Learn why this smoky twist on a classic cocktail just can't be beat.
lemon mezcal margarita
Credit: Bryan Gardner

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The margarita is a refreshing, frosty drink that's just right for summer sipping, but we don't only enjoy it when the weather is warm-it's actually been the most popular cocktail for some time now. While we love a classic, we're also always ready to try something new. In that spirit, we're introducing the 2019 drink of the summer: the Lemon-Mezcal Margarita.

There are many stories about when the margarita cocktail first appeared and who (if anyone) it was named after. The one thing we can all agree on? It was first enjoyed at least 80 years ago and has been a fixture on the menu at Mexican restaurants and bars since the 1970s. Since then there have been endless variations, from frozen to cranberry, but we think it's high time we take the drink back to basics while still mixing it up just a bit.

Our drink of 2019 maintains the proportions of the classic margarita but swaps the usual tequila for mezcal and trades out lime juice for fresh lemon juice. Deputy editor Greg Lofts, a longtime mezcal fan, had sampled a few takes on the mezcal margarita at bars and found the smokiness of the mezcal overwhelms the lime flavor. So, when associate editor Riley Wofford started mixing up some mezcal margaritas, she was inspired by Greg and tried the drink with fresh-squeezed lemon juice in place of lime.

We knew this was going to be the summer of lemon drinks when the test kitchen team first began talking about contenders for the cocktail of summer-the other options were all lemony, too. Shira Bocar suggested the Lemon Drop, made with amaro, limoncello, and fresh lemon juice, while Riley advocated for another Italian-accented lemon cocktail, the Amalfi Ice, with limoncello, vodka, lemon sorbet, tonic, and a lemon twist.

Riley found the lemon juice made all the difference for her with this new margarita. Not so much a mezcal fan as Greg, she says replacing the lime juice with lemon tamed the smokiness of the mezcal "so the drink is smoky but not too smoky." Greg notes that mezcal varies greatly from brand to brand in its smokiness, "from hints of smoke to total campfire," and recommends sampling different brands before buying a bottle to make your own version of the drink of summer 2019. The test kitchen's mezcal picks are Illegal Mezcal Joven and Montelobo Mezcal Joven (Joven is a type of mezcal comparable to silver tequila and good for mixing). Riley's favorite was the least smoky option, Union Mezcal.

The recipe can also easily be scaled up for entertaining says Riley, which you're going to want to do based on how quickly the cocktail disappeared in the test kitchen: Increase the amount of ingredients to serve the crowd you're expecting, and skip the shaker, mixing in a pitcher that you can refrigerate till party time. With this soon-to-be classic Lemon-Mezcal Margarita recipe in your back pocket, summer hosting will be a breeze.


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