American conceptions of mezcal generally involve drunken college escapades south of the border, putrid liquids mistakenly referred to as tequila, and, above all, the legendary worm. It is this mere possibility of contracting some sort of super Mexican West Nile virus from a shot of mezcal that is powerful enough to dissuade most consumers from even touching that dusty bottled next to the much safer tequila. This is unfortunate because some argue that the most beautiful spirits from Mexico are traditional mezcals, not tequilas.

The problem with mezcal isn’t the worm; most mezcals don’t even have one. The problem is the myth connected with the worm which is primarily used as a marketing device for certain producers. These mezcal brands are focused on profits associated more with twisted novelty than a legitimate authenticity. Fortunately, some pioneering brands are finally gaining notoriety for their outstanding quality and delicate complexity. My favorite mezcals are produced by Del Maguey, though more are appearing on the market nowadays.


Unlike tequilas, which must be produced from a minimum of 51% agave, mezcals must be made from 100% agave. There are several different species of agave, and mezcal may be produced from close to thirty recognized species; though, Espadin is used in most. The fermented juices of agave are used to produce both tequilas and mezcals, but mezcal producers also roast the agave hearts to impart a smoky flavor similar to that found in Islay scotches.

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to meet Ron Cooper who imports mezcal from several different villages in Oaxaca. Each single village mezcal is a distinct expression of the traditional methods used by local villagers, and they are not only the best mezcals I have ever tasted, they might just be among my favorite spirits in the world. Really – they are that good. Each batch is limited and produced without modification to technique or the organic ingredients used by villagers for hundreds of years.

Of the line that Del Maguey produces, my two favorites are the Tobala and the Chichicapa. Rather than being made from the more common Espadin, the Tobala is made from 100% tobala, a traditional type of agave used in some of history’s earliest mezcals. The Tobala has an almost grassy element that compliments a more lightly styled mezcal. The Del Maguey Tobala has the longest finish of anything I have ever drank; it is amazing.

The Chichicapa, however, definitely has the most complex, wonderful, evolving character of any spirit in my opinion. The flavor is by no means subtle and is as powerful and intense as Laphroaig 15, but there is the added complexity of the agave flavor and traditional Mexican process. Again, the finish is insane, and Islay scotch seems increasingly boring ever since I started drinking this stuff. I’m not sure the Chichicapa is for everyone because if you aren’t familiar with the bolder flavors found in tequila and scotch, you may find this spirit to be too overwhelming. But, if you enjoy these types of flavors, or you just want to experience what an outstanding mezcal and world-class spirit tastes like, you need to pick up a bottle of this as soon as possible.

For a long time, I didn’t use the Chichicapa in cocktails because it was just too perfect to mix with. The mantra that a cocktail must be better than the sum of its parts sets the bar far too high when if one of the spirits is the Del Maguey Chichicapa. I hadn’t felt this way about a spirit in a long time, but eventually, the cocktail enthusiast in me won out.



1 oz Del Maguey Chichicapa
1 oz Hacienda del Sotol Plata
.5 oz Averna Amaro
1 Barspoon Orange Curacao
3 Dashes Angostura Bitters

Stir in a brandy snifter without ice and mist Angostura bitters on top. Flame an orange zest above the cocktail for garnish.

I am really intrigued by the concept of room temperature cocktails currently. I think the above combination is a winner, but you must be ready for a bold experience.

It’s a shame that mezcal has such a notorious reputation. I love the Del Maguey’s mezcals so much I am conflicted in writing this post. Sure, I want others to experience a great spirit or cocktail – that’s why I started this blog. But, the selfish human nature in me is creeping forward, and I don’t want to face the day where I walk into Spec’s and can’t find the Del Maguey Chichicapa. It is so rare to find something so authentic and indicative of its cultural origins here in the United States. We are extremely fortunate to be able to sit down with a glass of Oaxaca and feel for a moment a connection with a history and lifestyle that is so much simpler and beautiful than our own.

17 Responses to “MEZCAL: A CAN OF WORMS?”

  1. Marshall says:

    I agree, the Del Maguey’s are fantastic. I’ve been too reserved to mix the Chichicapa either. Have you tried the Pechuga? Really interesting stuff.

    Glad to see you back writing. Can’t wait to hear more about the new bar. If ever in Houston, I’ll definitely be stopping by!


  2. Tiare says:

    This post was a happy surprise for me. I`ve for a time been very curious in tasting a good mezcal since I learnt from one of my US friends how good it is.
    Its unfortunatley not found in my country. If I know my tastebuds right I`m definetily one of those who would enjoy these flavors.


  3. melissa (wynk) says:

    I’m going to apologize up front for totally raiding Spec’s next week. At least you’ve prepared yourself. I am a huge sucker for long finishes.

    Also, I love the new Anvil graphic. Love.

  4. Chuck says:

    I first tried the Del Magueys at Topolobampo in Chicago a few years ago, and fell in love. Given their cost I’ve still only tried a few, but now I’m inspired to get the Chichicapa and Tobala. (Mezcal and amaro … boy, you sure know how to get my attention!)

    Here’s the drink we had at Topoobampo — I forgot what they call it there (my notes say “Mezcal Margarita,” but it surely has to be something better than that), but we’ve taken to calling it The Topolobampo Cocktail (it’s their chef’s favorite on their cocktail menu).

    1 ounce Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal, San Luis del Rio.
    1/2 ounce Don Pedro Mexican brandy.
    1-1/4 ounces fresh lime juice.
    3/4 ounces simple syrup.
    3 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters.
    Coarse salt.

    Moisten the outer rim of the glass and dredge through salt.

    Combine all ingredients with ice in a cocktail shaker and shake until ice cold.
    Strain into prepared glass, garnish with a lime wedge.


    Actually, the place where I’ve tasted the most Del Maguey is in the tasting flights at Hugo’s, right there in Houston on Westheimer. :)

  5. Robert Heugel says:

    Marshall – Thanks for the kind words. Yeah, I definitely like the Pechuga too. It is extremely interesting. It is probably my fourth favorite out of the Del Maguey line. I know others think of it so much more favorably, but I just personally like some of the others better. Still though the fact remains that the pechuga is amazing.

    Tiare – Find some way to order them off the internet. I know we always write about things you can’t always get, and I have never said this to you before, so take that as a clear sign to find a way to try some. I think you would love them and find it worth it.

    Melissa – Clean them out! This whole being unemployed and opening a bar thing has my bottle fund running low. Just make sure that there is some there for when we open up. Let me know what you think.

    Chuck – The tobala is pretty pricey, but worth it. Fortunately, however, the Chichicapa is not one of the rather expensive bottles, clocking it around $65. That drink sounds awesome; thanks for sharing. The San Luis del Rio is nice as well, probably my number 3 in the line, and I definitely think the combination with brandy sounds intriguing. interestingly enough, I’ve been playing with the Tobala and Peychaud’s lately with good results too. I’ll post and update when the mixing goes somewhere noteworthy. And, I hear you on Hugo’s mezcal, I’ve done that several times myself.

  6. Janiz says:

    Thank you Bobby for being a firm believer and spreading the gospel of Mezcal!! Thank you for your continued support of Del Maguey and I’m looking forward to the many fabulous drinks you will be creating in the weeks to come at Anvil.

    Good luck!
    - Janiz

  7. Robert, I have been drinking Del Maguey since the beginning–and I just wanted to acknowledge how great it is to see someone like yourself talking about it. I am sometimes quite conversely flabbergasted by the lack of knowledge/misinformation that often gets recycled on the web, in spite of stout champions like Steven Olson, Doug Frost, José Andrés et al. Moreover, I have been writing about wine and spirits for over a decade, having traveled to innumerable regions throughout the globe; and I don’t know of a more important distillate. Both in it’s pure expression/complexity and its intrinsic preservation of indigenous culture [pre-green, pre-organic]. I have had the pleasure of visiting the villages with Ron Cooper–which has become a right-of-passage of sorts for the most serious international wine & spirits writers/educators–and recommend that you do the same. You’ll never be the same.



  8. Jay Francis says:

    I think I have to disagree with Tequila XQ Reposado. In the same way that ‘enchilada’ is actually a shortening of the correct term, ‘tortilla enchilada’, tequila is also a mezcal, a mezcal de Tequila, Jalisco, that, over time has seen its name abbreviated. It would be as if there were a Houston gin that over time just became known as a Houston.

    I recently had the opportunity to sample a lot of single estate mezcales at La Biznaga in Oaxaca with the bartender who just happened to be a cultural anthropologist. I discovered through him that a most excellent palate refresher for mezcales is a plate of watermelon pieces with salt flavored with chile and powdered gusano.

  9. Darcee says:

    I recently enjoyed Del Maguey Santo Domingo at Hugo’s in Houston with another Oaxacan favorite “Chapulines” or sauteed grasshoppers. The smokey smoothness of this mezcal complemented the toasty, popcorn-like texture taste of the Chapulines so well, the two will convert anyone to both! The meld together like duck and Pinot Noir or Vodka and caviar. Good mezcals rock!

  10. Tiare says:

    Search and you shall they say, so i found a source for the Del Maguey Chichicapa as well as their Minero Santa Catarina Minas, San Louis del Rio, and Santo Domingo Albarradas, so there is to choose from all of a sudden.

    But..they want euro 117 for a shipping which probably is euro 20..omg…

    Which gets me really curious as to what these cost in the US which is so much closer to Mexico?

    So the search continues…

  11. Robert Heugel says:

    They can be a little pricey, but they are made by actual Oaxacan villagers in traditional pot stills, some of which are decades old and made from clay and bamboo if I remember correctly. So, this is about as authentic and small-batch as they get, which is where the additional price comes from. The prices vary pretty greatly, ranging from $45-$180 at my local liquor superstore. The chichicapa usually goes for $65 here. Hope that helps.

  12. Tiare says:

    Yes, its clearly handcrafted stuff and of course its costly, and it should be.But i wonder, how much does those villagers get out of the profit?

    USD 65 is half the price from what i must pay, but then Germany is much more far away. The highest price i`ve payed for booze is for numbered bottles of privately bottled rare demerara rums which i pay (a reduced) price of euro 85 for.I have only found one source for this mezcal so far.We shall see if i one day can afford a bottle..

    If i can`t and if i`m really getting myself to the Tales this year i`m gonna trouble one of my American friends for a bottle..


  13. Mike S. says:

    Robert, this is an extraordinary drink! I don’t have the Chichicapa, so I used roughly equal parts of San Luis del Rio and Santo Domingo Albarradas. Brilliant, and an instant new favorite. Thank you very much for posting this.

    (BTW, the Topolobampo recipe Chuck mentions above is also outstanding.)



  14. Robert Heugel says:

    Thanks Mike. You’ll have to come see us at Anvil and we can do some similar stuff I’ve been working with.

  15. Gabe Díaz says:

    Thanks so much for the article! I have yet to delve deeply into mezcal although I have into tequila. It totally makes me excited to get started. I’m already thinking of planning a trip soon to Oaxaca. I’ve always been fascinated with the state as it is the most traditional Mexican area since it was the least touched by the Europeans back in the day. I really gained respect for the drink and for Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal in the traditional process they use. What a beatiful expression of the history and culture… makes me even prouder of my Mexican heritage:-)


  16. Steve says:

    Hi Robert,

    There is a new mezcal available in Texas called Ilegal Mezcal ( The offer a joven, reposado and anejo. Their joven and reposado price point comes in under Del Maguey and they are a great mezcal balancing that smoke we all love in mezcal and the taste of the espadin agave.

  17. Francisco Zalles says:

    Steve, et al,

    I found one last week in Oaxaca called Wahaka. They’ve got a site and a rad bottle, so at first I thought it was an institution like Patron. But then I found out they make it right there in San Dionisio, in the old method. The wild tobala is harvested on burro just like it’s supposed to be. They’re currently exporting to the US through Texas.

    I’m trying to find it in DC but no luck. Anyone heard of it?


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