Margaritas, Mai Tais and 7 Other Classic Cocktails to Make with Mezcal
Sure, some people like to sip mezcal neat. But mezcal, Mexico’s most traditional agave spirit, has catapulted itself forward with American consumers through its use in cocktails. Many bartenders are experimenting with mezcal as an upgrade to favorite classics, from martinis to Mai Tais. We asked a handful of industry professionals which classic cocktails can benefit from the smoky agave-based spirit, and how to make them.
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The Martina a.k.a. Mezcal Dirty Martini
Mezcal Last Word
Mezcal Mai Tai
Oaxacan Negroni a.k.a. Mezcal Negroni
Lupe Lamora a.k.a. Mezcal White Negroni
Mezcal Old Fashioned
The Merman’s Tail a.k.a. Mezcal Paloma
Courtesy Miles Crettien, head bartender, and Gabriel Weinstock, wine & spirits director, Lis Bar, Kingston, NY
For those who love a Gibson and have brined cocktail onions on hand, this adventurous riff on the dirty martini is ideal. The base of this drink mixes mezcal with a smaller measure of raicilla, another agave spirit, for added complexity.
- 1½ ounces mezcal
- ½ ounce raicilla tabernas
- ¼ ounce onion brine
- 4 dashes celery bitters
- Cocktail onion, for garnish
Stir all ingredients in mixing glass with ice. Strain into cocktail glass. Garnish with cocktail onion.
Courtesy Tim Wiggins, co-owner/beverage director, Retreat Gastropub and Yellowbelly, St. Louis
What is it about the Last Word, based traditionally on gin, that draws in bartenders eager to create mezcal drinks? Perhaps it’s mezcal’s affinity for herbaceous spirits like Green Chartreuse, or fruity liqueurs like maraschino, that reflect those same characteristics often present in mezcal. This is the most straightforward variation, where mezcal is added in place of gin.
- ¾ ounce mezcal
- ¾ ounce Luxardo Maraschino
- ¾ ounce Green Chartreuse
- ¾ ounce lime juice
- Thin wheel of lime, for garnish
In mixing glass, stir all ingredients with ice (except garnish). Strain into coupe glass. Garnish with lime wheel.
Courtesy Shelby Allison and Paul McGee, co-owners, Lost Lake, Chicago
For guests who want a tiki-style drink but want to explore spirits beyond rum, Allison and McGee say that the mezcal version of the mai tai is a staple at Lost Lake.
- 2 ounces mezcal, like Banhez Joven
- 1 ounce lime juice and lime hull
- ¾ ounce orgeat, like Small Hands Foods Orgeat
- ½ ounce Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao
- ¼ ounce Demerara syrup (2 parts Demerara sugar: 1 part hot water)
- Large mint bouquet, orange peel and flower, for garnish
Add all ingredients (except garnishes) to cocktail shaker with cubed ice. Shake for 5 seconds. Pour all ingredients, unstrained, into double Old Fashioned glass, and fill with crushed ice. Garnish with large mint bouquet, orange peel and flower.
Two agave spirits, tequila and mezcal, are natural companions in this margarita riff.
Legendary New York City bar owner Sother Teague favors Del Maguey Vida mezcal, which adds hints of tropical fruit, honey and spice, alongside blanco Tequila without overpowering.
How to Make the Mezcal Margarita
Courtesy Sother Teague, beverage director, Honeybee’s, New York City
- Salt-spice blend, to rim (see below)
- 1 ounce mezcal
- 1 ounce blanco Tequila
- ½ ounce agave syrup
- ¾ ounce lime juice (plus extra to rim glass)
Moisten half of outer rim of glass with lime juice. Roll glass in salt-spice mix (recipe below) to coat.
Combine ingredients except spice blend in cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well, then strain into rocks glass over fresh ice.
To create salt-spice mix, combine 1 teaspoon sugar, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, ½ teaspoon paprika and ½ teaspoon cayenne.
Courtesy John Coniglio, bartender, Briggs Bar, Detroit
Easy to mix and not too fussy, this riff on the popular Moscow Mule suits a sports bar like Briggs. Prolijo is named for the guardian spirit of mezcal who, at the end of distillation, would enter the cellar to taste the finished product from open barrels.
- 2 ounces mezcal, like Prolijo Mezcal Blanco
- 4 ounces ginger beer
- 1 ounce lime juice
- Lime wheel, to garnish
- Tajin (chile pepper-lime-salt seasoning), to garnish
In a copper Mule mug, stir together all ingredients (except garnishes) with ice. Garnish with lime wheel sprinkled with Taijin.
Courtesy Jim Kearns, beverage director, ACME, New York City
In place of gin, Kearns brings in mezcal, alongside a rich style of sweet vermouth and an herbaceous amaro, a hearty alternative to the traditional red bitter. Together, this still drinks like a Negroni, albeit a more robust, moody variation.
- 1 ounce mezcal
- 1 ounce Cocchi Dopo Teatro
- 1 ounce Nardini Amaro
- Orange twist, for garnish
In mixing glass, stir all ingredients (except garnish) with ice. Strain into rocks glass, over fresh ice. Garnish with orange twist.
Courtesy Josie Florance, bartender, The Penrose, New York City
For this riff, mezcal replaces gin, and the vermouth component is split between two different bottles, says Pete Vasconcellos, bar director for The Penrose. “We use Lillet for the floral note and hint of quinquina,” he says, plus an Italian bianco vermouth “which is wonderfully honeyed and viscous with a balanced, herbaceous finish.” The drink is finished with a grapefruit twist, “because mezcal and grapefruit are great friends.”
- 1¼ ounces mezcal, like Pierde Almas
- 1 ounce Suze
- ¾ ounce Lillet Blanc
- ¼ ounce Vermouth del Professore white vermouth
- Grapefruit twist, for garnish
Stir all ingredients (except garnish) in mixing glass with ice. Strain into rocks glass over large ice cube. Garnish with grapefruit twist.
Courtesy Chris Vicic, beverage director, Downtown Sporting Club, Nashville
The familiar Old Fashioned, a guest favorite, is an ideal cocktail to showcase what Vicic says is “the earthy terroir” of mezcal. In place of whiskey, mezcal has “no problem holding its own” against the sweetness of Demerara sugar or the spice of Angostura bitters, he says. “We think this is a great way to introduce our clientele to a drink, including a spirit that may be a little bit out of their comfort zones.”
- 2 ounces mezcal
- ¼ ounce Demerara syrup
- 1 dash Angostura bitters
- Orange peel, for garnish
In a rocks glass, stir together all ingredients (except garnish) with ice. Garnish with orange peel.
Courtesy Maria Polise, head bartender, In The Valley, Philadelphia
Made traditionally with Tequila, this mezcal version adds a dose of Punt e Mes, a Piedmontese vermouth with an extra bitter kick that plays up the grapefruit. The end result is still as bubbly and refreshing as the original, but skews slightly more dry and bittersweet.
- Salt, to rim glass
- 1 ounce mezcal
- 1 ounce grapefruit juice
- ¾ ounce Punt E Mes
- ¾ ounce lime juice
- ½ ounce agave
- Soda water
Place salt in shallow dish. Moisten rim of Collins glass with lime wedge, then roll the edge in salt to coat rim.
In cocktail shaker, combine next five ingredients with ice. Shake well, then strain into prepared glass over fresh ice. Top with soda water.
- 1The Martina a.k.a. Mezcal Dirty Martini
- 2Mezcal Last Word
- 3Mezcal Mai Tai
- 4The Mezcal Margarita
- 5Mezcal Mule
- 6Oaxacan Negroni a.k.a. Mezcal Negroni
- 7Lupe Lamora a.k.a. Mezcal White Negroni
- 8Mezcal Old Fashioned
- 9The Merman’s Tail a.k.a. Mezcal Paloma