Those who know me know that mezcal is one of my favorite spirits. What is it? It's known as the mother of tequila—that is, mezcal is what was produced in Mexico before tequila became a region or an entity. In fact, tequila is mezcal, but not all mezcal is tequila. (To be tequila, it has to be produced in one of the designated regions.)
Anyway, the point of this post is to say that mezcal had earned a bad reputation as rotgut stuff that will make you hallucinate, which is nothing but hooey. The fact is that ever since one company started marketing mezcal with a little worm in the bottom of the bottle, the quality and expectations for the brand have gone way downhill. While tequila ascended, mezcal descended—mostly because of marketing.
The best mezcal is still made by local producers in their small villages. We're lucky that one company, Del Maguey, bottles these up and sells them under the name of the village—they're some of the greatest spirits on the planet, and I fervently recommend them.
Beware of the powdered worm gimmick.
There’s also a lot of substandard mezcal out there—and I’m here to warn you about gimmicks like this: The little packet of powder attached to the bottle is dried, ground up worms, chili and salt, meant to be had as a chaser with mezcal. If you see this stuff, think twice about buying the bottle, because good quality stuff never needs a gimmick.
Who wants to chase a beautiful spirit with the flavors of salt, chili and worms? On that note, there's no need to chase tequila with salt and lime and no need to put salt on the rim of your margarita, if you're using good tequila.
When it comes to mezcal, buy Del Maguey, Los Danzantes and, in a pinch, Don Amado.