I'll be honest: My agave spirit of choice is tequila. But you can only drink so many margaritas, and sometimes I want to mix things up. When tequila feels a little bland I turn to mezcal, tequila's smoky cousin. Mezcal is hot right now, but its peaty flavor can be a little intimidating to the uninitiated. Whether you're a mezcal novice or it's your favorite spirit, you'll find the perfect recipe for you in our collection of our 15 favorite mezcal cocktails, from a frozen Paloma and a smoky bloody Mary to a tobacco-scented sipper made with Cynar and sherry.
Just looking to learn more about the spirit? Check out our guide to mezcal for a deep dive.
Frozen Mezcal Palomas
Move over, margarita—there's a new frozen cocktail in town. While a traditional Paloma is made with grapefruit soda, this recipe combines mezcal with freshly squeezed pink grapefruit juice, plus lime juice, honey, and a pinch of salt. The salt helps bring out the savory flavors of the liquor, while the grapefruit adds a floral sweetness and just a little bitterness for balance.
Paloma Point (Mezcal Negroni With Grapefruit)
Drawing from the best elements of a Paloma and a Negroni, this recipe pairs mezcal and grapefruit juice with Punt e Mes and Campari to make a refreshingly bitter highball. A few ounces of club soda keep the rosy-red cocktail light enough for a hot summer day.
Sierra Madre Sunrise
Here we start with Del Maguey Vida, a solid mixing mezcal that's assertive but not overly aggressive. We mix in bittersweet Aperol and tart lemon juice, and from there it's a little bit of a choose-your-own-adventure situation—finish with Angostura bitters for a spicy-earthy-cinnamony flavor or use chocolate bitters to play up the Aperol's orangey side.
El Derby Ahumado (Basil Julep With Cucumber, Jalapeño, and Mezcal)
Loosely inspired by a mint julep, this recipe swaps the bourbon for mezcal and the mint for basil. We sweeten the cocktail with agave syrup and add cucumber and jalapeño to give it a savory edge. Like a classic julep, we like to serve the drink in a metal cup with tons of crushed ice.
Basil Cranberry Julep
Another not-so-traditional julep, this recipe keeps the mezcal and basil from our last recipe but adds a tart cranberry syrup made with 100% pure, unsweetened cranberry juice. The sweet-tart syrup balances the smoky mezcal nicely, making this a good choice for folks new to the spirit.
Mezcal Mary With Roasted Jalapeño and Bacon
Another classic drink given the mezcal treatment, this bloody Mary variation is made with tomato and lime juice and a roasted jalapeño purée. Roasting the peppers and serving the drink with a bacon swizzle stick bring out the mezcal's smoky side. Serve each drink in a glass rimmed with chili powder for an extra dose of heat.
Martini Oaxaqueño (Mezcal Dirty Martini With Castelvetrano Olives)
This unusual cocktail is part martini, part margarita, and all delicious. The margarita side of the drink comes from mezcal and Mandarine Napoléon (or Cointreau if that's what you have on hand), while the martini side comes from Castelvetrano olive brine. We use Divina brand olive brine—if you use a different brand, start with less and add more to taste because salt levels can vary dramatically.
Marrakesh Express (Pomegranate Mezcal Cocktail With Harissa)
You don't need a bar stocked with exotic liqueurs and bitters to make a complex-tasting cocktail—this one turns to pantry ingredients like savory harissa and floral rosewater for the same result. To give the drink a foamy texture while keeping it vegan we shake in a splash of aquafaba, which is the magical liquid in a can of chickpeas.
Domo Arigato (Mezcal and Ginger Cocktail)
Keeping with ingredients that you'd expect to find on a plate rather than a glass, here we use a couple drops of sesame oil to give a nutty, savory note to a spicy cocktail made with mezcal, lime juice, and ginger juice. You really need to use fresh ginger juice here—if you don't have a juicer just muddle chopped ginger and press it through a fine-mesh strainer.
Jewel of Oaxaca
One more curveball here—ancho chili peppers and grilled mango sound like they would be the base of a salsa, but here we use them to make a sweet-and-earthy cocktail. Grilling the mango brings out its sweetness, helping to balance the intense mezcal. Don't worry about the drink being too spicy—the ancho chili peppers, which we make into a syrup, add more complexity than heat.
Sassy Flower (Hibiscus-Rosemary Mezcal Cocktail)
This cocktail is a boozy version of agua de jamaica, made by mixing mezcal with lime juice and a homemade hibiscus-rosemary syrup. To make the syrup we steep hibiscus tea bags (which should be easy to find at your local supermarket) with a rosemary sprig and mix in some sugar.
Last of the Oaxacans
The Last Word is a Prohibition-era cocktail made by mixing gin with tart lime juice, sweet maraschino liqueur, and vegetal Green Chartreuse. This variation simply swaps out the gin for mezcal and adds a slice of serrano pepper for a little kick. Want it even hotter? Try adding another slice of serrano or a dash of spicy bitters.
All Betts Are Off
We're not done with Chartreuse yet. This easy-drinking cocktail is made with Yellow Chartreuse, which is milder that the green version and has a honeyed sweetness. We mix the Chartreuse with Dolin Blanc Vermouth and mezcal in a 1:1:2 ratio and add in a few drops of grapefruit bitters, then serve with a grapefruit twist. This is another great choice for mezcal novices.
Looking for something a little more brooding? This intense sipper has a rich, almost meaty flavor thanks to tobacco-scented reposado or anejo mezcal, briny sherry, and vegetal Cynar. We also add a pinch of salt, plus a couple dashes of Peychaud's bitters to give the cocktail a slight anise aroma.
It's not exactly toddy season, but if you find yourself needing to warm up on a chilly summer night, try this mixture of smoky mezcal, Green Chartreuse, spicy ginger beer, mole bitters, and cinnamon. Rich, citrusy Mezcal Vago Elote works particularly well here.