The idea of using mezcal in cocktails is a relatively new concept. In Mexico, where the spirit is made, it is most commonly consumed straight without any mixers, save for a side of orange slices and sal de gusano. Luckily, the spirit doesn’t have to be super expensive for it to be enjoyed solo. Here, the cheapest mezcals that can be sipped straight without any mixers or chasers to accompany them. None of these bottles costs more than $40.
Produced by Richard Betts, Dennis Scholl and winemaker Charles Bieler (of Three Thieves Winery), this mezcal is made from 100 percent organically farmed espadín agave. With a smoky backbone and strong minerality, Sombra also has notes of wild flowers, citrus and tropical fruit. Sip this mezcal straight with a side of fresh guava.
Although this mezcal was technically designed for use in cocktails, it’s still enjoyable on its own. Made from espadín agave sourced from throughout Oaxaca, Vida is double distilled in wood-fired copper stills. Exceptionally smooth without too much smokiness, it’s herbaceous, vegetal and mineral-heavy. Serve it in traditional copitas to bring out the flavors of wet stone and clay.
This mezcal is produced by Master Mezcalero Cutberto Santiago in the village of Santiago Matatlán in Oaxaca. Producers use a traditional tahona wheel to crush the roasted piñas, they then let the juice ferment in open-air wooden containers with the bagasso (cooked agave fibers) and natural yeast. There are notes of kiwi, roasted pineapple, white and green peppercorn, lime zest and green bell pepper. Served straight, it’s an exceptional accompaniment to food, especially spicy, sauce-heavy Mexican dishes like enchiladas or mole.
Produced by the Cortés family—one of the oldest mezcal making families in the Santiago Matatlán region of Oaxaca—Agave de Cortes puts out an excellent line of spirits. Their joven mezcal is no exception. Using 100 percent espadín agave, which is fermented and distilled using the traditional, artisanal methods, the unaged spirit is exceptionally lively in the glass. With whispers of smoke and a strong minerality, the mezcal opens to reveal a softer side. There’s notes of stone fruit, wildflower honey, citrus and cedar. Pair it with chile salt to showcase the bright peppery flavors on the finish.
This mezcal is an absolute stunner, especially for the price. Using only espadín agave that is biodynamically and organically farmed—and fermented with ambient yeast—it’s distilled on a copper Cognac-style still. This process yields a complex spirit that has layers of flavors. At the forefront, there are more rustic and earthy notes, then it reveals a plush texture and flavors of lime zest, black and white pepper, cinnamon and papaya.
Unlike the other mezcals on this list, Banhez uses more than one agave varietal to make their joven spirit. The producers use a mix of 90 percent seven-year-old espadín agave and 10 percent 12-year-old barril agave. While the espadín agave gives the spirit notes of limestone and a tequila-esque pepperiness, the barril lends a distinct funkiness and tropicalicality to the finish. There are notes of caramelized banana, overripe banana, mango and fermented pineapple. We like to serve it with tacos that are filled with barbecued meats—think grilled pork shoulder—or fruitier Mexican-styles of meat like al pastor or cochinita pibil.