Cinco de Mayo is a time for friends and family to celebrate their Mexican inner spirits. And while the day is not as big a deal in Mexico (it commemorates a battle victory), in the United States it’s an excuse for a full-on fiesta.

If this year’s Cinco de Mayo plans include adult beverages, explore Mexico’s agave cactus spirits, tequila and mezcal. Agave spirits rank second in popularity in the U.S. behind vodka, the Distilled Spirits Council says. Tequila has been huge here for decades, but mezcal (sometimes spelled mescal) has only recently caught fire.

(La Esquina Cocina/Facebook)

Cocktails featuring mezcal are gaining menu space. Entire bars dedicated to agave are popping up. People exploring premium, aged, and small batch versions are discovering that agave liquor doesn’t necessarily deserve a reputation of “one tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor.” Mezcal is a family of spirits that includes tequila, but the name is also a generic reference to any agave distillate not named tequila. To be called tequila, the liquor must be made from a single variety of agave, called Blue Weber, and it must be cultivated in and near the town of Tequila in western Mexico.

The Blue Weber cactus is cored to extract a piece called a pina, which is steamed to extract sugars to ferment and distill tequila. Production is tightly controlled because of tequila’s status as a “designation of origin” product. Most mezcal comes from Oaxaca in southern Mexico, or Durango in the north-central region. They can be made from any of 40 suitable varieties of agave, all of which add their own personalities to the finished product. Mezcal makers, Mescaleros, bake the pinas in leaf-covered pits to coax out the fermentable sugars. Some mezcals take on a smoky character from this step.

In honor of Cinco de Mayo, here are five places that serve a selection of agave spirits, along with tasty suggestions for exploring mezcal.

(Mayawell Bar/Facebook)



The first bar in the city to specialize in mezcal as well as tequila, Mayawell’s boasts more than 90 different agave spirits in its collection. Tequila and mezcal figure prominently in the signature cocktails and margaritas. Pours of individual agave spirits are available.

Drink: Guacamaya made with wild-fermented El Viaje Raicilla mezcal, Aperol, pineapple and lime.

Agave and Rye


The specialty cocktails at this multi-state chain lean toward tequila drinks, from standard-recipe margaritas to the Sparkling Rose and Peach Bellini Margarita. Most are available in three sizes: regular, epic, and pitcher. The establishment stocks 90 different agave spirits and nearly that many whiskeys.

Drink: Kissed by Mezcal. Available frozen or rocks, it combines mezcal and tequila in a margarita with tiki touches. 

(La Esquina Cocina/Facebook)

La Esquina Cocina


Margaritas include a seasonal watermelon flavor with passion fruit and pineapple. At weekend brunch, the standard margarita is joined by a Bloody Maria with pepper-infused tequila instead of vodka.

Drink: Oaxacan Old-Fashioned. Mi Campo reposado tequila and Montolobos mezcal are stirred with simple syrup and dashed with orange bitters.



Jesus Mendez and Jose Medina Camacho, longtime fixtures in Birmingham’s cocktail scene, opened Adios to celebrate the flavors of their native Mexico. Agave spirits feature prominently on Adios’ specialty cocktail menu and in classics like the Paloma, El Diablo, and of course, margaritas.

Drink: Ojitos Lindos. Perfect for this time of year in Alabama, it blends strawberry-infused mezcal, Manzanilla sherry, and the aperitifs Mazzura and Cocchi Rosa.

Jalapeños Downtown


Jalapeno’s cocina and tequila bar claims Alabama’s largest selection of agave spirits including two-dozen mezcals. Margaritas are made frozen or rocks, with interpretations that include fruit juices, a jalapeno and cucumber combo, and even avocado. Agave-based signature cocktails can be colorful, unusual, or riff on classics like the Mezcal Negroni.

Drink: Make a Mezcal flight with Del Maguey’s single-village spirits from Minero, San Luis, and Chichicapa.