Forget Tequila in Mexico City – Mezcal is What’s On the Menu

La Botica, Condesa

La Botica, in Colonial Condesa, Mexico City.

Mexico City has a lot on offer–world-class cuisine, culture, a great nightlife and an almost endless variety of things to see and do. But ironically the one thing it doesn’t have is a rich variety of tequila. Sure, there’s tequila in every cantina, restaurant and bar, but it’s limited to just a few brands. The most common are Don Julio, Herradura, El Jimador and Cazadores. As tequila lovers, this is clearly not enough.

Since we arrived in the capital last week, we’ve been trying to figure out why there is such a dearth of tequila and what chilangos (denizens of Mexico City) are drinking instead. The answer, it appears, is mezcal. Mezcalerias dot the city, specializing in a wide variety of mezcals from Oaxaca and other areas. And, most bars and restaurants have mezcal on the shelf, at prices similar to high-end tequilas. Mezcal cocktails are all the rage, and there’s even a mezcal-themed hotel here.

Grover and I went to one of the more popular mezcal chains last night to see what all the buzz is about. La Botica has 8 locations, including one in Spain, and our waiter told us they have plans to expand to the US and Canada.

La Botica, Inside

Inside La Botica, a mezcal bar in Colonial Condesa, Mexico City.

I was expecting a somewhat upscale place, but when we arrived in their Colonia Condesa location I was surprised to see a bunch of young people sitting around small tin tables, on folding chairs with Corona emblazoned on the back. The mood was definitely scrappy and low-key. The menu was handwritten on a piece of flimsy cardboard. The bar was more impressive, done out in a pharmacy style with dozens of glass medicine bottles containing your poison of choice.

La Botica mezcal menu

The mezcal menu at La Botica in Colonial Condesa is hand-written on cardboard.

The house rules are that you have to order food with drinks, which turns out to be a good thing. We ordered tamales verdes and asked the waiter for the best mezcals he had. Out came a blanco called Minero, a reposado, a dry blanco selection from Oaxaca, and one from Tabasco. Also, a sotol with no apparent name. Now, we’ve mentioned before that we aren’t big mezcal fans so if you’re a mezcal lover stop reading here, lest you have to be waste your evening sending us angry missives.

None of the choices were to our liking – the smokiness, the astringency, the plastic aroma just didn’t sit well. It was frustrating because behind all of that we could smell truly good things, like butter and citrus and a beautiful oakiness from the reposado. Were we trying the subpar mezcals? Perhaps, but our waiter assured us that they were of high quality and we just had to “get used to the taste.”

La Botica mezcal bar

Behind the bar at La Botica – many different small-batch mezcals are available.

Despite the drinks, the food and the atmosphere was fun. It had an underground feel that is probably part of what has made mezcal so trendy in Mexico City. It’s not the Don Julio your grandfather drank. There’s also a wide variety of small producers and by acknowledging and enjoying their mezcal, people feel like they’re giving back to their people and culture. I get it, but I still miss my tequila.

12 Responses to “Forget Tequila in Mexico City – Mezcal is What’s On the Menu”

  1. As I remember, Casa de las Sirenas (behind the Catedral) brags on its tequila selection. I’ve only eaten lunch there and have only seen the bar passing by (on the way up to the gorgeous rooftop garden), but there certainly were a lot of bottles there.

    I must confess to enjoying the variety of smoky and herbal flavors in mezcals. To each our own.

    Reply

  2. you didnt like that spirits because they are not a serious mezcales! i could make you taste spirits made from agave that im totally sure you’ll like it! its true, there´s a point when people said ” you had to get used to it” but like Yan said: you need to warm up your mouth in a good way and, of course, taste good mezcales made in a tradicional way not just because your given back to our people economic oportunities but the great aromas and tastes you will find! and i need to mention that any spirit made from agave is an a mezcal therefore a tequila is an a mezcal its just tequila is the most famous mezcal but you could find mezcal in 26 states of 32 mexican states!
    like i said: lets try really good mezcales an not that non-balanced, bored, flat botica mezcales!
    greetings from Mexico City and i ofered you a invitation to taste serious, good mezcales with nice structure! bye

    Reply

  3. Interesting article. Too sad that you didn’t like your mezcal experience in Mexico City! Because, believe me, you went to the right place. The mezcals they sell in La Botica are of very good quality. As you said it in the article, they have 8 bars and it’s surely because they are selling good products.

    Many people find it very hard when they try it for the first time. This is why mezcal drinkers say that it is an acquired taste. Do you remember your first time you had a beer? I bet ya’ didn’t liked it. Well, the same is with mezcal. Try giving it another shot. The best mezcals are silver/non aged, forget about the aged/reposado mezcals.

    List of mezcals you should try (in my preference order):
    1) Mezcales de Leyenda
    2) Pierde Almas
    3) Alipus
    4) Enmascarado
    5) Nahuales

    Reply

  4. Sorry you guys had a bad experience with Mezcal, but it’s like going to a Mexican restaurant that just isn’t good. This doesn’t mean you don’t like Mexican, it just means that place was horrible!

    There are a wide varieties of mezcals, and you can find a variation that fits your taste buds.

    We have recently launched a new site dedicated strictly to mezcal, and we would value your opinion on what information is pertinent to a newcomer to mezcal and any good links you may have! Elmezcal.org

    Reply

  5. By now you must have tried Corazon de Maguey in Coyoacan in the Jardin. They are directly across the garden from Los Danzantes- their parent restaurant.
    If not drop me a line and we’ll do a tasting there…

    Reply

  6. I would like to try some of the mezcal products. How can you send me a sample of it. We are in the proccess of a new distillery in Michigan US. We are able to do some international business. Let me know. Thank you!

    Reply

  7. Mezcal is more of a novelty for me. I bought a bottle of Del Maguey Chichicapa, but it only comes out during tastings for visitors, just to provide some variety. Some have likened the smokiness to Islay Scotches.
    I feel the same way about Sotol – a novelty used for tastings.

    Reply

  8. Listen to Pedro – he’s right on the money. Traditional, 100% agave Mezcal is a beautiful drink, and if you were frustrated because you wanted to taste “truly good things, like butter and citrus and a beautiful oakiness,” then you should stick to anejo tequila. Aging mezcal in wood is more of a marketing ploy than anything – in Oaxaca, they drink blancos, not mixed, not chilled, and not dumbed down by vanillin and other cask-extractive congeners.

    Here in the US, it’s tough to get good mezcal, but hit DrinkUpNY.com for the Pierde Almas line (Warning: they are expensive) like Pedro suggested, or for blancos that are a little less expensive (around $30) but still very good:

    Del Maguey Vida
    San Luis Del Rio (Nolasco Spirits, not the Del Maguey of the same name – that one’s excellent but pricey)
    Benesin
    Semillero Joven

    These are all available online in the US if you do a bit of hunting. DrinkUpNY offers free shipping >$100. Ramirez Liquor in California has a good selection too.

    Also worth mentioning is Los Danzantes blanco, though that one will set you back $65 or so. It will probably be more to your liking, as it has the dubious advantage of being “smoother” than many of the traditional small village mezcals.

    Reply

  9. Well i Think Scarlet and Grover will continue to stick to the reposados and anejo Tequilas.I understand them not liking mezcal.First of all because Mezcal doesnt taste anything like Tequila that is aged.Mezcal displays smokiness,agave sweetness,earth,minerals,herbs,caramel and alcohol.If it is well made, it will be a smooth taste explosion that keeps lingering forever.When it is badly made or is a low price mezcal.It can taste like paint remover just as Tequila Jose Cuervo or Sierra does.
    I would recommend Scarlet or Grover going to a bar that have:
    Pierde Almas Espadin-this is a good starter
    Pierde Almas Tobaschize Silvestre-When you beginning to like it
    Del Maguey Pechuga-When you are semi-pro
    Del Maguey Chichicapa-when turning pro

    Tequila was my girlfriend but now Mezcal is my wife
    Carlos

    Reply

    • Carlos – We are more blanco/reposado fans these days. Our tastes and preferences have definitely evolved since those early days. A great blanco is a wonderful thing.

      We’ve also tried all of the mezcals you’ve suggested, and we even went to Oaxaca and tried many different types and styles of mezcal – but we still enjoy tequila better.

      That being said, there are some mezcals that we can drink – like the Real Minero Cuishe, and the Mina Real Silver. Neither of these has that gasoline smell that really turns us off.

      Reply

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