Mezcalerías, or bars in Oaxaca specializing in artisanal mezcal, began opening at a furious pace last year. In an article I authored in October, 2014, I foreshadowed ongoing rapid change in the retail sector, and suggested that numbers would increase; and so they have as of May, 2015, only months later.
The meteoric rise in the popularity of the iconic Mexican agave based spirit continues to spell more mezcal tourism to the city, both in terms of visitors to Oaxaca arriving from foreign countries, as well as from cities throughout Mexico – to learn, to sample, to buy and to export.
I am continually asked “where should I go to drink different mezcals.” This, then, is a compendium of mezcalerías in the city of Oaxaca, revisited for 2015, which includes a couple of local haunts which also serve beer and one lounge. They are all nevertheless known for their sale of the agave intoxicant.
While the listings are accurate and up to date, it should be noted that prior to my earlier article, within a year or so one mezcalería had opened and closed on the zócalo (a branch of La Mezcalerita, with its flagship noted below), another opened on the zócalo just after I had published my first article and closed only seven months later (Sabina Sabe, said to be relocating after tenancy issues), and one which indeed made my list, Tobalá or Toba, simply closed. So there is a shakeup in the industry. Landlord fickleness may be a factor. But it is suggested that those with a reasonable amount of business acumen and / or passion for mezcal, will continue to thrive, and that there will be rapid growth of new players on the scene as the months go by; that is until the saturation point is reached.
Special mention should be made about La Mezcalerita, noted in my earlier article with less than flattering words because of the sparse offerings and environment – at the time. Management has taken significant steps at improvement, so much so that La Mezcalerita is now a mezcal bar to be reckoned with, both in terms of ambiance and selection; La Mezcalerita is now a favorite for tourists and locals alike.
Another major change which has taken hold in 2015, is the tendency for mezcalerías, and indeed many restaurants offering a healthy complement of mezcals, to distinguish mezcals made in palenques certified by the regulatory board CRM (Consejo Regulador del Mezcal, previously known as COMERCAM), from those not produced as certified. In order to not run afoul of CRM dictates, non-certified mezcals (technically in fact not “mezcals”) are often noted as “destilados de agave,” “destilados de agave silvestre artesanal,” “agave silvestre,” and so on. There is a concern that authorities may be on the prowl.
An establishment may have an extensive array of house mezcals which cannot legally be termed mezcals because they are not certified, so designating as something in the nature of agave distillate does the trick. There may be two lists at Oaxacan establishments, of equally good quality, yet entitled differently. It is also noteworthy that it is not necessarily the case that when a mezcal is selected from a list with the word “silvestre” in the title, it is made from wild as opposed to cultivated agave. Fair play? Marketing license? I suppose in the minds of some.
Similarly, it should be noted that some (but certainly not all) wait staff and bartenders seem to want to build up mezcal, or their particular offerings, or their perceived knowledge, or all, by stating as fact what is at best opinion or uncalled for dogmatism, and at worst misstatement (i.e. “tobala is a wild agave,” or “tepeztate takes 35 years to grow”). It’s not for me to correct such statements, at least not herein, but rather for the owners of these outlets to better train or monitor – if they are so inclined.
I’ll begin this latest enumeration with mezcalerías not listed earlier, followed by those where change has occurred (i.e. La Mezcalerita), and conclude with those which have simply kept up within the industry.
Once again the days and hours of operation published on signs out front and enumerated herein, must be taken with a grain of salt. They seem to change at the whim of management, based on level of tourism in the city, and if employees and owners are otherwise elsewhere engaged. But in most cases you can find them open evenings Tuesday or Wednesday through Saturday. Some make a diligent effort to be operational during their published times, even those with morning hours.
La Porfiria Mezcalerlía: Porfirio Díaz #907 Centro [cel: 951 221 2539 (2 – 11 pm)].
El Espino Gastro Cantina: 20 de Noviembre #103 [cel: 951 197 2696 (from 11 am)].
La Madre Mezcalería: Morelos #405 [(951) 501 2027; certainly weekends from about 8:30 pm, but other evenings may be open as well, so perhaps call or check social media; if open you’ll see a wrought iron gate with a few votive candles for illumination].
La Mezcalerita: Macedonio Alcalá #706-C [cel: 951 106 4432; 1:00 – 10:00 pm].
In Situ: Morelos #511 [cel: 951 514 1811].
La Mezcaloteca: Reforma #506 [(951)514-0082; 4:30 – 10:00 pm, six days; reservations preferred]
Cuish: Díaz Ordaz #712 [(951)516-8791].
La Casa del Mezcal: [Flores Magón #209.]
Mezcalillera: Murguía 403-A [(951)514-1757].
Mis Mezcales: Reforma #528-B [(951)514-2523; 10 am – 9pm; seven days].
Los Amantes: Allende #107 [email@example.com; Tues-Sun, 4:00 – 10 pm]
El Cortijo: 5 de Mayo 305-A [(951)514-3939; Mon-Sat, 6:00 – 10:30 pm].
Piedra Lumbre: Tinoco y Palacios #602 [cels 951 135 1230 & 951 156 0321; evenings from 6 pm, Wednesday through Saturday (knock)].
Mezcalogia: Garcia Vigil #511 [(951)514-0115; 5513921872 (Mexico City number of Alejandro, manager); by appointment or by chance, with stated hours Wed-Sat 4:00 – 10:00 pm].
The foregoing enumeration notes the main mezcalerías in Oaxaca. But it is not suggested that there are no others. Keeping track of the latest mezcalería inauguration is a difficult task despite social media. It is hoped that those who come across other mezcalerías, and bars and cantinas specializing in a broad diversity of mezcals, will email details so that if other criteria are met I’ll be able to augment the list yearly if not more frequently.
There are also numerous restaurants, bars and cantinas throughout the city which are not noted yet carry a wide range of mezcals, both commercial labels and house mezcals, the latter usually noted by type of agave and town of distillation either on the drink menu or a chalk board (i.e. La Biznaga, Zandunga, La Olla, and the list goes on). And there are other mezcal outlets which sell exclusively mezcal, which are similarly not included in this enumeration because their environments are not conducive to sipping in what I consider to be a pleasant environment; and the variety of product is not particularly large, though covers the basics. These include La Unión de Palenqueros de Oaxaca on Abasolo, Mezcal Artesanal Mezcalería on Doblado, amongst others; certainly consider paying a visit for a different experience.
Regardless of where you imbibe in Oaxaca, it is important to drink a diversity of agave distillates and mezcals and form your own opinion with a view to honing the palate. Many of the mezcals you’ll appreciate in Oaxacan bars, mezcalerías and even restaurants, are not exported from Mexico, and most, especially the ensambles, you cannot even find outside of Oaxaca; so enjoy while on your visit.
Alvin Starkman operates Mezcal Educational Excursions of Oaxaca. He is the author of “Mezcal in the Global Spirits Market: Unrivalled Complexity, Innumerable Nuances.” Alvin has been an aficionado of Mexican spirits for over 20 years, and has a personal collection of more than 200 different agave distillates.