What do yuzu, blue cheese, smoked caramel and cocaine have in common?
On local mezcal lists, these disparate nouns are used to describe the flavor of once-maligned mezcal, which is experiencing a renaissance.
Though mezcal can be made from any type of agave, the best are produced from 100 percent blue agave. Whether aged in wood, which imparts a round, soft quality, or not, mezcals are universally smokier than their Mexican beverage compatriot, tequila.
Mosto, adjacent to Tacolicious in the Mission, is the city's first dedicated tequila-and-mezcal bar and offers 34 mezcals by the glass or 5 ounce carafe. Ilegal Reposado (1.5 ounces for $14), with a peppery, rosemary nose and a butterscotch finish, is an artisanal, small-batch production made entirely from espadin agave from Oaxaca.
Nopalito's list is short but pointed, and includes a collection of Pierde Almas bottles, including Tobaziche (1 ounce for $9), musky and smooth, with a clove finish. Being a joven, or young, mezcal, it's a good one for novices.
Tommy's Del Maguey Single-Village Tobala is a splurge at $25 for 2 ounces, but this rare distillate, made exclusively from wild, high-altitude tobala agave, is worth the price.
Mosto, 741 Valencia St. (at 18th St.), 415-626-1344 or mostosf.com; Nopalito, 306 Broderick St. (at Oak St.), 415-437-0303 or nopalitosf.com; Tommy's Mexican Restaurant, 5929 Geary Blvd. (at 24th Ave.), 415-387-4747 or tommystequila.com
GET YOUR DAILY SERVING OF FOOD & DRINK CULTURE: MANAGE YOUR SUBSCRIPTION AT TASTINGTABLE.COM/MANAGE