The sacred Mexican beverage known as mezcal is a distilled alcoholic drink made from the agave plant. The word mezcal comes from the indigenous language Nahuatl and means “cooked agave.”
According to legend, mezcal was created by a lightning bolt striking an agave plant, cooking it and releasing its distilled juices for people to drink. This is the reason mezcal is often referred to as the “elixir of the gods.”
The agave plant is native to Mexico and can be found throughout the country. Agave is used to make many popular drinks in Mexico, including mezcal’s more popular cousin, tequila. The two come from the same plant, but tequila is specifically made from the blue agave strain in select parts of Mexico.
Oaxaca is the main producer of mezcal, but it is also produced in Durango, Guanajuato, Guerrero, San Luis Potosí, Tamaulipas, Zacatecas and Michoacán.
Researchers are still debating whether mezcal existed before the Spanish conquest. There is no proof that distilled drinks, such as mezcal, were produced before the arrival of the Spaniards. There are however, accounts of the Mexican fermented drink pulque, which is also made from the agave plant. Experts suggest that the conquistadors brought with them the distillation process and experimented with agave, resulting in what is now today one of Mexico’s most-loved tonics.
Mezcal tends to have more of a smoky, woody flavor when compared to tequila. It gets its smokey flavor from its distillation process, in which the agave is placed in a pit with hot coals. Mezcal is typically consumed straight, sipped slowly instead of chugged all at once, so that its complex combination of flavors can be better enjoyed. Usually, it is served with orange slices and sal de gusano (salt with ground up agave worm larvae) on the side. As many know, worm larvae can also be used in the distillation process, but few know that chicken breast is sometimes also added to some mezcals to give them a special flavor.
There are five types of mezcal based on their aging time: joven, blanco, reposado, añejo and dorado. Joven (young) is only aged for a few months, blanco (white) is clear and is aged for up to two months, reposado (slightly aged) is aged for two to nine moths in wooden barrels and añejo (aged) is aged for more that a year. Dorado (golden) mezcal refers to any white mezcal that contains artificial color.
Mezcal is also categorized by they type of agave used to make it. There are several different mezcals based on agave strains. The five most used are: espadín, tobalá, tobaziche, tepeztate and arroqueño. Most mezcal is made from the espadín agave, which can be grown in many areas. Because of this, its flavor varies vastly. Tobalá is usually used in more expensive mezcal because of its rarity and can only be grown in shady or rocky areas. It is pollenated by bird and bats instead of spreading its seeds. Tobaziche has an herbal, savory flavor and is grown throughout Mexico. Tepeztate mezcal is very rare because the plante take at least 30 years to mature and has a more intense flavor. The arroqueño agave makes for a floral and spicy flavor.
Nicole and Guillermo took on the challenge of seeing what Mexico City has to offer in regards to the elixir of the gods.
La Nacional $$
Orizaba 161, Roma Norte
Nicole: 🍺🍺🍺🍺 Although this mezcalería does not make their own mezcal, they offer a wide variety of options, ranging from an inexpensive 60 pesos to 150 pesos. The venue doesn’t feel like most other mezcalerías or bars in the area, which tend to be more upscale. Instead, it has more of a cantina vibe. We had two affordable mezcals. They were served with orange juice, carrots, jicama and sal de gusano. The white Kundee mezcal, named after the Zacateca word for “staying in the same place,” was much smoother than the joven Tlacololero mezcal.
Guillermo: 🍺🍺🍺 Located in the hip Roma Norte neighborhood, La Nacional is one of the most popular spots in the area to have a mezcal. Even though we arrived pretty early and the staff hadn’t even set the tables yet, they were kind enough to let us in and serve us right away. We ordered two mezcals. One was called Kundee and was from Zacatecas. It was a white mezcal with clean and strong flavor. The other one was called Tlacololero. We were very surprised when we saw that its bottle contained a wasp. It was slightly more palatable than the former. We also had some delicious and very affordable cheese and chicharrón gorditas, filled with cream and lettuce.
Aguascalientes 232, corner of Alfonso Reyes, Condesa
Nicole: 🍺🍺 Alipús is located in the affluent Condesa neighborhood. It features colorful décor and produces many of its own mezcals. One of the mezcals that we tried was called Michoacán, after the state it was made in. Its distillation process includes the use of agave chino, which is then cooked in an underground stone oven with red oak wood. It is then mashed in a mechanical mill, fermented naturally and twice-distilled in a copper still. The San Luis mezcal that we tried is made from Espadín agave in Oaxaca. The distillation process is very similar, but the agave is ground up using a mule-powered mill and it is fermented in pine barrels.
Guillermo: 🍺🍺🍺 Alipús is part of a project of the Los Danzantes distillery, one of the most famous mezcal producers of Oaxaca. Its aim is to produce and market handcrafted mezcal in order to support Oaxaca’s rural economy. They specialize in joven mezcals. The place is decorated in a way that reminds you of traditional Oaxaca eateries. Being in the Condesa neighborhood, the prices aren’t exactly cheap. We had the Michoacán mezcal, which like almost all white mezcals, was strongly flavored. We also had the San Luis mezcal, which had a more nuanced and smoky taste.
El Mexicano $$$
Tokio 52, Cuauhtémoc, Colonia Juárez
Nicole: 🍺🍺 I was very confused by the style of the locale. It wants to be a sports bar, a mezcalería, and a fancy restaurant all at the same time. But really, it’s mostly filled with old businessmen. Despite appearances, it was the only place that taught us how to properly smell mezcal. The waiter was very knowledgeable and helpful. He explained to us that a drop of mezcal should be rubbed onto the back of the hand, letting it dry. Then, the different notes and aromas of the alcohol can be more easily discerned. We didn’t believe him at first, but after taking his suggestion, we found that there was a huge difference in smelling the liquid alcohol and its vapors. We tried Don Chuy Auténtico Reposado, which was a darker alcohol that smelled and tasted sweet. The M de Mezcal joven mezcal on the other hand, smelled and tasted smokier and spicier. Both were served with oranges and sal de gusano.
Guillermo: 🍺🍺 Initially, I thought the place was going to be much more expensive than it turned out to be, because it looked like a sports bar and the decorations were somewhat fancy. We had the Don Chuy Auténtico Reposado and the M de Mezcal joven. The Don Chuy is a mezcal that is naturally fermented with wild yeast and then aged in wine barrels for a year, which gives it a very recognizable sweet and mild flavor. The M de Mezcal is a twice-distilled joven mezcal made in Oaxaca, with a much sharper alcohol flavor, but with smoky and herbal notes. The service was very good and the waiter was kind.
Mano Santa $$
Av. Insurgentes Sur 219 D, Cuauhtémoc, Roma Nte.
Nicole: 🍺🍺🍺🍺 Mano Santa is a relatively new addition to the bar scene along Insurgentes. The interior is a roomy, industrial, warehouse-style space with only three long tables and a bar. These seating arrangements are intended to create a more communal experience by encouraging people to share tables with strangers. The ambiance is also complemented by the dim lighting, which was mostly provided by the candles set at each table. Aside from the interesting environment, Mano Santa also produces its own house mezcals. We tried a reposado and an añejo, which were both of the Espadín variety. The mezcals were served without any accompaniments. Using our new technique, we determined that the reposado had a more woody aroma than the añejo.
Guillermo: 🍺🍺🍺🍺 The Mano Santa mezcalería can be found right in front of the iconic Pulques Insurgentes pulquería. It is a small but trendy establishment with a minimalistic appearance. The menu offers an ample selection of mezcals from Oaxaca, as well as plenty of snack options and mezcal-based cocktails. We had the Reposado Espadín and the Añejo Espadín, both produced in Santiago Matatlán, Oaxaca. Both mezcals were stronger than I expected for reposado and añejo. We accompanied the mezcal with guacamole.
La Botica $
Isabel la Católica 30, Centro
Nicole: 🍺🍺🍺 La Botica is uniquely found inside of a larger restaurant plaza. To arrive you must wade through a mess of other restaurants, interrupting other people’s dining experiences to arrive at the balcony location. Once there, you will find yourself in a place much unlike the surrounding locales. While the other places have a fine-dining look, La Botica feels more comfortable and humble. The venue overlooks Mexico City’s beautiful Historic Center and the bar front is filled with Happy Meal toys, giving it a young and hip air. Our mezcals were accompanied by dried fava beans.
Guillermo: 🍺🍺 Half-hidden in a small corner of the Palacio de los Condes de Miravalle restaurant and store complex in the Historic Center, La Botica is a cozy lil’ bar which has an atmosphere not unlike a cantina of the days of old. It features tin tables and chairs and the menu was handwritten on an old piece of cardboard. Prices were surprisingly reasonable, given the appearance of the other restaurants in the same building. It was the cheapest place we visited, with prices starting at 50 pesos. The most expensive drink was around 85 pesos. We drank El Chino and Madre Cuishe. Both were white mezcals, which usually are stronger than their more aged counterparts. El Chino had a smoky scent, while the Madre Cuishe smelled almost like herbs.
Mezcalería Bar Sirenas $
Claudio Bernard 180, Doctores
Nicole: 🍺🍺🍺🍺 The Mezcalería Bar Sirenas is a rather new establishment in the Doctores neighborhood, with just two and a half months in business. They were kind enough to invite us to come check out the place for our article. The bar offers food as well as alcohol, serving Oaxacan cuisine. All of the mezcal is also from Oaxaca. We tried a Bruxo espadín, which had a woody flavor and scent; and an Hijo del Santo espadín, which had a more smokey aroma. The overall layout of the bar is very spacious and inviting, with room to dance.
Guillermo: 🍺🍺🍺🍺 The Mezcalería Bar Sirenas’ decoration reminds one of an old-school “salón de baile,” including a small dance floor and a jukebox. It is located in the Doctores neighborhood, near metro Cuauhtémoc. We were treated to various mezcals and delicious Oaxacan dishes. We had three different mezcals, all of the “joven” variety: Bruxo, Hijo del Santo and Pelotón de la Muerte. The latter was considerably stronger than the first two, but also tastier, with a subtle smoky tang. We ate a tlayuda with tasajo, Oaxacan memelas and quesadillas with epazote. The place offers several special offers. When we were there, there was one featuring a Bruxo mezcal and a beer for just 50 pesos.
$- Less than 60 pesos
$$- 60-70 pesos
$$$- 70-80 pesos
$$$$- 80-90 pesos
$$$$$- Over 90 pesos
Guillermo and Nicole came up the idea of sampling Mexico City’s food joints because they wanted to offer readers a different perspective on Mexican food. Guillermo is a Mexico City transplant from Veracruz, and gives a Mexican point of view on food. Nicole is a Seattle native, recently arrived to one of the biggest metropolis in the world, and is happy to enjoy the many different dishes that the country has to offer, giving her unique point of view. Both enjoy stuffing themselves until the point of passing out, trying new things and experiencing local food and culture.
Join us next month when we gorge ourselves on quesadillas!