Mexico is a magical country, offering amazing scenery and a wealth of culture that has garnered worldwide fascination. One of the most beloved aspects of Mexican culture is undoubtedly Mexico’s culinary traditions, which often go hand in hand with nature.
In the case of Mexican liquors, prized distilled spirits and rich liqueurs showcase a bounty of native plants from Mexico’s vast topography.
If you’re looking to sample Mexican spirits as mixed drinks or sipping spirits, I’ve compiled a list of different Mexican liquors to try in the following section.
Read on to discover a diverse list of Mexican liquors, some of which are world-famous, while others are Mexico’s local treasures and best-kept secrets.
Bacanora is a type of mezcal native to the Mexican state of Sonora. Like any mezcal, it consists of 100% Sonoran agave plant, known as Agave Pacifica. This species of agave plant grows in the highlands of Sonora around the desert town of Bacanora.
It differentiates itself from conventional mezcal through its highly variable distillation, cooking, and aging processes. Master distillers in Sonora use different pits and outdoor ovens to roast agave hearts, along with uncommon plastic vats for distilling.
These distillers also take more creative license with bacanora, straying from the strict regulations of mezcal production to infuse their distilled spirits with spices like anise or the Sonoran cactus fruit Uvelama.
I recommend trying the Uvelama-infused bacanora to get a slightly sweet, plum-like note along with the smokey, agave flavor inherent in all mezcals.
Rum is to the Caribbean as charanda is to Mexico. Originating in the Pacific state of Michoacan, charanda is a sugar cane distillate that undergoes double distillation to produce a crystal-clear spirit.
Often considered a kind of moonshine, the drink gets its name from the hill of Charanda which lies outside the town of Uruapan, where the spirit was first produced. It is very similar to rum, both in taste and production.
Charanda uses local sugar cane, twice distilled, that can be unaged or aged in oak barrels. You’ll see it marketed under many brands around Mexico, each offering a blanco, reposado, and anejo versions.
The reposado and anejo charanda varieties have darker hues, smoother finishes, and a complex flavor palette. In Mexico, charanda is traditionally consumed neat and at room temperature. I’m a big fan of its buttery mouthfeel and rich notes of vanilla.
Named for the ancient Mayan town of Comitan in the state of Chiapas, comiteco is an agave-derived spirit that bridges the gap between pulque and mezcal.
Like pulque, Comiteco comes from the sweet sap of the agave plant. Like Mezcal, the fermented sap undergoes a double distillation process to produce a clear, spirit with sweet notes.
Comiteco originated as far back as the 15th Century as a fermented agave sap beverage. It eventually transformed into a distilled spirit with the arrival of European colonizers who introduced the distillation process to indigenous peoples.
While it lost popularity during the 19th and early 20th centuries, it experienced a resurgence during the 1970s and is now a bottled product that you can find aged. Unlike most aged spirits, comiteco uses glass barrels to age instead of wood.
If you’ve ever enjoyed a white Russian or espresso martini, you’ve surely delighted in the utter decadence of kahlua. Meaning “House of the Acolhua People” in Nahuatl, kahlua is a coffee liqueur made from rum, sugar, and arabica coffee from the highlands of the Mexican state of Veracruz.
Founder and creator Pedro Domecq started making Kahlua in 1936 to widespread acclaim in Mexico, and a few years later, in the U.S. The intense sweetness balances the richness of concentrated coffee, while the rum adds a warming alcoholic finish.
Kahlua is so delicious that there are numerous mixed drinks created specifically for it, not to mention its widespread use in desserts like ice cream and cakes.
Kalani is another ultra-decadent-flavored Mexican liquor and a prized beverage from Yucatan. It is a coconut liqueur made by blending coconut milk with Mexican rum.
Yucatecan distillers use dwarf coconuts harvested from local Yucatan farms to create a delicious, fresh-pressed coconut milk that infuses with rum made from sugar cane.
The result is a rich coconut rum that would put Malibu to shame. Its all-natural ingredients make kalani a cut above, emphasizing the velvety, rich flavor and texture of coconut without being overly sweet.
I recommend adding half a shot of kalani to a pina colada to add extra alcohol and coconut without adding sweetener. You could also sip this delicious spirit over ice.
While you might associate vodka with colder countries like Sweden, Poland, or Russia, Mexican vodka brands are pushing the envelope and gaining popularity globally. Vodka is a versatile spirit made using grains, corn, and sugars, so there are a variety of vodka traditions.
Mexican spirits often incorporate other spirit-making traditions like tequila and mezcal into the mix by using agave or even the famous agave worm. In fact, many of the most famous and historic tequila brands also produce vodka.
My favorite Mexican vodka is Villa Lobos, a five-time distilled grain vodka that uses agave and the agave worm during fermentation. It has a peppery, grainy flavor with a smooth finish.
Another unlikely candidate for Mexican liquors, Mexican whisky is rooted in ancient Mexican traditions. As you might know, corn is the pride and joy of Mexico and a key ingredient in nearly every culinary dish. It’s also been the principal ingredient in fermented beverages dating back to pre-Hispanic civilizations.
Mexican whisky is the newest twist on a corn spirit, using nixtamalized corn as the key ingredient. The Mexican whisky producer and owner of Ancho Reyes, Ivan Saldana creates the most unique concoction of nixtamalized corn, corn malt, and yeast to brew, ferment, and finally aged in oak barrels.
Ancho Reyes’ Mexican spirits taste like a hot corn tortilla in liquid form and are perfect for sipping or spiking hot Mexican chocolate with cinnamon.
Mezcal is the mother of all Mexican liquors and the originator of agave-based spirits. Made from the roasted hearts of the agave plant, mezcal is from the state of Oaxaca. There are hundreds of species of agave, and mezcal uses upwards of 50 agave species in its numerous iterations.
The drink has strict guidelines to ensure quality and honor the ancestral tradition of mezcal production, with three official categories: mezcal, mezcal artisanal, and mezcal ancestral.
Roasting agave gives mezcal its characteristic smokiness and earthy flavor. I love sipping mezcal, but I love it even more in mixed drinks with other Mexican flavors like habanero and tamarind.
A celebration of Mexico’s most highly-prized crop, nixta licor de elote is a corn liqueur made from nixtamalized corn. Created in Jilotepec, Mexico, nixta is a corn-forward spirit that ferments nixtamalized corn, distills it, and ages it.
Considering bourbon is a corn-derived spirit, it’s almost a cousin of its Kentuckian counterpart. That said, it tastes nothing like bourbon but instead gives off an intensely sweet corny flavor that tastes like drinking a fresh corn tamale.
You can sip this spirit at room temperature or add it to a mixed drink. Bartenders in Mexico City use it as both a flavoring and sweetening agent in creative cocktails.
This ceremonial spirit from Chiapas, Mexico, dates back to Mayan spiritual rituals. Pox is a corn, cane sugar, and wheat spirit. It is a form of aguardiente and comes from the Mayan word for “medicine cane liquor cure.”
I’m assuming the Mayans agree with most drinking cultures in using pox to “cure” ailments by making you forget about them under the cloudy state of inebriation, but that might just be my cynicism!
Raicilla is a cousin to tequila and a descendant of mezcal, its origins dating back at least 300 years. It comes from the state of Jalisco, but unlike tequila, uses numerous species of agave plants.
Meaning “little root” in Spanish, raicilla is a distilled agave spirit made from the pina or agave’s central stem. The drink is still limited to 16 official regions in Jalisco, using a slow cooking method to bring out the flavors in agave. Master distillers ferment the cooked agave in fresh spring water in copper cones.
Raicilla then ages in either glass or wood barrels, producing a clear or golden liquor with a wide variety of flavor palates depending on the species of agave, soil conditions, and aging container.
If you love eggnog, you’ll love rompope, a Mexican version of the classic egg yolk, sugar, milk, and spirit concoction we all drink during the holidays. Rompope has a fascinating history, originating in the central state of Puebla from a convent in the 17th Century.
Rompope now consists of various recipes and brands and is a popular holiday drink in most Central American countries. It usually contains rum as its alcoholic component, taking its name from the Spanish version of eggnog known as rompon.
A popular drink in the U.S. and Mexico, sotol is a spirit derived from a species of succulent known as desert spoon. It’s made using the pina or stem, involving the same methods used in mezcal. Sotol hearts are cooked, fermented, and distilled.
Sotol is the official spirit of the northern Mexican states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, and Durango, but the sotol plant is native to Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. You can, therefore, find sotol in abundance on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.
Like tequila or mezcal, sotol can be silver (unaged), reposado (aged up to one year), or anejo (aged for a year or more). It has a musky, earthy, smokey flavor similar to mezcal.
The king of all Mexican liquors, tequila is the most famous spirit to come out of Mexico and the key ingredient in some of the world’s most beloved cocktails.
Tequila is a type of mezcal, made from the blue agave plant that grows in the highlands and lowlands of the state of Jalisco.
It comes in many iterations, from the unaged plata or blanco tequila to the vintage extra-anejo. Unlike mezcal, tequila only needs to have 51% blue agave distillate. You can therefore see flavored and colored tequilas.
In my opinion, tequila tastes wonderful as a sipping spirit or even as a fiery shot, but everyone knows that the best way to drink it is in a salt-rimmed margarita.
Another Yucatecan spirit born of ancient Mayan tradition, xtabentun is anise and fermented honey liqueur. Xtabentun is the name of a local Yucatecan flower from which honeybees derive the nectar used to create fermented honey.
Xtabentun production involves fermenting honey and anise, then adding distilled rum. The result is a very rich spirit with strong anise flavors that Mexicans enjoy over ice or with a few drops of honey.
Whether you’re exploring the streets of Mexico City or lounging on the beaches of Puerto Vallarta, the country offers a vast range of settings in which to enjoy festive Mexican liquor.
These liquors range from well-known agave distillates like tequila and mezcal to lesser-known spirits like corn liquor and Mexican vodka.
My list of Mexican liquors gives you a fascinating glimpse into Mexican culture, history, and topography, which hopefully will make your next tequila shot or Mexican cocktail worth savoring even more.
Let me know which one on this list you’d enjoy trying in the comments below!