also think the pro-version is enough of an improvement to be a good value. I recently researched and planned a San Diego and LA whirlwind mezcal and scotch buying spree using that site. (CA can’t ship liquor to NV.) It’s also how I found great mezcal shops/sites like Mission and Hi-Time. Thanks again!
Thanks for the hook up! I am glad you enjoyed the book. I have not really used wine-searcher but it sounds like it will come in handy when i am trying to find some hidden gems. I will check it out! I appreciate the contribution to the site. Drink mezcal!
If looking to experience the range of organoleptic qualities that mezcal can offer, and on a budget, “de leyenda” offers an interesting trifecta to start.
If well connected, try to get hold of a crate of “Mal Mezcal”. This gourmet mezcal is cherished by the chefs of Mexicos luxury restaurants, and is only available to the public by a letter of recommendation!
Mal Mezcal sounds pretty intriguing. I am in Oaxaca in a few weeks so I will try to find it. Thanks!
[…] you want to elevate your gift to another level, check out my post on Mezcal – Premium Edition. When price is no object, this is the place to look. Some unbelievable bottles can be found here! […]
Thanks so much for compiling these lists. Even though there’s not a ton of brands out there (at least compared to tequila), it can still be overwhelming to navigate the different brands, styles, expressions, etc…
Your guidance allows me to make my purchases with confidence!
I’m happy to see such a list. Only though mass-communication can we all help support this industry.
That said! I have a few additions for you, all of which are available in the ‘States.
2) La Niña del Mezcal
3) Mezcales de Leyenda
4) Mezcal Unión Uno
5) Nuestra Solidad
6) Siembra Metl
7) Mezcal Tosba
There’s actually more than that which are available or will soon be available, but…that’s a good start.
Here at Liberty in Seattle, I have over 100 mezcals, so when y’r in town, please don’t hesitate to stop by and see what’s new.
Keep up the good work!
Andrew, thanks for the contributions. While I agree that most of these are good mezcals (the jury is still out on a few of them), these are all pretty much in the Starter Kit camp In fact, some are in my Starter Kit post . This post was mainly about going to the high end with an eye toward the silvestres.
As for the 100-odd mezcals at Liberty Bar, that is amazing! I look forward to seeing it in person!
Thanks for the great list!
Are you much of a pechuga drinker? Would you consider doing a similar list for pechuga?
I have a fair number of pechugas in my collection, but I do not find myself gravitating to them that often. But I do think a pechuga post is a great idea! Talking about the history and meaning of pechugas as well as a review of the ones that are out there! I will put it on my to do list. Thanks for the thoughts!
Any of the WAHAKA mezcals other than the Tobala are excellent tasting and can be found for less than $100. They are much more smoke and fermentation-character forward; less of the raw agave and caramel taste. Savory and not for everyone.
(Bitchy moment here for Canadians: they’re all well above $200 in Canada at the few places I could source them)
I find all the Wahaka mezcals to be VERY drinkable. Glad you like them as well! Thanks for contributing….
As I mentioned in an earlier comment, ‘taste or preference is in the palate of the beholder’ and consequently always personal, subjective exercise. Probably the other key thing you mention is that price does not necessarily mean quality. This is especially true with wine more then any other beverage.
I would be curious to know which on your list(s) are highlands vs. lowlands and your opinion of them on that basis.
The retail sources you cite for the most part are 1) typically the only US source and, 2) thence typically the most expensive. You might explore Mission Liquors’ roster.
Also, lumping Sotol in with Mezcal on your list is probably not the most equitable, productive or accurate characterization and categorization. It would be like comparing Bacanora with Tequila. Granted, they can all be considered Mezcal, I suppose, but probably not the most reasonable delineation.
Probably the best one on your Premium list is Marca Negra Arroqueno, which also happens to be one of the most expensive. Here we go again. Price vs. quality? Subjective palate? Most economic source?
I feel one of the currently best priced Espadin Mezcals is Tosba, at about $45.00, if you can find it.
And, again, thanks for an enjoyable review.
Jerry, I love a healthy debate so thanks for contributing! To your comments:
First, I think that the price/quality correlation in mezcal is pretty high, but not universal. And you are right that the Tosba espadin at $45 (on sales now at K&L) is a steal! I have ZERO loyalty to the online sellers I mention – they give me nothing for the references (they probably should!). But I have found the best selection here and when you are Googling brands and bottles, these are the guys that show up. I just went to the Mission Liquors online and you are right – great prices and good nice selection. I will put them on my list! Great tip.
As for lumping sotol in there, why not? Author’s privilege! I respect that brand and it tastes very much like a good mezcal. As you may know from reading my stuff I am far from a purist. So while this headlines as a mezcal list, I have no problem throwing in related agave spirits (or not quite agave spirits in the case of sotol).
Finally, highlands and lowlands is really a tequila concept since they really only have two distinct growing regions (highlands and lowlands with distinct terroir characteristics in each). Agaves in the mezcal states have about a zillion distinct growing regions from sea level to around 9,000 feet. The climates and micro-climate are equally as varied as is the soil therefore as well. So that is why you rarely see producers talk about the elevation at which their agaves have grown. Sometimes, but rarely. There are regions, for example, like Santa Catarina Minas in Oaxaca where the mezcals have a strong minerality driven by the terroir of that region. But still not like the highlands and lowlands distinction of tequila. Mezcal is simply much more diverse.
Thanks for your thoughtful comments!
Thanks for putting together this amazing list! I would just like to add that Real Minero and Rey Campero are both here in the States and have been on our back bar for nearly a month. So I know they are in Texas and I’m pretty sure they are in Washington, New York, California, and Illinois. Definitely some of my favorites! Salad!
Can you tell my readers where they can buy them??? Tell ME! Either at an online store or any liquor store that may carry them – I can always call and ask them to ship. Let me know and I’m in…..
Zeetequila.com carries both