According to the Distilled Spirits Council, mezcal and tequila made up the second-fastest-growing spirits category in 2021, with sales climbing 30% compared to 2020. They’re also the second best-selling spirits category overall, after vodka. No wonder sports stars and other celebrities including George Strait, Bryan Cranston, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Sammy Hagar, and Lebron James, among many others, have invested in budding tequila and mezcal brands. (Here are 32 sports stars with their own alcohol brands.)
What’s the difference between mezcal and tequila? Both come from Mexico and are distilled from varieties of agave – a succulent plant native to arid regions of the Americas. Tequila may be made only from a variety called agave tequilana or blue agave and only in the state of Jalisco – that’s where the town called Santiago de Tequila is located – and in a few municipalities in the states of Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas.
Mezcal, on the other hand, is mostly made in Oaxaca and can be distilled from over 30 types of agave, the most common being espadín. Mezcal is also distilled differently from tequila. While tequila is typically produced by steaming agave in ovens, then distilling it in copper pots – resulting in a cleaner, plant-forward flavor – mezcal agave is often cooked in a charcoal pit lined with wood and lava rocks, then distilled in clay pots, resulting in the smoky flavor that mezcals are known for.
Both tequila and mezcal come in a variety of finishes that signify how and how long they were aged. Blanco or silver tequilas are unaged and typically clear, while unaged mezcals are labeled “joven” – “young.” Reposado (“rested”) tequilas are aged in oak barrels for up to a year, resulting in a vanilla-oak flavor and usually a slight amber color. Añejo tequilas are aged in oak for longer than a year, while extra añejos are aged three or more. Mezcals also sometimes come labeled as reposado and añejo. Increasingly, good Mexican restaurants tend to offer large selections of both tequila and mezcal. (Here’s a look at the best Mexican restaurant in every state.)
24/7 Tempo has compiled a list of the 25 best tequilas and mezcals for 2022 by reviewing the results of the 2021 Ultimate Spirits Challenge, a weeks-long multi-part event covering a wide range of spirits, judged by panels including spirits writers, bartenders, consultants, and other experts in the field.
Our list includes all the tequilas and mezcals rated between 94 and 97 points (the highest score given in the 2021 tasting). Tequilas and mezcals of various finishes were intermixed on the list according to score, and within each scoring group, they were ranked according to price, with the less expensive ones placing higher. Prices were suggested retail prices for a 750 ml bottle as of mid-2021, and may have changed since the judging and may vary from state to state and in some cases from store to store.
The top five spirits on the list are all mezcal, with the number one choice being Del Maguey Single Village Wild Papalome Mezcal. This small batch mezcal is distilled using traditional methods from rare papalome and tobalá agave varieties that are typically only harvested in the wild at high altitudes in a few Mexican states.
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