If you’re drinking mezcal the same way you drank tequila when you were 22 years old—downing shots of it with a Sprite chaser—you’re most definitely drinking mezcal wrong. But that’s not the only mistake you could be making. Here are five mezcal missteps, and tips on how to correct them. Once you start drinking mezcal the right way, we assure you that you’ll enjoy drinking the spirit even more than you already did.
Mistake: Drinking Mezcal Like a Tequila Shot
If you’re shooting your mezcal like you would tequila, for the love of all things holy, please stop. Despite the fact that both spirits are distilled from the agave plant, mezcal and tequila are very different. Mezcal, no matter the brand or style in which it is made, is always meant to be sipped slow and savored.
Mistake: Sipping Mezcal Alone
While you should skip the salt and limes, mezcal is best with food. The smoky-savory Mexican spirit is traditionally accompanied by slices of orange, grapefruit or guava, along with sal de gusano—salt mixed with ground chiles and dried, ground larvae that live in the agave plants. While it sounds strange, we assure you that it is an incredible pairing. Straight mezcal also works wonderfully with a variety of foods, especially stewed or barbecued meat, and rich, heavy sauces like mole.
Mistake: Serving Mezcal in a Shot Glass
If you want to drink your mezcal like they do in Mexico—or in any traditional bar that’s well-stocked in agave spirits—you serve the spirit in copitas (shallow clay cups). It is also common for mezcal to be served in vaso veladora, small glasses commonly used by the Catholic church to hold candles. If you don’t want to buy either for your home, you can also serve your mezcal in a standard rocks glass.
Mistake: Serving Mezcal Chilled
Mezcal is best sipped at room temperature. Like most American whiskeys (especially bourbon), mezcal contains a lot of natural congeners. These compounds are essentially what give the spirit its flavor, and chilling dulls these compounds. So never keep your mezcal in the freezer or fridge, and leave the ice behind unless you’re using mezcal in a cocktail. And speaking of mezcal cocktails…
Mistake: Using Mezcal in Tequila Cocktails Only
Mezcals are not limited to being a tequila substitute in cocktails. While the spirit is an absolute stunner in a Margarita or a Paloma, it also works equally well as a substitute for both gin and scotch. The next time you mix yourself a Negroni, make it with a measure of your favorite mezcal in lieu of gin, or even try making up a Martini with mezcal. The savoriness and herbaceousness common in mezcal is the perfect replacement for the piney notes found in most gins. As a scotch replacement, opt for smokier mezcals like La Niña Del Mezcal or El Buho.