Beyond Tequila: 10 Mexican-Inspired Cocktails

By Sarah Freeman  |  April 29, 2014

Whether it was that one bad night in college or just a few too many shots at the bar, many of us have unwarranted aversions to tequila. Here’s the good news: there’s more to love in the agave spirit family. For centuries, distillers in parts of Mexico have been turning the country's maguey and desert spoon plants into other spirits with the same rich body as tequila but with different flavor notes, from smoky to earthy. Here are 10 to try now.

  • Mezcal Old Fashioned at Ay Chiwawa

    One might think that a River North hot spot is the perfect place to be chugging margaritas. One would be wrong. Opt instead for this stirred cocktail made with Los Amantes reposado mezcal, Avion reposado tequila, orange bitters, Angostura bitters and agave nectar.

    311 W. Chicago Ave.; 312-643-3200

  • Surfer Rosa at The Dawson

    It’s all about the bright-pink color in this cocktail, and also about the Altos reposado tequila combined with Pelotón de la Muerte mezcal. Mariposa agave liquor, Campari, fresh orange, cinnamon and fresno chiles finish the sweet and smoky cocktail with a bit of spice.

    730 W. Grand Ave.; 312-243-8955

  • Magnetic Pole Reversal at Frontera Grill

    Allow us to introduce you to the funky spirit called sotol. It's made from the desert spoon plant, which is related to agave. The vegetal nature of Sotol Ochociento blanco is matched with cucumber purée, basil, coriander, Saler’s Gentiane (a French apéritif made from gentian root and white wine) and lime.

    445 N. Clark St.; 312-661-1434

  • Fuzz Kill at Headquarters

    Skip the agave-based spirits altogether with this Mexican-influenced cocktail made with house-infused peach and habanero Gosling’s Rum. The sweet and spicy liquor is combined with fresh lime juice, coconut water, peach reduction and a smoked-pecan sugar rim.

    2833 N. Sheffield Ave.; 773-665-5660

  • Mi Amor, Mi Amante at Masa Azul

    Things might get a little frisky with this aphrodisiac cocktail made with Don Amado anejo and Alipus mezcal joven as well as Noval black port, mate and chocolate cordial, Damiana leaves and Yohimbe bark - two supposed mood enhancers. It’s served with a strawberry garnish cut into a heart.

    2901 W. Diversey Ave.; 773-687-0300

  • Sweet and Smoky at Nacional 27

    Everything you need to know about this cocktail is right in the name. Smoky Sombra mezcal is combined with sweet mango purée and peach liquor. Fresh-muddled grapes and strawberries give the drink body while a cava topper adds a bit of bubbles. The drink is perfect for sipping on the patio.

    325 W. Huron St.; 312-664-2727

  • Smoked Margarita at Revolucion

    Those who insist on still chugging margaritas can do so with this smoked version starring Fidencio Clasico mezcal. The drink still gets all of the classic margarita additions, including Gran Gala orange liqueur, agave nectar, and fresh lime plus a splash of pineapple juice.

    3443 N. Broadway; 773-661-9893

  • La Vida Alta at Sepia

    Ok, we’re cheating again with this cocktail that combines both Olmeca Altos Plata tequila and Vida mezcal. But the mezcal is the star, getting a bit of spice from house ginger syrup, lime and mole bitters. It's shaken and served up with one of those rare lime slices.

    123 N. Jefferson St.; 312-441-1920

  • Mezcal Mule at Takito Kitchen

    Take the Moscow Mule - it’s a simple drink made with vodka and ginger beer. Now, give that drink a south-of-the-border kick in the pants with El Buho mezcal, lime and ginger beer. A dash of caramel syrup is added to the cocktail to mellow out the smoky notes.

    2013 W. Division St.; 773-687-9620

  • El Piscolero at Tanta

    This Peruvian twist on the margarita is made with Botija Pisco Italia and Fidencio mezcal. The tropical and refreshing cocktail is sweetened with Grand Marnier, maracuya (Peruvian passion fruit) and lime, shaken and served up. This will be the perfect cocktail to enjoy on the restaurant's soon-to-open rooftop.

    118 W. Grand Ave.; 312-222-9700