Years ago, if you wanted good, artisanal mezcal from Oaxaca, Mexico, it was easy enough to find. Your neighborhood mezcalero would fill your empty Coke bottle for a few pesos. Of course, if you didn't live there, you were out of luck. Since then, some things fortunately have remained the same. Sure, there are commercial producers pumping out mezcal in factories. But the really good stuff is still made in the campo. Unlike tequila, which can be distilled only from blue agave, mezcal can be made from dozens of varieties of the plant, from the spiky-leafed espadín to the treelike barril. Some agaves grow for up to 20 years before they're harvested. The resulting mezcal is so expressive of its terroir, the untamed Oaxacan countryside, that it can seem out of place next to your dainty gins — like coming home to find a jaguar snuggled up to your Pomeranians.
Mezcal tastes of fire, smoke, stone, scrappy scrub oak, and horsehair. The best mezcals aren't cheap, but they punch above their weight and are best enjoyed neat, like similarly priced scotch and cognac. Luckily for us, these magnificent spirits are now easier to get our hands on — they're available in the U.S., and you don't even have to bring your own bottle.