Yes, There's A Right Way To Drink Mezcal

If you've only begun exploring the wide-ranging world of mezcal, maybe it's time you dive even deeper into the scene by drinking this traditional Mexican spirit made from the agave plant the way it was meant to be enjoyed. No, you're not going to be tossing this back in a shot glass. Mezcal is meant to be sipped and in Mexico, there are a few traditional drinking vessels specifically made for imbibing the liquor. You have a choice here: jicaras, copitas, or veladoras.


The first two resemble bowls more than glasses and the third shares some characteristics with a shot glass. We'll explore all three choices further below. The most typical accompaniment for mezcal is an orange slice with sal de gusano or worm salt on it. Don't be grossed out by the idea of worm salt. If we didn't tell you it had ground-up insects in it, you never would have known. The umami-heavy condiment that features a smoky spiciness, when mixed with the sweetness and acidity of the orange slice, enhances the natural flavors in the mezcal.

Mezcal calls for a traditional drinking vessel

Unless you're drinking your mezcal in a cocktail, like the Naked & Famous, which combines the Mexican liquor with yellow chartreuse, Aperol, and lime juice, you should go for a traditional drinking vessel to sip your mezcal straight. The most authentic cup used for mezcal is the jicara. This shallow bowl-like vessel is made from a calabash gourd and features a wide mouth so you can get your nose in close as you sip. This allows for more of your senses to experience the subtle characteristics of the liquor. Jicaras have a history going back millennia to the Mayan and Aztec cultures and were often used ceremonially. 


Copitas look similar to jicaras but are made of clay. Many mezcal connoisseurs prefer the copita because, unlike the jicara which is naturally porous, a copita won't absorb the liquor. A more modern but still acceptable glass is the veladora, which is a Catholic votive candle holder that at some point became repurposed for mezcal sipping. It resembles a shot glass, but is fluted and has a wider mouth so you can still breathe in the liquor as you sip it. You can purchase all three of these different types of drinking vessels on sites like Etsy and Amazon.

Accompany it with an orange slice and worm salt

Now that we've gotten what to drink mezcal in sorted, the next step is slicing an orange and sprinkling some sal de gusano on it. The "worm" in this condiment, like the infamous tequila worm that is neither a worm nor found in tequila, is actually the caterpillar of the red worm moth that feeds off the agave plants used to make mezcal. To make it, the toasted caterpillars are ground up and mixed with chiles and salt. Sal de gusano can be found online, at many Hispanic specialty stores, and some liquor stores.


Take a bite of the salted orange slice followed by a sip of mezcal. You're now enjoying this Mexican spirit the way it was intended. Once you've tried this combination, you can explore other options as well. In some areas of Mexico, your mezcal might come with a piece of cheese, dried crickets, melon and mango slices, or non-alcoholic chasers like sangrita, a juice drink flavored with chiles.