LA's 10 Best Mezcal Cocktails

By Lesley Balla  |  April 29, 2014
Credit: Plan Check

Mezcal, tequila’s agave cousin, is making huge inroads on the drink scene these days. Long known as a smokier, more rustic spirit than tequila - all tequilas are mezcal, by the way, but all mezcal isn’t tequila - it has a more in-depth flavor profile that comes from its location and the hands of its makers. A more artisanal spirit, it’s great for sipping, and you’ll find some incredible small-batch mezcals on the shelves at many restaurants and bars around LA right now. But it’s also becoming mainstream in cocktails.

"I believe that mezcal is the mother of all spirits,” says Raul Yrastorza, bar manager and main mezcal guy for Las Perlas in Downtown LA. “It’s what the bar community has been searching for. The unique umami character is like the missing link in cocktails that allows them to be taken to another level.” In essence: not only does mezcal add a hint of smokiness to cocktails, it also adds swagger and style. Here are the 10 best mezcal cocktails to sip right now in LA.

  • Credit: Guelaguetza

    The Passion de Oaxaca at Guelaguetza

    The drink: Made with Mezcal Tosba, passion fruit, grapefruit and lime, this drink comes in a glass rimmed with Tajín salt. This is just one of the cocktails on Guelaguetza’s mezcal-heavy menu. Co-owner Bricia Lopez, who’s busy promoting everything she loves about Oaxaca, believes they’ve been serving mezcal longer than any other restaurant in LA. In addition to the cocktails, you can also try half-ounce pours of the spirit for a tasting. Soon there will be an entire MezCart roaming the restaurant.

    Pair it with: This would be great with any of the moles that Guelaguetza is known for, including the deeply flavored negro mole.

  • Oaxacan Negroni #2 at Petty Cash

    The drink: Like a classic Negroni, this drink is made with several spirits - Nuestra Soledad mezcal, Del Maguey Vida mezcal, Campari, Aperol and Capano Antica sweet vermouth. You can also get mezcal in the house margarita for an extra-smoky boost.

    Pair it with: Walter Manzke's now-famous pig’s ears nachos.

  • El Diablo at Las Perlas

    The drink: Mezcal rears its delicious head in everything from Bloody Marys to sharing a glass with Fernet and Mexican Coke. In the El Diablo, it partners up with Vida mezcal, ginger syrup, crème de cassis, lime juice, Tapatio and ginger beer for a sweet, smoky and spicy balance.

    Pair it with: Another round. There isn’t food at this Downtown bar, but Cole’s and Eric Park's Hero Shop are right across the street, Nickel Diner is around the corner, and Baco Mercat is just a lime wedge's throw away.

  • Credit: Gillian Georges

    La Calavera at Bar 1886

    The drink: The mix masters at Pasadena's hidden cocktail bar worked hard to find balance between mezcal, rum and tequila for this Sazerac-inspired concoction. Can’t place that one extra flavor? There’s also a dash of Creole and cardamom bitters.

    Pair it with: Amp up the aromatics with something like tater tots with spicy ketchup, harissa olives or roasted tandoori cauliflower with yogurt dip - all are on the bar menu.

  • Manila Mezcal at La Cuevita

    The drink: The Mexican hideaway in Highland Park is heavy on the agave spirits, using Javis Silver mezcal in this drink along with Yellow Chartreuse, lemon and lime juices and Monin pear syrup.

    Pair it with: Sip it on Tuesdays and hit the free taco bar.

  • Sierra Norte at Scopa Italian Roots

    The drink: Mexico meets Italy in this drink made with Tosba Pechuga mezcal, Aperol and fruity pineapple juice. The mezcal gives it an interesting backbone and the Aperol adds a hint of spring and summer.

    Pair it with: A selection of cured meats or maybe even a meatball hero.

  • The Health Kick at Plan Check

    The drink: One of Matt Biancaniello's creations for the Fairfax gastropub, this green drink features aquavit, mezcal, agave syrup, celery juice, lime and salt. It's like a savory garden in the glass, only with a tinge of smoke.

    Pair it with: Your drink might sound healthy, but you don't have to be. The smoky fried chicken is in order.

  • Blackberry Smash at Catch at Casa del Mar

    The drink: What makes a bourbon-blackberry smash even better? Some mezcal and sage, among other things. The refreshing sipper is perfect on a sunny day overlooking Santa Monica Beach.

    Pair it with: Snacks like Iberico ham with pickles, or crispy artichokes with black-olive dust.

  • El Venado at Bar Ama

    The drink: Josef Centeno's bar team gets some mighty fine smalll-batch mezcals behind the bar at his Tex-Mex joint. They make good use of them in things like the El Venado, made with cucumber, ginger, lime and soda, or even the on-tap Oaxacan Negroni.

    Pair it with: Queso, of course, whether regular or vegan. Both are addictive and delicious.

  • El Dorado at Gracias Madre

    The drink: Just added to the spring cocktail menu, the El Dorado uses Benesin Wild Harvested Tobala, a small-batch mezcal that’s distilled from rainwater, with French apéritif wine, apricot brandy, Bénédictine and 24-karat edible gold. It is named for the Aztec lost city of gold, after all. The Mero Mero is also new, blending together mezcal and tequila with artichoke liqueur, Luxardo, Punt e Mes and orange bitters.

    Pair it with: The vegan sweet potato-filled taquitos are delicious.