Mezcal is enjoying a long minute in the spotlight, firing up trends not just in fine spirits but mixology and food culture. The liquor is similar in many ways to tequila, which is double-distilled from one specific plant - the blue agave. Mezcal, on the other hand, can be made from any one of dozens of different maguey species and is produced using any number of different fermentation and distillation methods. The maguey plant is cut, stripped of its leaves so only the piña (the large, pineapple-shaped center) remains, then the material is crushed and fermented in pits before the liquid is finally distilled.

In the heart of Oaxaca City’s downtown district, artisanal brands, creative bartenders and expert chefs  are coming together to share the bounty and beauty of mezcal with the world. With so much diversity in the scene, you have a few options for the best places to drink mezcal in Oaxaca.

Mezcal Advertisement Close To Santiago De Matatlan, Province Of Oaxaca, Mexico (Photo by Marka/UIG via Getty Images)
Head to Oaxaca to get a taste of the newest trends in Mezcal © Marka/Gett Images

Straight up shots and creative cocktails

A good mezcal is made to be sipped slowly, like a fine Scotch or an aged rum. Don’t shoot it like you’re downing tequila, and don’t mix it with wine or beer, especially if you want to enjoy Oaxaca the next day. Try out some of the interesting new cocktails coming out of Oaxaca’s restaurant and bar scene instead. Your tastebuds will thank you.

Get In Situ and get the creative juices flowing

Open 2 to 11pm Monday through Saturday, In Situ is a popular hot spot thanks to proprietor and mezcal expert Ulises Torrentera, whose book Mezcalaria, Cultura del Mezcal, The Cult of Mezcal was published in 2000. Known for being unpretentious and affordable, it’s a hip hangout for the city’s local creative crowd, especially the large writing community. Enjoy the newly renovated space at Jose María Moreles 511, and find authors, poets, and journalists chatting craft over a copa (cup) of their favorite varietal.

Go cocktail crazy at Mezcalogia

Mezcalogia is a small, dark, trendy bar open daily from 6pm to 1am at Manuel Garcia Vigil on the corner of Ignacio Allende. While it may not look like much from the outside, it’s the perfect place to try out unique cocktails combinations: order the refreshing Pega con Pepino made with cucumber, basil, and lime, or spice things up with the Ancho Negro, an orange juice drink made with ancho chiles and angostura bitters.

Get down to the good stuff at El Cortijo

This is a small bar, with only a dozen bar chairs and stools in a funky painted space along the Andador 5 de Mayo. In addition to the extensive single-shot menu and the three-mezcal tasting, you can purchase mezcal at El Cortijo by the bottle, along with the popular, spicy sal de gusano – salt mixed with chiles and ground worm like the kind you might find in a bottle of tequila. Prices run from 40 to 200 pesos ($2.25 to $11.35 US dollars) per 2 oz serving. Stop by anytime between 3 and 11pm, Monday through Saturday.

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 18: Turquaz (beet and mezcal) cocktail at Ottoman Taverna (Photo by Dixie D. Vereen/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Mezcal cocktails are popular from Oaxaca to Washington D.C. like this beat and mezcal concoction © Dixie D. Vereen/Getty Images

Mezcal with a meal

If you are making a day of mezcal-tasting, you are going to want some food on your journey. That doesn’t mean you need to stop sipping though!

Lunch and munch Oaxaca–style at Tobaziche

With two levels of bright booths and airy tables in the heart of downtown, Tobaziche is a great place to grab a midday bite and a glass of mezcal. The best seats in the house are upstairs on the balcony. Try one of their several house varieties, or sip on a familiar artisanal brand. It’s open Monday through Thursday from 1:30 to 11:30 pm, Friday and Saturday from 1:30 pm until 12:30 am, and Sunday from 2 to 10 pm.

BONUS: pop next door to El Destilado where a pair of San Franciscans offer up more mezcal and artisanal beer, as well as the sweet Oaxacan pulque. This traditional, pre-Hispanic beverage is fermented using only the natural yeast and unprocessed liquid extracted from the maguey, like sap from a maple tree. It has a sweet and tangy taste, plus lots of bubbles, and if left to sit for a few days, it will eventually make a vinegar which is used to pickle the many fermented fruits you can buy around town. El Destilado’s opening hours are Tuesday to Sunday, from 5pm until midnight.

Parry's century plant / Parry's agave / mescal agave (Agave parryi) native to Arizona, New Mexico, and northern Mexico showing spiny leaves and stalk. (Photo by: Arterra/UIG via Getty Images)
Mezcal can be made with any of the dozens of maguey species like this Parry agave © Arterra/Getty Images

Eat, drink and be merry…on a budget, at La Mezcalerita

Mezcalerita is popular among locals and tourists alike for its simple, casual vibe and breezy rooftop seating at Macedonia Alcalá 706, just north of Santo Domingo. In the afternoon it offers a comida corrida – a set dining menu that typically includes a drink, a soup/salad or side, a main course, and a dessert – plus plenty to nibble on into the evening. Doors are open later than any of the other locations on the list, and earlier than most too. Stop by anytime Monday to Saturday between noon and 2am.

Head to Los Danzantes for your fine dining needs

This upscale Oaxaca mainstay inside the plaza at Macedonia Alcalá 403, a few meters south of Santo Domingo, just celebrated its 20 year anniversary. The bar offers a wide menu of house and artisanal mezcal, alongside a creative cocktail menu, and a variety of Oaxacan and Mexican fusion dishes from Los Danzantes chef Hugo Arnaud. During peak hours and high tourist season, reservations are recommended, daily 1:30 pm to 11:30 pm. Contact the reservation desk at 951 501 1187 or check OpenTable.

Try something new at Casa Estambul

This new space At Ignacio Allende XXX just off Tinoco y Palcios is in a growing neighborhood of artisanal shops and gourmet restaurants at reasonable prices. Casa Estambul boasts two robust food menus, plus a long list of unique cocktails, a house brand mezcal (along with several other local brands), and a growing number of modern art installations. Drop into the open-air patio between 8:30am and 1:30pm daily (9:30am to 3:30pm Sunday), with botanas, dinner, and drinks available from 1:30pm to 1am Monday through Saturday.

Educational experiences and bottles to go

Whether you start or end your mezcal tour at one of these combination stores and tasting rooms, you will absolutely come away with a new appreciation for the spirit.

Impress your friends with your tasting talents at Cuish

The cozy sales and tasting room at Macedonia Alcalá 802 is an extension of the original bar and cultural space on the outskirts of the city center. Cuish is open 3 to 11 pm daily, with tastings where you can try the brand’s mezcal along with cooked maguey that will help you to identify specific flavors and characteristics of the varietals on the shelf.

The original Cuish bar, located at Díaz Ordaz 712, is open 11 am to 11 pm, with occasional music and art events in the upstairs space that sometimes go late into the night.

Colorfully Painted Houses And Shops Line The Streets In Front Of Santa Domingo Church, Oaxaca, Mexico. (Photo by: Education Images/UIG via Getty Images)
Enjoy mezcal tastings and education at any number of places in colorful downtown Oaxaca © Education Images/Getty Images

Visit La Mezcaloteca to take your tasting to the next level

Run by husband and wife team, Marco Ochoa and Silvia Philion Muñoz, Mezcaloteca is a tasting room with an eye toward education, conservation, and tradition, and a great place to start your mezcal experience, or take it to the next level after falling in love with the drink. For the best results, make reservations by calling 951 514 0082, but if you happen to be in the area between 5 and 10 pm Monday through Sunday, don’t hesitate to ring the bell at Reforma 506.

Shop till you drop at Mezcalillera: la Miscelánea de Mezcal

This 'mezcal corner store' located at Murgia 403A on the corner of Benito Juarez (south of Llano park) stocks just about every artisanal brand of mezcal available in the city. Head to Mezcalillera if you taste something great over the course of your trip and want to pick up a bottle to take home.

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