Mezcal Rising

Tequila's country cousin hits the top shelf


Let's get the worm out of the way. That curled specimen at the bottom of some mezcal bottles -- those marked con gusano -- is in fact the larvae of a moth that clings to the agave plant; it's harvested, purposefully, along with the leaves themselves. Depending on who's talking, the worm is an aphrodisiac or a dare, a marketing gimmick or a mark of tradition -- but any way you slice it, it's perfectly pickled, and will do no more harm than the liquor itself.

Once seen as tequila's rough-and-tumble brother (both spirits are derived from fermented agave juice, though the specifics of tequila production are controlled by law), mezcal has started to emerge from the shallows. Tequila shrines from coast to coast, including LA's Las Perlas (run by cocktail king Cedd Moses) and NYC's Cabrito, have stocked the shelves with smoky, slate-y specimens, handmade with care -- and without worms -- in Oaxaca.


Mezcals for your top shelf

Sombra Mezcal
A finalist in the 2010 Ultimate Spirits Challenge in New York,  Sombra mezcal -- a micro-batch, organically-farmed spirit from Oaxaca -- scored 95 points ("Extraordinary; ultimate recommendation") for its clean, spicy flavor profile with hints of citrus in the smoke.

Del Maguey Tobala Mezcal
Tobala took 94 points ("Excellent, Highly Recommended") in the spirits challenge, and is prized by mezcal fanatics for its rarity (it's distilled from a wild mountain maguey plant) and its complex notes of fruit and smokey cinnamon.

Los Amantes Mezcal Reposado
Straight from the hills of Oaxaca, this Los Amantes mezcal is aged in new California oak, and bears notes of smoke reminiscent of single malt scotch.

Mentioned in this article


  • Snooth User: Chris Carpita
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    33093 5,546

    Can't say I appreciate the aphrodisiac qualities of worms, but a few margaritas might do the trick. Nice write-up, if you or anyone knows of any good mezcal bars in NYC please let me know!

    Jun 10, 2010 at 10:18 AM

  • Snooth User: Carly Wray
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    196958 864

    Cabrito has a great mezcal list (, as does La Palapa ( -- they have the Del Maguey Tobala, which is awesome.

    Jun 10, 2010 at 10:42 AM

  • Snooth User: samantha gaw
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    356700 354

    Mayahuel ( in the East Village is an intimate little agave-spirit-focused speakeasy.

    Jun 10, 2010 at 11:34 AM

  • Snooth User: Wyatt P
    76385 1

    Are we really still having this same conversation? Perhaps try a Google search before writing about a subject. Fallacy #1: mezcal is not "tequila's rough-and-tumble brother"--it is the mother of tequila. Anytime an agave-based distillate is made in the republic of Mexico, it is called mezcal. Hence, all tequilas are mezcal--this is a fact. Tequila was once called Vino de Mezcal de la Region de Tequila. Think Cognac and brandy.

    Regarding fallacy #2: "though the specifics of tequila production are controlled by law" mezcal is actually controlled by stricter laws than tequila. In fact, tequila, by law, only has to be 51% agave, unlike mezcal, which has to be 100%. Moreover, production methods for great, single-village mezcals (like those of Del Maguey) have remained unchanged for centuries--some of which pre-date the Spanish arrival.

    These authentic mezcals are among the most complex and ethereal distillates on earth; they are 100% pure, organic and unadulterated-made the same way by the indigenous people of Oaxaca for more than 400 years.

    Devotees include José Andrés, Steven Olson, Jimmy Yeager and Rajat Parr. For an education, see Phil Ward, Mayahuel (NYC), Raul Yrastorza, Las Perlas (LA), Lucas Paya, Bazaar (Beverly Hills), H. Joseph Ehrmann, Elixir (SF), or any of the best barmen in London, Paris or any other city in the world.

    Jun 22, 2010 at 11:54 AM

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