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Oaxacan Mezcal Is Astounding. Here’s Where to Drink It

Sample Oaxaca’s wide variety of mezcal with an agave lesson inside a distillery’s bottle shop or mixed into craft cocktails on a rooftop lounge

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If you’ve visited Oaxaca and still think that mezcal is the smoky cousin of tequila, it’s time to dig deeper. While mezcal and other spirits made from agave are produced throughout Mexico, the sheer biodiversity of agave grown in Oaxaca — unrivaled in the world — makes the state a particularly great place to consume mezcal. As opposed to tequila, which is made exclusively from agave azul grown in any of the states included within the Denomination of Origin — Jalisco, Nayarit, Michoacán, Guanajuato, Tamaulipas — mezcal refers to pretty much every other spirit distilled from 100 percent agave made anywhere in Mexico. In addition to the tremendous diversity in plant genetics, traditional mezcal is produced with the aid of native yeasts and distilled and composed to the maker’s taste, which is often a reflection of the culture of their respective community and gusto histórico (historic flavor).

Luckily for all of us, Oaxaca City is home to bars, tasting rooms, and restaurants where it is possible to partake in the stunning botanical cornucopia of the state, one copita at a time. Whether you are a first-time sipper or an established mezcal fan, the best way to learn is to set aside your preconceptions and put yourself fully in the hands of those who live and breathe mezcal. You’ll be rewarded with a broader understanding of the landscapes and cultures of Oaxaca and a more profound reverence for the natural world and the delicious things that can come from it.

Make an appointment at a tasting room or, if you have the time and access, visit a palenque (traditional distillery). There are a number of reliable guides who can take you even deeper — Mezcouting and Oaxacking are just a couple of established ethical operators to consider. What follows is a roundup of some of the best places to learn about mezcal the fun way — by drinking it.

Niki Nakazawa is the Oaxaca-based co-owner of the agave spirits brand Neta and host of The Nectar Corridor, a bilingual Whetstone Radio Collective podcast that features interviews with mezcal producers, activists, and farmers in Mexico.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. La Mezcalerita

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C. Macedonio Alcalá 706, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez
Oax., Mexico

Featuring an extensive lineup of local craft beer and mezcal, La Mezcalerita is a lively and casual spot with both a rooftop bar and indoor spaces to drink and eat local bar snacks prepared with 100 percent Oaxacan ingredients. Founder Coca Zárate’s mezcal selection includes well-regarded brands like Nuestra Soledad, Real Minero, Macurichos, Cuish, La Medida, and Koch, as well as a comprehensive list of house mezcales sourced from local producers. 

2. La Popular

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C. de Manuel García Vigil 519, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez
Oax., Mexico

Occupying a lively corner on the calle M. García Vigil, La Popular is, as its name suggests, quite popular. Frequented by locals and tourists alike, “La Popu,” with its ever-changing art displays, offers a fun and casual environment for an easy meal, a chela, and a tasty house mezcal.  The mezcal is sourced locally and includes some nice picks from Miahuatlán (Cuixe, Tepextate, Mexicano). Another reason for a mezcalito here is what’s just across the street: the consistently delicious street food stand Empanadas Nocturnas del Carmen, which serves late-night empanadas de amarillo and memelas de queso.

3. Mezcalogia

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C. de Manuel García Vigil # 509, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez
Oax., Mexico

Brought to you by the owners of Mezcal brands El Jolgorio and Nuestra Soledad, this intimate bar is an excellent s pot to learn about and enjoy mezcal from a kind and attentive staff. In addition to the array of multicolored branded bottles on the back bar, they offer an interesting selection of house mezcales exclusive to Mezcalogia from different communities in Oaxaca, including Matatlán, Santa María Zoquitlán, and Ejutla. At night, there’s often live music from a variety of local acts.

4. Mezcaloteca

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Reforma No. 506, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez
Oax., Mexico

Founded in 2010, Mezcaloteca is the original mezcal tasting room of Oaxaca. The low-lit bar, which looks more like a rare bookstore or library, is equipped with a collection of mezcales from all over Mexico, so if you’re serious about learning, an appointment or two at Mezcaloteca is a must. Depending on how deep you want to go, you can choose to taste between three to five different half-ounce pours over the course of an educational session that ranges from 40 minutes to an hour. To get a sense of the variance in styles and terroir, ask to try a single agave or agave varietal from different producing regions. Or for pure pleasure, tell your guide what flavors you’re fond of and discover the mezcales that most speak to you.

5. Puro Burro

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C. de Ignacio Allende 211, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez
Oax., Mexico

Founded in 2020 by Eric Giardina of the Golden Era in Nevada City and Asis Cortes of Dixeebe and Origen Raíz, this relaxed rooftop bar has quickly become a local favorite because of its tasty Mexican food, panoramic city views, and good mezcal. The mezcal and agave spirits selection includes lots of Mexican brands, including Cortes’s own, along with other small brands like La Venenosa, Derrumbes, Cordón Cerrado, and Gracias a Dios. Be sure to check out Cortes’s wonderful partner Mar’s shop, Espíritus Máxicos, on the bottom floor for a collection of beautiful local crafts, rare bottles, and other treats. Ask about the private tastings at Altar for a very special and transformative mezcal experience. 

6. El Destilado

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5 de Mayo 409, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez
Oax., Mexico

El Techo is the good-looking rooftop restaurant of El Destilado, boasting views of the famous Santo Domingo church and murals by local Oaxacan artists. Co-owner Jason Cox is also the founder of the agave spirits brand 5 Sentidos, and along with spirits from his own roster, he offers a stellar lineup of mezcales from other small brands across Mexico. Some favorites from 5 Sentidos are the mezcales produced by Alberto Martínez from Santa Catarina Albarradas and those by Atenogenes García from Miahuatlán. El Techo also features a very tasty and unfussy menu of tacos, snacks, and other easygoing fare from chef Joseph Gilbert.

7. Mezontle

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Reforma 405, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez
Oax., Mexico
951 518 4654

Carlos Moreno, the visionary behind Mezcal Koch and many other projects, established his bar/tasting room Mezontle in 2019 as a gathering space for his numerous visitors and friends — and to showcase some of the smaller batches made by the producers he works with. From the comfort of velvet chairs and low tables, you can drink a wide array of mezcales from Sola de Vega, San Baltazar, Río de Ejutla, and San Luis Amatlán, along with some of my favorites from Jayacatlán. A generous and gracious host, Moreno often produces events for and with his guests, so be sure to check out the bar’s Instagram page for any special programming.

8. Cortijo La Mezcaleria

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5 de Mayo 305, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez
Oax., Mexico

Founded in 2012, this corner mezcalería on the lovely calle 5 de Mayo is the initiative of the Méndez family, Matatlán-based mezcal producers who were among the first to create and register a brand in Oaxaca in the 1950s. The wooden backbar showcases the family’s productions in addition to a giant selection of mezcales from different producing regions of Oaxaca that you can choose to discover on your own or with the expert assistance of one of the knowledgeable bartenders.

9. Archivo Maguey

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Av. José María Morelos 509, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez
Oax., Mexico

Archivo Maguey consists of two floors, a downstairs bar and seating area, second-floor seating, and a back room known as the cave, where DJs play everything from cumbia and reggaeton to techno. Jesus “Espina” Ortiz, the man behind Archivo and what seems like countless other food, design, and mezcal projects in Oaxaca, hails from Nochixtlán, and while he works with producers in several different regions, I’d recommend trying the Ticunshi, Potrero, or any of the other mezcals produced in the Mixteca. Chucho Ortiz’s tastings are particularly epic and informative, so if you can, reserve a Spanish-language experience at Archivo Fuego, his micro-distillery in Casa Toro, only a short walk from Archivo Maguey, at calle Crespo 203.

10. Sabina Sabe

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5 de Mayo 209, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez
Oax., Mexico

A Oaxaca City classic, Sabina Sabe’s cozy, exposed-brick bar is the place to try top-notch branded mezcal from the likes of Mezcalósfera, Vago, Real Minero, El Jolgorio, and others that might not be available outside of Mexico. The bar team also makes some solid cocktails using local spirits, juices, and native Oaxacan ingredients that can be enjoyed at the bar or while sitting in the pleasant dining room for a full meal or a light snack.

11. Cuish

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Díaz Ordaz 712, Zona Lunes Feb 09, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez
Oax., Mexico

This is one of the first quality mezcal bottle shops I ever visited, way back in 2009. Cuish founder Felix Hernández Monterrosa and his family have been involved in the mezcal biz for generations. Today the group has two locations: an extremely comprehensive two-floor mezcalería near the Central de Abastos market and a small bottle shop in Centro on Macedonio Alcalá. The mezcalería, while slightly outside the touristy heart of downtown Oaxaca, is absolutely worth a visit. Monterrosa has one of the best collections of mezcal out there, and because of his graphic arts background, he’s created some very beautiful handmade mezcal gift boxes that are available to take home. I love the productions from Berta Vásquez in San Baltazar Chichicapam, as well as Francisco García Leon and Agustín Guendulain Maya, both from different parts of Miahuatlán.

Cuish mezcalería
Juan de Dios Garza Vela

1. La Mezcalerita

C. Macedonio Alcalá 706, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez, Oax., Mexico

Featuring an extensive lineup of local craft beer and mezcal, La Mezcalerita is a lively and casual spot with both a rooftop bar and indoor spaces to drink and eat local bar snacks prepared with 100 percent Oaxacan ingredients. Founder Coca Zárate’s mezcal selection includes well-regarded brands like Nuestra Soledad, Real Minero, Macurichos, Cuish, La Medida, and Koch, as well as a comprehensive list of house mezcales sourced from local producers. 

C. Macedonio Alcalá 706, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez
Oax., Mexico

2. La Popular

C. de Manuel García Vigil 519, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez, Oax., Mexico

Occupying a lively corner on the calle M. García Vigil, La Popular is, as its name suggests, quite popular. Frequented by locals and tourists alike, “La Popu,” with its ever-changing art displays, offers a fun and casual environment for an easy meal, a chela, and a tasty house mezcal.  The mezcal is sourced locally and includes some nice picks from Miahuatlán (Cuixe, Tepextate, Mexicano). Another reason for a mezcalito here is what’s just across the street: the consistently delicious street food stand Empanadas Nocturnas del Carmen, which serves late-night empanadas de amarillo and memelas de queso.

C. de Manuel García Vigil 519, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez
Oax., Mexico

3. Mezcalogia

C. de Manuel García Vigil # 509, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez, Oax., Mexico

Brought to you by the owners of Mezcal brands El Jolgorio and Nuestra Soledad, this intimate bar is an excellent s pot to learn about and enjoy mezcal from a kind and attentive staff. In addition to the array of multicolored branded bottles on the back bar, they offer an interesting selection of house mezcales exclusive to Mezcalogia from different communities in Oaxaca, including Matatlán, Santa María Zoquitlán, and Ejutla. At night, there’s often live music from a variety of local acts.

C. de Manuel García Vigil # 509, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez
Oax., Mexico

4. Mezcaloteca

Reforma No. 506, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez, Oax., Mexico

Founded in 2010, Mezcaloteca is the original mezcal tasting room of Oaxaca. The low-lit bar, which looks more like a rare bookstore or library, is equipped with a collection of mezcales from all over Mexico, so if you’re serious about learning, an appointment or two at Mezcaloteca is a must. Depending on how deep you want to go, you can choose to taste between three to five different half-ounce pours over the course of an educational session that ranges from 40 minutes to an hour. To get a sense of the variance in styles and terroir, ask to try a single agave or agave varietal from different producing regions. Or for pure pleasure, tell your guide what flavors you’re fond of and discover the mezcales that most speak to you.

Reforma No. 506, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez
Oax., Mexico

5. Puro Burro

C. de Ignacio Allende 211, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez, Oax., Mexico

Founded in 2020 by Eric Giardina of the Golden Era in Nevada City and Asis Cortes of Dixeebe and Origen Raíz, this relaxed rooftop bar has quickly become a local favorite because of its tasty Mexican food, panoramic city views, and good mezcal. The mezcal and agave spirits selection includes lots of Mexican brands, including Cortes’s own, along with other small brands like La Venenosa, Derrumbes, Cordón Cerrado, and Gracias a Dios. Be sure to check out Cortes’s wonderful partner Mar’s shop, Espíritus Máxicos, on the bottom floor for a collection of beautiful local crafts, rare bottles, and other treats. Ask about the private tastings at Altar for a very special and transformative mezcal experience. 

C. de Ignacio Allende 211, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez
Oax., Mexico

6. El Destilado

5 de Mayo 409, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez, Oax., Mexico

El Techo is the good-looking rooftop restaurant of El Destilado, boasting views of the famous Santo Domingo church and murals by local Oaxacan artists. Co-owner Jason Cox is also the founder of the agave spirits brand 5 Sentidos, and along with spirits from his own roster, he offers a stellar lineup of mezcales from other small brands across Mexico. Some favorites from 5 Sentidos are the mezcales produced by Alberto Martínez from Santa Catarina Albarradas and those by Atenogenes García from Miahuatlán. El Techo also features a very tasty and unfussy menu of tacos, snacks, and other easygoing fare from chef Joseph Gilbert.

5 de Mayo 409, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez
Oax., Mexico

7. Mezontle

Reforma 405, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez, Oax., Mexico

Carlos Moreno, the visionary behind Mezcal Koch and many other projects, established his bar/tasting room Mezontle in 2019 as a gathering space for his numerous visitors and friends — and to showcase some of the smaller batches made by the producers he works with. From the comfort of velvet chairs and low tables, you can drink a wide array of mezcales from Sola de Vega, San Baltazar, Río de Ejutla, and San Luis Amatlán, along with some of my favorites from Jayacatlán. A generous and gracious host, Moreno often produces events for and with his guests, so be sure to check out the bar’s Instagram page for any special programming.

Reforma 405, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez
Oax., Mexico

8. Cortijo La Mezcaleria

5 de Mayo 305, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez, Oax., Mexico

Founded in 2012, this corner mezcalería on the lovely calle 5 de Mayo is the initiative of the Méndez family, Matatlán-based mezcal producers who were among the first to create and register a brand in Oaxaca in the 1950s. The wooden backbar showcases the family’s productions in addition to a giant selection of mezcales from different producing regions of Oaxaca that you can choose to discover on your own or with the expert assistance of one of the knowledgeable bartenders.

5 de Mayo 305, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez
Oax., Mexico

9. Archivo Maguey

Av. José María Morelos 509, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez, Oax., Mexico

Archivo Maguey consists of two floors, a downstairs bar and seating area, second-floor seating, and a back room known as the cave, where DJs play everything from cumbia and reggaeton to techno. Jesus “Espina” Ortiz, the man behind Archivo and what seems like countless other food, design, and mezcal projects in Oaxaca, hails from Nochixtlán, and while he works with producers in several different regions, I’d recommend trying the Ticunshi, Potrero, or any of the other mezcals produced in the Mixteca. Chucho Ortiz’s tastings are particularly epic and informative, so if you can, reserve a Spanish-language experience at Archivo Fuego, his micro-distillery in Casa Toro, only a short walk from Archivo Maguey, at calle Crespo 203.

Av. José María Morelos 509, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez
Oax., Mexico

10. Sabina Sabe

5 de Mayo 209, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez, Oax., Mexico

A Oaxaca City classic, Sabina Sabe’s cozy, exposed-brick bar is the place to try top-notch branded mezcal from the likes of Mezcalósfera, Vago, Real Minero, El Jolgorio, and others that might not be available outside of Mexico. The bar team also makes some solid cocktails using local spirits, juices, and native Oaxacan ingredients that can be enjoyed at the bar or while sitting in the pleasant dining room for a full meal or a light snack.

5 de Mayo 209, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez
Oax., Mexico

11. Cuish

Díaz Ordaz 712, Zona Lunes Feb 09, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez, Oax., Mexico
Cuish mezcalería
Juan de Dios Garza Vela

This is one of the first quality mezcal bottle shops I ever visited, way back in 2009. Cuish founder Felix Hernández Monterrosa and his family have been involved in the mezcal biz for generations. Today the group has two locations: an extremely comprehensive two-floor mezcalería near the Central de Abastos market and a small bottle shop in Centro on Macedonio Alcalá. The mezcalería, while slightly outside the touristy heart of downtown Oaxaca, is absolutely worth a visit. Monterrosa has one of the best collections of mezcal out there, and because of his graphic arts background, he’s created some very beautiful handmade mezcal gift boxes that are available to take home. I love the productions from Berta Vásquez in San Baltazar Chichicapam, as well as Francisco García Leon and Agustín Guendulain Maya, both from different parts of Miahuatlán.

Díaz Ordaz 712, Zona Lunes Feb 09, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez
Oax., Mexico

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