Tequila and its smoky sibling, mezcal, make delicious mixed drinks with a sophisticated and distinct flavor profile. Their slow burn is suited to darker days and cozy nights at home.
Mezcal and tequila are made from the heat-loving succulent plant, agave. In fact, any agave-based booze can be called "mezcal" while tequila has to be produced from the blue agave plant (Agave tequilana, if you want to get fancy) and is made only in certain regions of Mexico. The distilling process is also different for each. Tequila is made by steaming the core of the plant and then distilling the liquor in copper pots while mezcal is traditionally baked underground in pits lined with lava rocks and stoked with wood and charcoal—hence the smoky flavor—before being distilled in clay pots.
Both spirits have become the darlings of "mixologists" at swanky bars who create exotic concoctions by adding esoteric ingredients such as orgeat, an almond and rosewater syrup, and mole bitters. Sipping complicated drinks is fun—when someone else is making them for you. We've come up with four cocktails that use items you can pull from your home bar or at least find at the neighborhood liquor store.
If you can get your hands on an artisanal "anejo" (the designation given to both liquors after they have been aged for a number of years in oak barrels), do yourself and favor and just sip it, no lime, no salt. Enjoy as you would a premium Scotch, prerferably sitting by a fire, wrapped in cashmere, reading love poetry.
To make mixed drinks, start with a "blanco" (the youngest designation, with the cleanest flavor) or "reposado" (the amber-hued middle child, also aged in oak but briefly) tequila. Some decent budget brands to look for are: Cimarron, Espolon, Milagro, or El Jimador. Because of its strong flavor, mezcal can overpower the other ingredients in a cocktail but we've included one recipe that results in a luscious, balanced drink with a sultry, deep ruby color.
A mezcal negroni is a smoky twist on a classic bitter Italian cocktail.Instagram @negroni_official
A richly flavored variation of everybody's favorite Italian sensation.
- 1 part Campari
- 1 part sweet vermouth (preferably a full flavored brand such as Punt e Mes)
- 1 part smoky mezcal (Del Maguey and Mezcal Alipús are excellent, affordable brands)
- Wide peel of orange (avoid the pith) for garnish
Stir ingredients with cracked ice to chill and serve on the rocks. Squeeze peel over the cocktail to release the flavorful oil and add to glass.
- South-of-the-border spin on a retro classic.
- 2 parts tequila
- 1 part lemon juice
- ½ part agave syrup (or simple syrup)
- Splash of soda water
- Slice of lemon to garnish
Shake first three ingredients in cocktail shaker (or Mason jar) with lots of ice. Strain into a Collins (tall, narrow) glass over ice. Top with soda water and garnish with lemon.
Kahlua + tequila make the perfect combo for a nightcap. Instagram @kahlua
It doesn't get much easier than this two-ingredient cocktail inspired by a 1951 action flick, The Brave Bulls.
- 2 parts tequila blanco
- 1 part Kahlua liquor
- Lemon twist
Stir over ice in an old fashioned glass. Garnish with lemon twist.
Just what the doctor ordered for flu season.
- 1 part honey
- 3 parts boiling water
- Cinnamon stick (one per drink)
- 2 parts tequila reposado
- 1 part fresh lemon juice
Stir honey and water in a mug with cinnamon stick until incorporated. Stir in tequila and lemon. Tweak the ratios to taste.