10 Best Mezcal Cocktails in L.A.

10 Best Mezcal Cocktails in L.A.EXPAND
Matthew Bone/Hatchet Hall

An eminently versatile spirit, mezcal works itself into some of the city’s most inventive cocktails. Yet the other agave distillate of Mexico is unfairly pigeonholed as a smoke monster — in reality, its flavor transcends mere smokiness. Supple sweetness, barnyard funk, vegetal earth, metallic minerality — these are a few of the common modifiers used to describe the many mezcals competing for shelf space behind L.A. bars. Southern California, in fact, consumes more of the spirit than any other major market in the United States.

All this is to say that if the best your local watering hole can do with mezcal is bust out a tired margarita variation, it isn't trying very hard. Plenty of places are making mezcal drinks look easy, broadening the preconceived notions of what this exciting spirit can bring to the glass. Here are 10 of the best mezcal cocktails currently featured on drink menus across Los Angeles.

The Kentucky Mai Tai
The Kentucky Mai Tai
Courtesy the Ace Hotel

Kentucky Mai Tai at Upstairs at the Ace Hotel

Just in time for Derby season, the Ace trots out this highball thoroughbred — an unexpected trifecta of flavors by way of Kentucky, Mexico and Polynesia. With so many elements competing for attention on the tongue, it's something of a small miracle that they arrive together in harmony at the finish line. Accompanying an elegant mezcal (the Amaras Espadin) is an equal part straight bourbon. The divide between smoke and oak is bridged by a smattering of liqueurs, including sweet peach and bitter Cynar. 929 S. Broadway, downtown; (213) 623-3233, acehotel.com.

The Mezcal RickeyEXPAND
The Mezcal Rickey
Brad Japhe

Mezcal Rickey at Salt’s Cure

The most straightforward cocktail on this list is also quite possibly the most refreshing. A sendup of the classic gin rickey — properly served without sweetener — this version utilizes Crema de Mezcal, bottled with a small amount of agave syrup. Spirit, lime and seltzer is all it takes to bring this simple cocktail to life. Its brightness works well against the fat of an unctuous chicken liver mousse, a standout of Salt's Cure's afternoon happy hour. 1155 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood; (323) 465-7258, saltscure.com.

The Firing SquadEXPAND
The Firing Squad
Courtesy Hatchet Hall

Firing Squad at Hatchet Hall

Another bubbly offering, the Firing Squad at Hatchet Hall derives its effervescence from Lambrusco. At its core is a certified organic, estate-grown mezcal from Benesin Blanco, emitting subtle notes of Oaxacan chocolate. These deeper flavors are ultimately lifted by the presence of pomegranate and lemon juice. According to head bartender Matthew Bone, the acidity of the sparkling wine is ideal for warm weather, especially on the restaurant's outdoor patio. 12517 W. Washington Blvd., Culver City; (310) 391-4222, hatchethallla.com.

Hamish McShane crafting a Oaxaca Flaka Flame at NorahEXPAND
Hamish McShane crafting a Oaxaca Flaka Flame at Norah
Kathy Delgado

Oaxaca Flaka Flame at Norah

Mixologist Hamish McShane brings together bitterness and spice with his Oaxaca Flaka Flame. The cocktail's kick is a function of a particularly smoky mezcal, girded by the popular chili liqueur from Ancho Reyes. Peppery notes at the front end are eventually reigned in with grapefruit zest and maraschino, leaving you with a drink that lights a fire before extinguishing it. 8279 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood; (323) 450-4211, norahrestaurant.com.

Valley of the Dark Lords
Valley of the Dark Lords
Danielle Bernabe

Valley of the Dark Lords at La Cuevita

Amid an ever-expanding landscape of inventive mixologists in Highland Park, La Cuevita bartender Sol Trece stands apart, sourcing inspiration from science fiction. "This one is 100 percent inspired by Star Wars," she says. "We wanted a cocktail that, if you were looking at it through a telescope from another planet, you would see sand and living creatures." The "sand" is provided in the form of powdered turmeric, the critters courtesy of a bar spoon of chia seeds. A grassy mezcal from Los Javis floats below, lending a gentle, floral backbone to this thoughtful Blood and Sand variation. 5922 N. Figueroa St., Highland Park; (323) 255-6871, lacuevitabar.com.

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