Mezcal is a Mexican liquor that’s made by roasting and then distilling the agave plant. It’s a complex spirit that offers hints of earthy, sweet, fruity, and floral taste while always having a characteristic smoky undertone.
With a divisive flavor and a high proof that packs a punch, Mezcal isn’t everyone’s favorite drink. If you don’t want to drink it or don’t have any in the cabinet, then keep reading. We’ve created the ultimate list of Mezcal substitutes that will allow you to make the perfect cocktail.
What can I use to replace mezcal?
To replace mezcal in cooking recipes and cocktails you can use tequila, pisco, or sotol. For an alcohol-free option, try tequila extract or a bottle of non-alcoholic mezcal.
If you need an easy-to-find bottle of liquor that’s closely related to mezcal then tequila is your best option. You can use it in any cocktail that calls for the original ingredient, including the ever-popular Mezcal Sour.
Although both drinks are made from agave, you’ll find that mezcal has a smokier flavor due to the roasting process. Your average bottle of tequila won’t usually have the intensely rich and sweet flavor that you get from mezcal. However, matured tequilas like Reposado will have stronger caramel, oak, and vanilla flavors.
Pisco is a high-proof type of brandy produced in the Chilean and Peruvian wine regions. It is made by fermenting grape juice and the resulting earthy, herbal flavors are reminiscent of mezcal.
If you’re looking to make a mezcal Margarita or Manhattan then use pisco instead. You can use similar ratios as the original ingredient.
If mezcal’s smoky notes are too much for your palate, then give sotol a crack. This is another Mexican distillate that packs a punch. It is made from the sap of the desert spoon that grows wild in Mexico’s Chihuahua region.
Sotol will vary by brand, but its flavor is similar to mezcal, with a little less smokiness. Use this substitute in cocktails or shoot it back straight for a fun-filled night.
4. Tequila extract
If you’re looking to make mocktails or baking without the alcohol flavor, you can use a tequila extract or essence. Depending on the product, you’ll usually only need a teaspoon to get a similar flavor to the real thing.
As you’d expect, you won’t get the same depth of flavor from an extract. It’ll still taste delicious used in puddings, desserts, cakes, and cookies.
5. Alcohol-free mezcal
As America’s fascination with mezcal continues to flourish, some innovative companies have created alcohol-free mezcal drinks. They're an ideal replacement for your next mocktail. Try Smoked Agave produced by FLUÈRE or test out a bottle made by Escape Mocktails.
Raicilla is a clear or yellowish spirit that is made from the puta de mula and lechuguilla agave plants. Using two varieties results in a unique drink that will differ in flavor depending on the area that the agave comes from.
Although raicilla can be used in similar cocktails as mezcal, it’s not the same drink. You’ll find that raicilla is usually more fruity, sweet, and fragrant but doesn’t have the same smokiness.
Until 1992 baconora distillation was illegal. It is now a thriving industry within Sonora, Mexico. Like several other substitutes on this list, this liquor is made from agave. It’s another handy replacement if you find the smoky flavor of mezcal too much.
Cucoy is made from Agave cocui and is a traditional Venezuelan spirit. This is an excellent drink for sipping neat or splashing into a cocktail. It has a similar smoky, fruity taste that comes from mezcal. Some brands infuse botanicals so check the label to make sure you’re getting the right product.
If your range of spirits is limited, you can always use vodka in a pinch. It won’t have the same bite, but will still taste great in cocktails. Recipes for drinks like the Negroni, Margarita, Manhattan, or Oaxaca Sour may call for mezcal. Vodka will work fine in these, although you may want to try a mix of 5 parts vodka to 1 part agave syrup.
Tip: If you prefer more flavor in your spirits then gin is another similar option that you may want to try.
Cachaca is a Brazilian spirit made from sugar cane juice. It’s closer to rum than it is mezcal, but it does share a similar smoky quality. If your cocktail calls for bitters then leave it out as cachaca already has a pronounced bitter taste.
11. Islay Scotch
A light Islay Scotch will offer a pungent peat-like flavor with a hint of sea air. Not exactly the characteristics you get from mezcal, but a tasty alternative anyway. This type of Scotch will also have a smoky flavor that provides a link to mezcal, and you can use them in much the same way in cocktails. For your next Oaxaca Old Fashioned, Islay Scotch will work a treat.
Tequila vs. Mezcal – What’s the difference?
Tequila is a type of mezcal made from blue Weber agave. It is generally less smoky and sweeter than mezcal as the agave plants (piñas) are steamed aboveground, while mezcal uses agave cooked in underground pits. Until recently, mezcal was perceived as the poor cousin of tequila in the United States.
- Mezcal is mostly produced in Oaxaca, Mexico. By law, the spirit can only be made in nine States of Mexico.
- The spirit was first made back in the 16th century by the invading conquistadors.
- There are at least 200 species of agave (maguey) but less than 50 are actually used in mezcal production. These include the espadín, tobalá, cuish, madrecuixe, cupreata, and tobaziche.
Mezcal is developing a new reputation on the bar scene in the United States. Traditionally viewed as a cheap and nasty drink to get the party started, it has gained respect for its distinct flavor notes.
The production of mezcal makes it a unique-tasting drink that isn’t easy to match. However, there are plenty of similar drinks like tequila, pisco, or sotol. Use the substitutes in your next cocktail and few will complain.
For those wanting to keep a clear head, a quick online search for tequila extract or no-alcohol mezcal will provide you with some handy alternatives.