Mezcal—a smoky, roasted agave-based liquor—traditionally comes from the Mexican state of Oaxaca, and that’s still where the best stuff is found. And while interest in mezcal has grown in the United States with the emergence of celebrity brands like Dos Hombres (from Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston) and the nascent “Mezcali-fornia” movement, which has produced California renditions of mezcal, it’s not benefitting small mezcal producers.
“Most mezcals we love are very small-batch productions made in Oaxaca and hard to find elsewhere,” says Fausto Zapata, co-founder of El Silencio, a Mexican-American brand. But the coronavirus hit Mexico exceptionally hard, meaning it hit the mezcal industry hard. The tourism tumble has been devastating to small mezcal producers in Oaxaca.
This is where you enter the picture. Until you can make it to Mexico, you can stock your bar with small yet exceptional brands, helping you both savor and support the mezcal tradition. Customarily sipped neat, mezcal’s versatility has made it an increasingly popular stand-in for gin in a Negroni, whiskey in an old-fashioned, and tequila in a margarita. Your chance to make a difference is by making a cocktail.
The Best Small Mezcal Producers
1. Real Minero Espadín Largo
Traditional mezcal is distilled in clay pot stills and usually softened in glass for months before bottling. This one is a Fausto Zapata small-batch favorite.
2. El Silencio, Ensamble
This artisanal mezcal emphasizes heritage. “Opening a bottle of Silencio feels like taking a mini-trip to the agave fields of Oaxaca,” says co-founder Vicente Cisneros.
3. Lalocura Pechuga
The 15-year-old agave in Lalocura mezcal is cooked in an under-ground pit, mashed by hand with wooden mallets and fermented with open-air yeasts in cypress tanks.
4. Doña Vega Mezcal Espadín
Doused with praise from Oprah to Forbes, this mezcal brand was founded by and predominantly produced by women.
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