Most mezcals never leave Mexico, and many never make it out of Oaxaca. To taste the best, you have to go to the source: the booming mezcal bars of Oaxaca City.
Here, expert Max Garrone (of Mezcalistas) helps you find the right match.
For the aficionado . . .
It’s a little funky and doesn’t seat more than 15, but In Situ is a pilgrimage site for any mezcal fan. Owners Sandra Ortiz Brena and Ulises Torrentera’s approach to mezcal is poetic, even spiritual. insitumezcaleria.com
For a crash course . . .
With a dark-wood bar and green-glass reading lamps, Mezcaloteca looks like a bar-meets-library. Which is exactly what’s intended. Bottles are tidily labeled with agave type and production details, and bartenders speak perfect English, so it’s easy to learn as you sip. Make a reservation for a seat at the bar. mezcaloteca.com
For a scene . . .
Lively newcomer Mezcalogía pours mezcal made by owner Asis Cortés himself, as well as many others. Straight sips are fine, but Bobby Baker, a bartender recruited from San Francisco, also mixes them with twists of local fruit, bits of exotic herbs, even insects, for the full-on cocktail treatment. @MezcalogíaOficial
How to order a good mezcalAsk: ¿Podría tomar un sorbo de tobalá?
Translation: Could I have a sip of tobalá?
Why:Tobalá is a type of agave that traditionally grew wild in Oaxaca. These days, it’s pretty rare and a totally different taste from any other mezcal you’ll try.
Ask: ¿Puedes darme una muestra de su espadín favorito de Oaxaca?
Translation: Can you give me a taste of your favorite espadín from Oaxaca?
Why: This type of agave is so common, some people think it’s boring. But mezcal types know it can yield wildly different flavors, and they’ll always pour you something interesting.
>>Next: The Surprising Stories Behind Your Favorite Tequilas