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5 Cocktail Recipes That Will Help You Love Mezcal

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[Photographs: Nick Caruana]

Often overshadowed by its more popular brother, tequila, mezcal doesn't usually get a fair shot. Maybe it's the smoky flavor that's polarizing, or the out-of-date association with worms, but it's too bad, since this underrated spirit really makes for some great mixing.

I like to sub it in place of tequila and gin in tons of classic drinks—smoky margaritas are delicious, as are earthy, savory Negronis. But I wanted to share some other cocktails that really help mezcal shine, whether you're a big fan already or just added your first bottle of mezcal to your liquor stash. Here are 5 mezcal drinks that you should really make at home.

All Betts Are Off

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Still have doubts about mezcal? Matt Lanning of The Bitter Bar in Boulder, Colorado designed this drink to help introduce guests to the spirit, mixing earthy mezcal with soothing, herbal Yellow Chartreuse and tasty Dolin Blanc Vermouth.

Citrusy and honey sweetened, it has a surprisingly light taste with just a touch of smoky mezcal flavor lingering in the background. Dolin Blanc helps tie together and mellow out the otherwise potent flavor combination.

With a nod to Richard Betts (owner of Sombra Mezcal), the drink's name suggests that it'll rearrange your opinion on the smoky spirit. As Lanning puts it "Think you don't like mezcal? With this one all 'betts' are off."

Get the All Betts Are Off Recipe »

Basil Cranberry Julep

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This variation on the Derby Day classic adds in cranberry and basil for a refreshing yet slightly savory combination. The traditional sugar is swapped out for agave nectar while mezcal serves as the base.

Bring this one to your nose and the scent is all fresh basil, a nice introduction to the flavor combination of tart fruity cranberry and subtle smoke. This is a great entry cocktail for mezcal beginners, and just the thing to refresh you on the first warm day of summer.

Get the Basil Cranberry Julep Recipe »

Tobacco Road

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I've always wanted to make a drink with mezcal, Cynar, sherry and salt, but have never been able to get it quite right. The key: upgrading from joven mezcal (the equivalent of blanco tequila) to reposado and retooling the ratios a bit. This delicious tobacco-scented treat is a new favorite of mine.

It smells incredible, like a well stocked humidor, all wood smoke, leather, and a hint of citrus. The body is light, yet the flavor is rich and almost meaty, slightly salty, with a hint of anise.

Get the Tobacco Road Recipe »

Last of the Oaxacans

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This cocktail is a perfect example of how smoky mezcal can take the flavor of a classic drink to the next level. Essentially a Last Word with mezcal instead of gin, this muscular drink is further improved by shaking with a slice of serrano pepper in with your ice. Alternatively, you could use a spicy bitters such as The Bitter End Thai Bitters, or skip the spice altogether if it's not your thing.

Fresh, peppery, and citrus scented, this drink has layers of spice that meld surprisingly well into the delicious combination of Chartreuse, lime, and maraschino liqueur.

Get the Last of the Oaxacans Recipe »

Tres Coops

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Smoky mezcal gets extra richness in this frothy drink, created for Mercadito in Chicago by Tad Carducci of Tippling Bros. The smoky flavor is underlined with ginger liqueur and chili powder, and softened with St. Germain. Averna brings in a touch of caramel and bitterness to seal the deal. Sound like a wacky combination? I promise, it's one worth trying, especially if you find yourself gravitating toward gingery cocktails.

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