Mezcal has exploded in popularity in recent years, going from an obscure regional spirit to a trendy must-have for bars and spirit aficionados across the globe. As interest has grown, so too has the availability of high-quality, traditionally-made artisanal mezcal from small producers in Mexico. For visitors to Mexico City seeking the best bottles from local mezcaleros, the city offers a wealth of mezcal purveyors, bottle shops, bars and restaurants to find that perfect hand-crafted agave spirit.
What is mezcal?
Mezcal is a distilled alcoholic spirit made from the cooked and fermented hearts of certain agave plants native to Mexico. It carries a distinct smoky flavor from roasting the agave in underground pit ovens, and can be made from a variety of different agave species such as espadín, tobalá, tepeztate and more. While mezcal shares similarities with tequila, as both are made from agave, tequila can only be made from the blue weber agave in certain regions of Jalisco, while mezcal has no such restrictions on agave type or production regions. Much mezcal is still handcrafted through labor-intensive traditional methods, unlike mass-produced tequila.
Why artisanal mezcal?
Industrial mezcal made for mass consumption often uses chemicals and synthetic yeasts to speed production, stripping away complex flavors. In contrast, traditionally-made artisanal mezcal relies on ancestral production methods, like wood-fire pit roasting, tahona crushing with stone mills, fermenting with natural yeasts and distilling in copper alembics. This intricate process imbues mezcal with distinct terroir reflecting the local climate, soil, elevation, agave subspecies and water of the region. Seeking out these artisanal mezcals allows drinkers to experience the huge diversity of flavors across different mezcal-producing regions.
Where to buy artisanal mezcal in Mexico City
Specialized mezcal stores are the best places to discover new artisanal brands and sample a range of small-batch mezcals. Knowledgeable staff can offer guidance through the dizzying variety available. Recommended Mexico City mezcal shops include:
- La Mezcalería: With locations downtown and in Polanco, La Mezcalería stocks over 350 mezcals from small producers across Mexico. Their staff are extremely knowledgeable about the nuances of different mezcals.
- Bósforo: This chic mezcaleria in Juárez focuses on traditionally-made mezcal and Mexican spirits. They frequently host in-store tastings with mezcal makers.
- La Botica: Specializing in agave spirits, La Botica offers over 100 mezcals, many from hyper-local micro-producers. It’s located in hip Roma Norte.
- El Depósito: Situated downtown near the Zócalo, El Depósito has been Mexico City’s premier mezcal retailer for over a decade with rare finds.
Organic & artisanal markets
Mexico City’s vibrant local markets aimed at organic and artisanal products often have mezcal offerings worth perusing. Try mezcal stands at:
- Mercado Roma: Every Sunday this trendy market in Roma hosts various mezcal vendors alongside food stalls and more.
- Mercado de Mezcal: Occurring monthly, this nomadic mezcal market features tastings and bottles from producers across Mexico.
- Mercado de Trueque: With a focus on sustainably-made Mexican products, this Saturday Polanco market has mezcal for sale.
Mezcal-focused bars & restaurants
To taste mezcal cocktails and flight selections, don’t miss these top bar and dining spots:
- Licorería Limantour: Voted one of the World’s 50 Best Bars, Limantour’s cocktail menu artfully incorporates diverse mezcals.
- Baltra: Found in Condesa, Baltra Bar has over 150 mezcal varieties to sample neat or in cocktails.
- Amaya: With locations across the city, Amaya excels at pairing innovative Mexican fare with a vast mezcal selection.
- Pujol: Widely regarded as Mexico’s best restaurant, Pujol’s Omakase tasting menu includes artisanal mezcal pairings.
For a deep dive into Mexico’s artisanal mezcal, sign up for tasting classes such as:
- Mezcalent: This mezcal school offers immersive classes and tastings exploring traditional production.
- La Cata: Learn about agave cultivation, mezcal regions and more at these regular tastings.
- Raíz Mezcal Lab: Their tasting workshops cover mezcal culture, production methods and sampling rare bottles.
Mezcal-producing regions near Mexico City
You can also travel from Mexico City to mezcal’s source at distilleries and towns in nearby mezcal-making regions like:
- Tlacolula, Oaxaca: Just 2 hours from Mexico City, Tlacolula has famous Sunday mezcal markets.
- Santiago Matatlán, Oaxaca: Called ‘world mezcal capital’, producers here specialize in espadín.
- Guanajuato: With a 200-year mezcal history, towns like Jerez have famous producers.
What to look for when buying quality artisanal mezcal
When searching for the very best artisanal mezcals in Mexico City, here are some tips on what to look for:
- Small batch varieties: Mezcals made in small batches often receive the most care and attention.
- Single village producers: Mezcal highlighting a single town allows you to taste that region’s uniqueness.
- Types of agave: Espadín is common but try less widespread types like tobalá, tepeztate, arroqueño or wild agave varietals.
- Clay vs. copper distillation: Mezcal distilled in clay pots develops earthier flavors.
- Literage & ABV percentage: Lower liters per agave ratios mean more flavor, while higher ABV delivers more aroma.
- NOM certification: An authorized Denomination of Origin label signifies traditional production.
- Organic certification: Many artisanal mezcals avoid synthetic additives by being certified organic.
What makes some mezcals so expensive?
While you can find good artisanal mezcals starting around $50-60 USD in Mexico City, certain extra añejo (aged) varieties can fetch over $500 a bottle. What accounts for these high prices?
- Rarity – Mezcals using wild agave types like tobalá, tepeztate or jabalí are much less common.
- Production difficulty – Tobalá grows underground, making harvesting its piñas labor-intensive.
- Yields – On average, a single wild agave takes 8-10 years to mature and produces enough for only 2-3 bottles.
- Distillation method – Clay vs copper pot distilling significantly impacts flavor.
- Aging time – Extra añejo mezcals aged 12+ years in wood are far more scarce.
So while these pricy collector’s items may seem out of reach, remember you can find amazing artisanal mezcal for far less from the small traditional producers that give mezcal its magic.
Key things to know when drinking mezcal
Once you’ve selected the perfect artisanal mezcal, here are some tips for properly drinking and appreciating it:
- Sip slowly – Take small sips to fully experience the range of flavors and aromas.
- Drink neat – Try mezcal without ice or mixers first to appreciate the distiller’s work.
- Pair with orange slices & sal de gusano – The citrus and saline worm salt complement mezcal’s smokiness.
- Select optimal glassware – Clay copitas or tapered glass are ideal for capturing aroma.
- Add water drops if needed – A few drops of water can open up some smokier mezcals.
- Consider production style – Clay vs copper distillation impacts taste; see if you can spot the differences.
Mezcal cocktails worth trying
While best appreciated neat, mezcal also shines in these classic cocktails:
- Oaxaca Old Fashioned – Mezcal, tequila, agave, bitters
- Mezcal Negroni – Mezcal, sweet vermouth, Campari
- Naked and Famous – Mezcal, Aperol, yellow chartreuse, lime
- Mezcal Mule – Mezcal, ginger beer, lime juice
Mexico City offers an abundance of places to sample and buy traditionally-crafted artisanal mezcal from gifted mezcaleros around Mexico. Seek out specialized mezcal shops, markets, bars and tastings for access to small-batch bottles made with love using ancestral production methods. While aging, distillation technique and agave variety impact pricing, even affordably-priced mezcals showcase amazing range and terroir. Drink good mezcal slowly and appreciatively, delighting in the complex fruits of Mexico’s diverse agave spirits tradition.