Mezcal is not traditionally mixed with anything, except for some thin slices of oranges, lemon or lime, sprinkled with a mixture a salt called sal de gusano, literally “worm salt”. This delicious salt is indeed ground-up from worms (or rather, fried larvae)–don’t let the description turn you off, the smoky, chilli flavor is a great accompaniment to mezcal.
What you won’t find is a worm at the bottom of the bottle, which is mostly considered a marketing ploy and not something premium producers do.
Mezcal is also becoming a star ingredient in experimental craft cocktails. If you’re not ready for the full flavor of mezcal, start with a cocktail and look out for smoky backflavors to identify the mezcal taste. In many cases, mezcal is interchangeable with tequila, so next time you order a margarita, switch it out for mezcal instead.
There are some limitations to which flavors can be used in mezcal coctails–they need to be bold or sweet to balance the strong mezcal flavor. Mezcal can generally be swapped out for traditional spirits in cocktails: Mezal Mule, Mezcal Old Fashioned or a Mezcal Negroni are some common mixes.
Traditional mezcal glasses are usually short and stout with a wide opening, different to the slim and tall glasses used for tequila.
In Oxaca, it is traditional to ‘drink over the cross.’ When you tip your short, wide shot glass to your mouth, you’ll typically see a cross staring back at you from the bottom of the glass.
Some mezcal producers say to rub a little mezcal in your hands, and then cup them over your nose to breathe in the base flavors. If you’re tasting mezcals, take a very small sip first, then taking a long sip straight after. Hold the mezcal in your mouth, and breathe out slowly and deeply to develop the flavours. When that all gets too complicated, just sip it like a fine wine or cognac.