Rule #1: Mezcal is NOT necessarily the same as tequila.
Rule#2: Mezcal is delicious
Mezcal is a spirit native to Mexico mainly from the Oaxaca region (pronounced wa-HA-ka). It’s derived from the Maguey plant which is a member of the Agave family. There a few key differences between tequila and mezcal, namely that tequila is made specifically from the blue agave plant in government-designated areas of the Jalisco province in Mexico, while mezcal can be made from any type of agave from all over Mexico. In terms of taste, mezcal has a signature smoky flavor because the heart of the agave plant from which it’s distilled (called the piña) is roasted rather than steamed as it is for tequila.
My Favorite Mezcal Brand
By far my favorite brand of mezcal is Del Maguey which was founded by a supremely nice guy: Ron Cooper. I met Ron this year at Oyamel’s Tequila and Mezcal festival (see below). Of the different products they offer, the best is the Del Maguey Vida. The Vida is the most well balanced mezcal I’ve ever had. It’s got a big nose, and even bigger flavor. Get ready for some smoke!
Best Mezcal Bars in DC
Jose Andres’ Mexican fare restaurant in Penn Quarter sports probably the best selection of mezcal in the city. And it’s all capped off by its annual Tequila and Mezcal festival held annually in March.
This hidden gem in lower Adams Morgan offers the most Oaxacan food in the mid-Atlantic let alone DC. You can even eat crickets here! But all that aside, the mezcal selection is very good leaning heavily on Del Maguey (that’s a good thing).
This Mike Isabella taco restaurant in Georgetown not only has a great mezcal selection, but they have some interesting mezcal based cocktails as well. To be honest though I haven’t gotten much past the “El Perro Viejo” (the old dog) which is their Mexican take on the classic Old Fashioned. It is absolutely delicious. It’s got a very even balance of sweet, bitter, acidic, and smoky from the mezcal. I don’t drink anything else when I’m in there.