There’s an old Oaxacan proverb that goes, “For everything bad? Mezcal. And for everything good, too.” But, right now, we’re gonna hone in on the good.
Mezcal, referred to as tequila’s smoky cousin, is the oldest spirit in North America. However, over the last decade, it’s one of the ‘newest’ spirits on the craft cocktail and themed-bar scene. If you need an introduction on its history, what to drink it with and what brands are the best, we got you completely covered.
But let’s be honest, the best part about drinking mezcal (or drinking anything, for that matter) is where you are drinking it. And with the Super Bowl upon us in Houston, a city ripe with Mezcaleries, a guide to where else in the country you can sip on the smoky drink might be needed in your near future. So whether it’s your first go with mezcal or you’re a maniac mezcal lover, here’s where to head for the best mezcal bars in the States.
If you find yourself on an overcast Seattle afternoon thinking, “What bar can I possibly go to that offers every legally available Mezcal in the state?” The answer is simple: Mezcaleria Oaxaca. They’ve got two locations – in Capitol Hill and Queen Anne – and offer enough mezcal tasting flights and craft cocktails to bring some sunshine to any rainy Seattle day.
Farmer’s market veggies, free-range meats, tables made from a single, local fallen oak tree and small batch mezcal. It just doesn’t get any more San Franciscan than a trip to Nopalito. Both SF locations pride themselves on local, sustainable everything (of course, except the mezcal since, by Mexico law, has to be made in there), so your organic Mexican experience can be a throwback to the old country.
THE PASTRY WAR
So, you just got into town from Boston or Atlanta, and you’re ready to party before Super Bowl Sunday. The Pastry War – named after the only war (between France and Mexico) that ever started over an unpaid bakery debt – is as proud of what they do offer—a comprehensive mezcal menu organized by agave type—as what they don’t (no mainstream tequila brands or flavored agave spirits). Be sure to pair your mezcal with one of their agave accouterments such as chapulines y pina…that’s a dried, spiced grasshopper with pineapple.
Between the skulls, wrought iron chandeliers and dark mood lighting, La Cuevita has Mexican superstition and folklore decor down to a science. Don’t leave without trying the award-winning Valley of the Dark Lords—the Star Wars-inspired riff on a classic Blood and Sand cocktail.
Located in a small room (that feels like you’ve been transported into an old, but super stylish, Oaxacan tavern) on the upper floor of a century-old building, Mezcaleria Tobala is a purist’s wet dream. No food. No cocktails. No other liquor. No rocks. Just mezcal. Neat. Or, if you want to get really sophisticated, get a half pour in a clay copita or full pour in a veladora glass (religious motif votives). #legit
New York City
You may be in the East Village, but with the stained glass windows, brick walls and dim lighting, Mayahuel feels like you walked into a cross a between a Mexican monastery and a cool dungeon. And that setting may be what it takes to prepare your mind and palette for a bar dedicated solely to the agave spirit. Their extensive list of fine mezcals is only rivaled by their mezcal cocktail creativity. If it’s an after dinner drink you’re looking for, don’t miss the Brandy Alejandro–chocolate milk infused mezcal and cognac will soon be the only way you want to top off an evening.
There are only a handful of certified master mezcaliers (like a wine somm, but for mezcal) in the world. And one of them—Josh Phillips—resides in our nation’s capital, and curates the mezcal menu at Espita Mezcaleria. His menu is one of a kind, like the “Whiskeys of Mezcal” (aged) experience. That alone is worth the trip to DC.
MEZCALERIA LAS FLORES
Beyond being the city’s go-to agave spirit watering hole, there’s another reason you need to visit this Chicago hot spot. Two words: Caitlin Laman. Hailing from some of the world’s best cocktail bars, such as SF’s Trick Dog and Mexico City’s Licoreria Limantour, she’s one of the most celebrated mixologists in the nation. She’s a big fan of Sherry, so expect Mezcal-Sherry inspired concoctions and more creative sips.