A Mezcal Guide: Tequia's Smoky Cousin

Mezcal, tequila's smoky cousin, opens up a new world of agave

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