Of all the clear spirits, unaged mezcal makes the strongest case for enjoying neat. The depth of flavors delivered by different agave varieties coupled with the rich smokiness acquired during production equate to fantastic complexity. But such character comes with something of a cost.

Like a peated single malt or a high-proof whiskey, by no means is mezcal the easiest first step on a spirits exploration. For those yet to take that plunge, or anyone looking for a new spin on their favorite mixed drinks, one of the best ways to become acquainted with mezcal is via cocktails. These nine bottles are a great place to start.

Ojo de Tigre Mezcal Artesanal

Ojo de Tigre is one of the best mezcals to use for cocktails.

The smokiest of all the bottles on this list, a little goes a long way with Ojo de Tigre. Fans of heavily peated whiskey will enjoy it mixed as a supercharged Marg, and its pronounced profile allows it to be used as a smoky modifier. We rinse a chilled coupe glass with a splash and then pour in a bone-dry Martini. Average price: $35.

Del Maguey Vida Mezcal Artesanal

Del Maguey Vida Mezcal Artesanal is one of the best mezcals for cocktails.

The bold smokiness of this bartender staple ensures it’ll never get lost in mixed drinks. Given its flavor skews closer to fire than fruit, we enjoy it in cocktails with similarly bold, competing flavors. Start with a mezcal Negroni. Average price: $36.

Ilegal Espadín Mezcal

Ilegal Espadín Mezcal is one of the best mezcals for cocktails.

It’s tempting to describe this as a workhorse mezcal but that should only be taken as praise for its versatility and attractive price point. Mix it in pretty much any mezcal cocktail you can imagine and this expression will hold its own and even sparkle a little. Average price: $38.

El Silencio Mezcal Artesanal Espadín

El Silencio Mezcal Artesanal Espadín is one of the best mezcals for cocktails.

Prepare your palate for red berries, dark chocolate, and faint whiff of scorched earth. With such complexity, all signs point to stirred, spirit-forward drinks here. Average price: $38.

Gracias a Dios Mezcal Artesanal Espadín

Gracias a Dios Mezcal Artesanal Espadín is one of the best mezcals for cocktails.

Light tropical fruit mixes with earthy smoke on the bright and lively palate of this Espadín mezcal. While the flavors are pronounced, its light texture benefits from shaking with agave and lime, and enjoying as a Tommy’s rather than a standard Margarita. Average price: $41.

GEM&BOLT Damiana Mezcal Artesanal

GEM&BOLT Damiana Mezcal Artesanal is one of the best mezcals for cocktails.

The botanical character of this damiana-infused example leads the mind to unexpectedly wander to gin. On a hot summer day, this mezcal pours perfectly with tonic or soda. For a spirit-forward option, stir 2 ounces with ¾ ounce dry vermouth and ¼ ounce olive brine. Dirty Martinis never tasted so good. Average price: $47.

Vamonos Riendo Mezcal

Vamonos Riendo Mezcal is one of the best mezcals for cocktails.

Made from Espadín and Tobalá agave, this Ensamble shines bright with bold, fruity character, and offers just a suggestion of smoke. But for its price tag, this would be a tempting option as our go-to Marg mezcal. Instead, Vamonos Riendo is one to savor for special occasion cocktails. Average price: $60.

Best Mezcal For Margaritas

Montelobos Mezcal Artesanal Espadín

Montelobos Mezcal Artesanal Espadín is one of the best mezcals for cocktails.

This rich, balanced all-rounder hits all the right notes. Each sip serves fruit, flowers, savory notes, and spice — everything we’re looking for from mezcal, and the ideal profile for pitch-perfect Margs. As mezcal prices go, it’s also a bargain. Average price: $40.

Honorable Mention

Santo Puro Mezquila

Santo Puro Mezquila is one of the best mezcals for cocktails.

We’re big fans of the split-base tequila-mezcal Margarita. This option allows you to make that cocktail from one bottle of liquor rather than two. Its aromas are admittedly a little perplexing, ambling into neither of the agave spirits’ realms. But that doesn’t matter when the destination is cocktails and the palate more than nails the brief. Average price: $51.

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