The Oaxacan Guide to Mezcal (Plus 2 Cocktail Recipes)

Our go-to cocktail writer, Elliott Clark, recently took a trip to Mexico to learn about Mezcal and picked up a couple recipes along the way
July 9, 2019Words by Elliot ClarkPhotos by Elliot Clark

Mezcal is a very complex spirit, one as amazing and diverse as the culture it derives from. If you’re already familiar with the spirit, I thought I was too. But after taking a visit to the Mexican state of Oaxaca with Banhez Mezcal, I realized how deep the rabbit hole actually goes—and how little I knew.

Banhez Mezcal

Agave in Oaxaca

If you’re new to the mezcal party, welcome.

Mezcal, like tequila, is an agave-based spirit that’s been produced in Mexico for hundreds of years. The thing is, tequila is actually a type of mezcal. By law, tequila can only be produced from Blue Agave. Mezcal, on the other hand, can be made from a variety of agave. We most commonly drink mezcal made from the Espadin agave, but there’s a lot more out there.

Mezcal is usually characterized as having a strong, smoky flavor due to the very artisanal production process. Once the agave reach maturity, they’re harvested and cut down to the heart of the plant, the piña. The piñas are then placed in an underground earthen pit, cooked for a few days, dug up, crushed with a stone wheel (called a tahona), fermented, distilled, and imbibed (the best part).

The easiest way is to substitute tequila for mezcal in classic drinks like a margarita or Paloma.

Tasting through different varietals of agave is where it gets nerdy. Not all mezcal is smoky. Some are earthy. Others fruity, sweet and funky. Agave plants mature at different rates. Some take five years; others take 25 years. Like a fine wine, everything from where it’s grown to the soil it’s grown in matters and contributes to the overall flavor profile of the final liquid.

While it’s most commonly sipped neat, mezcal is also great for cocktails. The easiest way is to substitute tequila for mezcal in classic drinks like a margarita or Paloma. Or, because it’s summer and you deserve a drink, here are two seasonal appropriate mezcal cocktails for you to try. The first one is sweet and citrusy with just the right amount of smoke to balance it out. 

Rhubarb Mezcal Sour Recipe

Rhubarb Mezcal Sour Recipe


• 2 oz Mezcal (we used Bahnez Barril + Espadin)

• 1 oz fresh lime juice

• 3/4 oz rhubarb syrup


Combine all ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake to chill the cocktail, and double strain the drink into a coupe glass. Garnish with a lime wheel.

Rhubarb Oaxacan Old Fashioned Recipe

Rhubarb Oaxacan Old Fashioned Recipe


• 1 oz Mezcal (we used Bahnez Barril + Espadin)

• 1 oz reposado tequila

• 1/4 oz rhubarb syrup

• Dash of orange bitters


Combine all ingredients into a mixing glass with ice. Using a bar spoon, stir to chill the cocktail. Strain the drink into a rocks glass over ice. Garnish with an orange peel.

Rhubarb Syrup Recipe:

In a medium pot, combine 1 cup of water, and rhubarb cut into smaller pieces. Warm on medium heat until it comes up to a simmer, and cook until the rhubarb has broken apart, about 15-20 min. Turn the heat down, then add in 1 cup of sugar, and gently stir to dissolve. Set aside to cool and then drain the rhubarb through a fine mesh strainer and reserve the syrup. Store in a glass jar in the refrigerator up to one week.

Banhez Mezcal

Oaxacan Agave

>>Next: A Tiki-inspired Recipe From Puerto Rico’s Cocktail King


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