If you’re an avid mezcal drinker, you are well aware of how expensive the spirit can be. What you probably didn’t know is why mezcal is so expensive. Not only is the price affected by how much of the spirit is made available in the United States (or the total volume of the spirit produced in a year), but it also depends on the rarity of the agave used to make it. If an agave plant takes 15-plus years to reach maturity and only 500 bottles of the liquid are produced a year, chances are it’s going to be expensive when it arrives stateside. While most bottles of mezcal are worth the steep price tag, others definitely don’t make the cut. After tasting our way through the top shelf, here are the six bottles of mezcal that are worth the hefty cost.
Produced by master mezcalero Don Valente Angel in San Andrés, Oaxaca, this ensamble (meaning blended) is composed of 80-percent espadín agave and 20-percent wild bicuishe agave. While the espadín lends a rich minerality, the bicuishe gives the spirit a beautiful brightness and florality. Starting with notes of limestone and wet stone, it opens up to reveal flavors of jasmine, honeysuckle, grapefruit, pineapple and whispers of sea salt air. With a velvety, subtly smoky finish, this mezcal makes for easy drinking.
Produced by Don Jose Emilio Vieyra Rangel and his son Emilio Vieyra in Pino Bonito, Michoacán, this bottling uses the rare inaequidens agave as its base. The liquid is placed in wooden vats buried in the earth and is fermented for up to two weeks with wild, indigenous yeast. It’s distilled on a Filipino alembic still that’s built into a pine tree. Layered and complex, with flavors that range from savory to floral to fruity, it’s an absolute stunner. On the palate, there are notes of roasted green chilies, lavender, manuka honey, kiwi and coconut. With flourishes of smoke on the finish, this spirit showcases how elegant and unusual mezcals can be.
Produced by master mezcalero Rómulo Sánchez Parada in Candelaria Yegolé, Oaxaca, the Rey Campero line is primarily made up of highly allocated, small batch bottlings distilled from wild agave. Similar in flavor to mezcals made with tobalá agave (the name Jabalí translates to wild boar, which might give you a sense of the plant’s spiny, razor sharp leaves), this is a gorgeous, earthy spirit that’s worth every penny. In the glass, the spirit shifts from soft minerality to overripe fruitiness. There’s limestone on the forefront. Then flavors of sage, Chinese five spice, white pepper, mango and overripe bananas come through. It’s a powerhouse of flavor.
If you can find this bottle of mezcal, don’t leave the liquor store without it. Made by Salomon Rey Rodriguez in the Sola de Vega region of Oaxaca, this bottling under the Mezcal Vago label solely uses wild, 17 to 18-year-old tobalá agave plants. With only 200 bottles produced a year, it’s a treasure to be cherished. After fermentation, the mash is distilled exclusively on handmade clay pots called olla de barro, hence the name. Lush and layered, the spirit’s palate ranges from earthy and rustic to silky and spiced. There are notes of clay, wet stone, wildflower honey, nutmeg, ginger and clove. As it finishes, it leaves touches of smoke, allspice and cinnamon on your tongue.
There’s only one store in the United States that sells this small batch mezcal, and you should buy it before it disappears forever. Made from 100-percent wild pulquero agave from San Jeronimo, this bottling under the Koch label is incredibly complex and funky. It’s more savory than the others on this list, and we found its unique flavor to be a welcome change. There are notes of Cheez-Its, cotija cheese, sagebrush and menthol. The spirit has a distinct rustic finish with a mouth-coating creaminess and a cooling menthol quality.
Even the most experienced agave drinker will have their mind blown by this extremely rare spirit. Produced by master mezcalero Ignacio Parada, this bottling under the El Jolgorio label uses only 100-percent wild tepeztate agave plants. The unicorn of the agave species, tepeztate plants take upwards of 25 years to reach maturity for harvest. Verdant and vivacious, this mezcal is sublime to drink. There are touches of bartlett pear, green bell pepper, honeysuckle, fresh tarragon, arugula and mint. As it finishes, there are notes of smoke and cooling eucalyptus. This is a mezcal that’s in a class of its own.