The popularity of mezcal cocktail has undeniably reached a fever pitch at bars across the globe. With so many folks looking to quench their agave thirsty, we spoke to Emma Janzen, author of Mezcal: The History, Craft & Cocktails of the World’s Ultimate Artisanal Spirit, about some of her favorite mezcal cocktails to enjoy. We trust Emma on all things drinks, (she is a pretty rad human) so here is what she had to say about enjoying mezcal this time year.
Mezcal Cocktails with Emma Janzen
The holidays are such a great time to show off your mixing skills for thirsty guests, and at my house that means mezcal punch.
99% of the time I prefer sipping mezcal neat because that’s the best way to get to know the vibrant kaleidoscope of flavor each mezcal has to offer, but the spirit also brings a depth and complexity to cocktails, so that’s usually the route I go when entertaining during the holidays. Not everyone in your family or friend circle might enjoy sipping the eye-opening flavors that a high-proof Coyote or Tepextate mezcal will have, but everyone loves a mezcal margarita, right? And because I don’t want to spend a ton of time mixing to order—I’d rather spend that time chatting with people and hanging out—so making punch ahead of time and setting it out with a ladle for people to help themselves will help makes the entire process easy and effortless.
I always recommend grabbing a good espadin mezcal for cocktails—it’s a variety that doesn’t take too long to mature (5-7 years instead of 10-2o or 30+ as some varieties) so it’s still pretty abundant throughout Mexico. It’s also the most ubiquitous one found on US shelves today, which means it’s easy to find and usually at a more affordable price point. Just like I wouldn’t reach for a $200 bottle of Scotch to make punch, I also wouldn’t personally use a mezcal that’s made from a rare or wild variety that takes decades to mature. Those mezcals are simply too special to muddy with other ingredients.
These punches below are personal favorites because they showcase the agave spirit in harmony with the other ingredients. You’re not going to get the super oaky, baking spice qualities of traditional rum, brandy or whiskey punches, which is exciting! Instead, you’ll find herbaceous, earthy, sometimes grassy flavors from the agave spirit instead.
Mezcal Cocktail Recipes with Emma Janzen
El Burro Fantasma From Ghost Donkey, NYC
I included this bright and beautiful number in my book because it’s a great any-occasion punch that’s always a crowd-pleaser. The drink was crafted in the image of barman Nacho Jimenez’s favorite spicy Mexican candies, with “a bit of bitterness from both the Aperol and grapefruit blending perfectly with the smoke of the mezcal,” he says. The taste is lively, but my favorite part of the drink is the garnish. Piles of bright, fresh carnations decorate the drink, echoing the way donkeys tote wagons full of flowers to holidays and other celebrations throughout the smaller, rural areas of Mexico.
- 3 oz. Pelotón de la Muerte mezcal
- 1 oz. Aperol
- 1 oz. agave syrup
- 1 ½ oz. fresh grapefruit juice
- 1 ½ oz. fresh lime juice
- 4 dashes chili tincture
- Fresh carnations, for garnish
For the chili tincture: combine a liter of high-proof vodka (or Everclear) with 100 grams of arbol chiles and let steep for 48–72 hours, depending on the level of heat you prefer. Strain chiles out and store in a cool place.
To make the drink: Combine the mezcal, Aperol, agave, grapefruit juice, lime juice, and chili tincture in a shaker tin with ice. Shake and strain into a punch bowl (or divide between two punch glasses) and garnish with fresh flowers. Serves two.
El Burro Fantasma From Ghost Donkey, NYC – photo by Emma Janzen
Ponche de Reinas
From Las Perlas, which has locations in both Los Angeles and Austin these days, this wintry punch from Andrew Jerdan weaves together the bright citrusy notes of lemon and lime with the brooding baking spice of amaro, and ties the two together with a pretty white wine. Since it hits all the marks, it should please most finicky friends.
- 21 oz. Rey Campero espadin mezcal
- 16 oz. soda
- 8 oz. lemon-lime cordial
- 3 oz. Amaro Montenegro
- 1 ½ oz. Demerara syrup
- 1 ½ oz. fresh lemon juice
- 8 oz. white wine
- 5 dashes Angostura bitters
Lemon-Lime Cordial: Peel 6 lemons and 6 limes and reserve peels. Juice lemons and limes until you make enough juice for 4 oz. of each. Add 4 oz. fresh lemon juice and 4 oz. fresh lime juice to 8 oz. sugar and stir to combine. Add rinds to the mixture in a container and refrigerate overnight. Remove rinds from mixture before use. Makes about two cups cordial.
To make the drink: Combine all ingredients in a punch bowl and stir to combine. Add ice to chill. Serve over pebble ice.
¡Sin Maiz No Hay País! From Downstairs at Esquire Tavern, San Antonio
Who doesn’t love a good milk punch around the holidays? From the mind of bartender Myles Worrell, this crazy clever variation of a clarified milk punch brings mezcal together with another indigenous Mexican ingredient: corn. The dry tannin from the tea and sherry mix splendidly with the sweetness of the milk, corn and syrup, making for a perfectly harmonious sipper. It’s also a good one to show off your mixing prowess, as the clarification process takes a little more elbow grease than the other recipes here.
- 10 oz. espadín mezcal
- 5 oz. Palo Cortado sherry
- 5 oz. fresh lemon juice
- 2 ½ oz. rich simple syrup
- 5 oz. strong-brewed black tea
- 16 oz. whole milk
- 2 cups raw sweet corn kernels
To make the drink: Combine mezcal, sherry, lemon juice, simple syrup, and tea in a container and set aside. Over low heat, simmer milk and corn kernels about 40 minutes, then bring to a boil. Remove from the stove and add to the punch mixture and stir. Strain through a “super bag” or a cheesecloth-lined chinois into a ladle and pour the liquid in, allowing it to splash up the sides. Continue to strain through the bag without cleaning the bag—the milk curds will act as a clarifying agent. Repeat this 3 to 5 times. Once the liquid is totally clear, bottle in sterile 750mL glass bottle, & chill. Serve over large-format ice in an old-fashioned glass, and express the oil from a lemon peel over each serving. Serves 4-6 people.
¡Sin Maiz No Hay País! From Downstairs at Esquire Tavern, San Antonio – photo by Kody Melton
Agua Segrada from Espita Mezcaleria, Washington, DC
It’s easy to go overboard with punch, but I’ve found that sometimes the most memorable recipes are the ones that are the easiest to make and most simple in their ingredient list. That’s certainly the case with this beauty from Megan Barnes of Espita Mezcaleria. Chamomile is an ingredient you find often in Mexico, and its softly herbal flavor brings a pretty lightness to smoky mezcal. I love the way parsnips bring an additional sweet-earthy flavor to the syrup—a quirky but effective inclusion from Barnes.
- 9 oz. mezcal
- 3 oz. spiced syrup (instructions below)
- 3 oz. fresh lemon juice
- 6 oz. hot Chamomile tea
Spiced Syrup: combine 4 parsnips (chopped) with 15 grams ginger, 60 grams nutmeg, 40 grams white pepper, 20 grams Cardamom, 500g sugar and 1000 ml of water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and let cook for 20 minutes. Store syrup in the refrigerator when not in use.
To make the drink: Brew a mug of your favorite chamomile tea and add mezcal, syrup and lemon juice. Stir to combine. The measurements make enough for six servings.
Feats of Strength from Todos Santos, Chicago
Jay Schroeder at Todos Santos has a real knack for making mezcal cocktails with great balance and nuanced layers of flavor. I especially love it when he turns to ingredients like fig and coffee, which bring a dark bittersweetness to the earthy qualities of mezcal. This punch has plenty of holiday personality without hitting you over the head with traditional baking spice flavors.
- 6 oz. fresh lime juice
- 6 oz. Plantation dark rum
- 8 oz. Nuestra Soledad San Luis mezcal
- 4 oz. Lavender syrup (instructions below)
- 6 oz. Lustau manzanilla sherry
- 2 oz. Galliano Ristretto coffee liqueur
- 8 oz. fig puree
- 10 oz. water
Lavender Syrup: Combine 1 quart granulated sugar with and 1 quart water and heat over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon dried lavender. Allow to simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and strain through a chinois. Allow to cool and store in an air-tight container for future use.
To make the punch: Combine all ingredients together in a punch bowl and stir to combine. Serve over ice.
Follow Emma Janzen on Instagram – @emmajanzen and pick up a copy of her book for the mezcal lover on your gift list.
Our Best Stories Delivered Daily