Mexicans enjoy a variety of alcoholic beverages, both beer and spirits. When it comes to hard liquor, tequila and mezcal are the most popular options. Here is a quick overview of the hard liquors that are commonly consumed in Mexico:
Tequila is by far the most famous Mexican liquor. It is distilled from the blue agave plant and originates from the region around the city of Tequila in the state of Jalisco. Tequila has protected designation of origin status and can only be produced in certain regions of Mexico. There are several types of tequila:
- Blanco or Plata (white/silver) – unaged tequila
- Joven or Oro (young/gold) – unaged silver tequila mixed with a small amount of extra-aged tequila
- Reposado (rested) – aged 2-12 months in oak barrels
- Añejo (aged) – aged 1-3 years in oak barrels
- Extra Añejo (extra aged) – aged over 3 years in oak barrels
Blanco tequila has the purest agave flavor while reposado and añejo are smoother and more complex. Tequila is typically consumed straight as a shot with lime and salt, but is also used in mixed drinks like the margarita and tequila sunrise.
Mezcal is similar to tequila in that it is also distilled from the agave plant. However, mezcal can be made from any type of agave while tequila is only made from blue agave. The most common agave used for mezcal is the espadín agave. Mezcal primarily comes from the state of Oaxaca. Like tequila, mezcal also has five categories based on aging:
- Joven (young) – unaged
- Reposado (rested) – aged 2-12 months in oak
- Añejo (aged) – aged 12-36 months in oak
- Extra Añejo (extra aged) – aged over 36 months in oak
Compared to tequila, mezcal has a smokier flavor as the agave hearts are roasted in earthen pits before distillation. Mezcal is also commonly consumed straight as a shot, sometimes with lime and sal de gusano (salted dried worms). It is increasingly being used in cocktails.
Bacanora is an agave distillate that originates from the northern Mexico state of Sonora. It is made from the Pacific Blue Agave plant. Bacanora was originally produced illegally until it received a denomination of origin in 2000. It is now considered Mexico’s second most popular spirit after tequila. Unaged bacanora has a grassy flavor similar to blanco tequila, while aged expressions take on more complex notes from the barrel aging.
Sotol is a distilled spirit made from the desert spoon or sotol plant. It comes from the northern Mexican states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, and Durango. Sotol has a drier taste compared to tequila and mezcal. There are three types:
- Blanco or Plata (white/silver) – unaged
- Reposado (rested) – aged 3-6 months in oak
- Añejo (aged) – aged 1-3 years in oak
Sotol can be enjoyed neat or mixed into cocktails. It has yet to achieve the international popularity of tequila and mezcal.
Charanda is a sugarcane distillate produced in the state of Michoacán. It has a clear appearance and herbal taste. Charanda is used as a substitute for rum in typical rum cocktails like the mojito and piña colada.
Comiteco is an unaged rum style spirit made from sugarcane juice. It originates from the town of Comitán in the southern state of Chiapas. Comiteco has a robust, grassy flavor with subtle sweetness. It’s primarily consumed straight.
Raicilla is an agave distillate from the western Mexican state of Jalisco. It’s produced in a similar manner to mezcal. Raicilla can be made from various agave species and roasted in underground pits prior to distillation. It has notes of smoke, herbs, and citrus. Raicilla is traditionally taken as a shot and gaining international recognition.
Pulque is a mildly alcoholic traditional Mexican beverage made from the fermented sap of the maguey or agave plant. It has an off-white, viscous appearance and tart, yeasty taste. Pulque contains about 4-7% alcohol. It was popular in pre-Hispanic times but has declined in consumption. Pulque is still commonly drank straight in central Mexico.
Kahlúa is a coffee-flavored liqueur produced in Mexico. It’s made from sugarcane rum infused with Arabica coffee beans. Kahlúa has a sweet taste and velvety texture. It’s used internationally as an ingredient in cocktails like the White Russian and Espresso Martini. Kahlúa is owned by the company Pernod Ricard.
Jarritos is a Mexican soft drink brand established in 1950. It offers a variety of fruit-flavored sodas like tamarind, mango, lime, fruit punch and mandarin. Jarritos sodas have around 12g of sugar per 12oz bottle. They are sweet and tangy drinks commonly consumed alone or with Mexican food. Jarritos are not technically hard liquor but are a popular Mexican drink.
Horchata is a sweet rice-based drink originating from Mexico. It’s made by soaking rice in water with cinnamon and vanilla. Horchata has a creamy, spiced flavor. It’s traditionally non-alcoholic but rum can be added to make a cocktail version. Horchata is served chilled and often paired with Mexican food.
Licor de Hierba Buena
Licor de hierba buena translates to mint liquor. As the name suggests, it’s a mint-flavored liqueur produced in Mexico. It’s made by infusing cane sugar alcohol with spearmint leaves. Licor de hierba buena has a refreshing minty taste. It’s commonly added to water or cocktails for a twist.
Other Notable Mexican Spirits
Some other Mexican spirits include:
- Crema de Mezcal – A blend of mezcal and dairy cream, with hints of coffee and chocolate flavors.
- Damiana Liqueur – An herbal liqueur made from the damiana plant, with floral and fig notes.
- Xtabentún – An anise-flavored liqueur from the Yucatán Peninsula, used in margaritas.
- Salmia – A liqueur made from salvia herb with minty, spicy flavor.
- Rompope – A Mexican eggnog liqueur made with rum, egg yolk, sugar, and spices.
Traditional Mexican Mixed Drinks
Some classic Mexican cocktails featuring hard liquor include:
The national cocktail of Mexico, made with tequila, lime juice and orange liqueur. Often shaken and served in a salt-rimmed glass.
A refreshing drink mixing tequila, grapefruit soda, lime juice and salt. Garnished with a grapefruit wedge.
Made from tequila, orange juice, and grenadine syrup. The grenadine sinks to the bottom, creating a sunrise effect.
Equal parts white tequila, lime juice, and sangrita (spicy tomato juice). Creates a tricolor flag effect.
Oaxaca Old Fashioned
A smoky twist on the classic old fashioned, substituting mezcal for whiskey and using agave nectar.
A cocktail of tequila, lime juice, creme de cassis, and ginger beer. Garnished with a lime wedge.
Popularity of Mexican Spirits Worldwide
Tequila and mezcal have enjoyed rising global popularity in recent years. According to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, tequila volumes have doubled in the US since 2002. Mezcal exports from Mexico have also surged over 500% in the last decade. Beverage conglomerates have purchased artisanal mezcal brands to capitalize on the trend.
This growth can be attributed to:
- Increased interest in premium, authentic agave spirits.
- The resurgence of classic tequila cocktails at bars worldwide.
- A trend toward artisanal, small-batch production methods.
- Recognition of tequila and mezcal’s designation of origin status.
- Curiosity about Mexico’s rich distilling traditions.
Lesser known Mexican spirits like bacanora, sotol, and raicilla are also gaining international attention from adventurous drinkers.
Tequila vs. Mezcal
While tequila and mezcal are both distilled from agave, there are some key differences between the two spirits:
|Made only from the blue agave plant
|Made from many types of agave plants
|Originates from Jalisco
|Originates mainly from Oaxaca
|Blue agave hearts are steamed
|Agave hearts are roasted in underground pits
|More refined taste
|Robust smoky flavor
While tequila and mezcal have distinct production processes, they can both make for fantastic sipping spirits or cocktail ingredients.
Buying Quality Tequila and Mezcal
Here are some tips for selecting top-notch tequila and mezcal bottles:
- Look for 100% agave on the label – This indicates no added sugars or flavorings.
- Check for an official denomination of origin – Like DOT for tequila and DOO for mezcal.
- For tequila, opt for blanco, reposado or añejo – Mixto or gold tequilas use additives.
- For mezcal, joven or reposado offer the truest agave flavor.
- Read reviews and ask bartenders for recommendations.
- Expect to pay more for quality – Prices around $50-60+ per bottle.
- Consider smaller batch brands – For a more artisanal product.
Drinking better tequila and mezcal straight or in cocktails allows you to fully appreciate the complex flavors of Mexico’s iconic agave spirits.
While tequila, mezcal and other Mexican spirits can be enjoyed responsibly, it’s important to keep in mind:
- They have high alcohol content, so pace yourself.
- Drink water between rounds to stay hydrated.
- Eat before and while drinking to slow absorption.
- Know your limits and don’t feel pressured to overindulge.
- Always have a safe ride home planned, whether taxi, rideshare or transit.
- Underage drinking can be extremely dangerous.
Following basic precautions allows you to enjoy Mexico’s fine liquors safely and responsibly.
Mexico has a storied distilling culture rooted in pre-Hispanic traditions. The iconic agave spirits of tequila and mezcal are now garnering worldwide acclaim. Yet the country offers a diverse array of distinctive liquors beyond the big two, from smoky sotol to coffee-laced Kahlúa. Savoring high-quality tequila, mezcal and beyond is a journey into authentic Mexican flair. Just remember to drink in moderation and stay alert to your personal limits.