Rows of agave plants at a mezcal distillery in Oaxaca, Mexico.

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Oaxaca Mezcal Tour: The Best Guide To Touring A Palenque

Are you contemplating taking a Oaxaca mezcal tour but not sure what is involved or even what mezcal is? Then you are in the right spot!

In this post I’ll provide the top mezcals tours to go on, what mezcal is and isn’t, how to determine good mezcal, and how to drink it.

Most of the time when you think of Mexico, tequila might come to mind. But when you are in Oaxaca, mezcal is king.

If you are looking to sip the best mezcal in the world, Oaxaca is the place you want to be. Prior to my trips to Oaxaca I knew nothing about mezcal but now it is one of my favorite spirits.

Mezcal from Oaxaca is without a doubt at the top and mezcal from anywhere else just doesn’t compare.

Keep reading to learn all about visiting a palenque or mezcal distillery during your stay in Oaxaca!

Love sampling local drinks? Explore the best coffee shops in Oaxaca

An art mural of a woman drinking mezcal surrounded by a large agave plant at a mezcal distillery on a Oaxaca mezcal tour.

Top 3 Oaxaca Mezcal Tours

#1 Top Pick
Mezcal Journey Tour In Oaxaca with Viator.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Mezcal Journey

✅ 6 hours + lunch

✅ Walk agave fields

✅ Visit mezcal distillery

#2 Pick
Gastronomic Experience Mezcal Tour_photo from Viator

A Gastronomic Experience

✅ 7 hours + private

✅ Mezcal tastings

✅ 4 course meal

#3 Pick
Mezcal Workshop_Liquid Culture In Oaxaca Tour_photo from Viator site.

Mezcal Workshop: Liquid Culture in Oaxaca

✅ 6 hours

✅ Small group

✅ Mezcal workshop + tastings

Keep reading to learn more about mezcal and detailed info on the best mezcal tours in Oaxaca!

What Is Mezcal?

Mezcal is a spirit (alcohol) that is distilled from fermented agave and native to Mexico.

It can be from any type of agave plant that is known to produce good quality alcohol. There is some agave which doesn’t have enough sugar to make worthy mezcal and therefore not used.

In the state of Oaxaca, mezcal is the dominant spirit you will find in restaurants and mezcalerias (mezcal bars) as this spirit really shines here.

Mezcal in Oaxaca usually contains 40 – 55% alcohol or 80 – 110 proof.

A small shot glass on a table during a mezcal tasting at a distillery in Oaxaca.

What Is The Difference Between Mezcal And Tequila?

You might be thinking, is mezcal the same thing as tequila? No, but there are some similarities.

They are both made from agave, but the KEY DIFFERENCE is mezcal is made from any agave whereas tequila is made ONLY from blue agave.

“Tequila is a type of mezcal but not all mezcal is a tequila.”

Now having said that, unless it is in a mixed drink, I’m not a fan of the smell or taste of tequila. And yes, I have tried what many would call good stuff.

Mezcal on the other hand is much more aromatic, goes down smoothly, and excellent to sip or mixed in a cocktail.

For me, mezcal is an excellent spirit to enjoy when in Oaxaca and learn more about!

A close up view of large agave plants with a string of colorful flags overhead in a field at a palenque in Oaxaca.

Why Should You Join A Mezcal Tour?

In my opinion it is always better to do a tour for something like mezcal. Why? Well, the majority of people don’t know much about mezcal, how it’s made, or how to tell if it is good quality.

That was me prior to my first trip to Oaxaca. For this reason, I recommend taking a guided tour of mezcal distilleries so that:

  • You don’t have to worry about driving
  • A local guide is able to explain everything in detail
  • Your guide can translate, as many individuals at the palenques don’t speak English
  • It’s more fun!

5 Best Oaxaca Mezcal Tours

Walking through fields of large agave plants used in the making of mezcal.

1. The Mezcal Journey

⭐️ RATING: 5/5 Stars | ⏳ TOUR LENGTH:  6 hours | ✅ Book it!

A visit to Oaxaca isn’t complete without sipping some mezcal and exploring what makes this spirit so special.

Prior to my first trip to Oaxaca, I didn’t understand the difference between mezcal and tequila. Personally, I really enjoy mezcal over tequila any day and I have never had a hangover from mezcal as an added bonus!

On this mezcal journey, you will get to visit a mezcal distillery to see how mezcal is made from start to finish. Using traditions spanning years, you’ll see the process hasn’t changed much.

You’ll get the chance to sample different varietals of mezcal and see how artesanal mezcal differs from what you might have had in the past.

From there you will get to walk among the agave fields and see the fruit that is essential for making mezcal.

And finish the day with a great Oaxacan meal paired with more mezcal!

“Had the best day out with Ricardo. Learnt all about the Mezcal process from someone personally involved in the business. Lots of tastings and a delicious lunch at his mother’s restaurant with some great local entertainment. Could not recommend this tour more!” – Steve (Read more reviews)

🤩 Check Prices and Availability!

Several clay pots turned over with a few filled with large agave plants at a mezcal distillery in Oaxaca.

2. A Gastronomic Experience

⭐️ RATING: 5/5 Stars | ⏳ TOUR LENGTH:  7 hours | ✅ Book it!

I love that this tour is private and customizable depending on your timeframe and interest. This was the second trip that I had the chance to take a tour with Rosario and her awesome guides.

Rosario or one of her guides will take you to a palenque (mezcal distillery) where you can see first-hand how mezcal is made, the difference between wild and cultivated agave, and what makes artesanal mezcal unique.

There will be ample time to see the agave fields, take photos, and sample plenty of mezcal. Then you’ll finish the day with a delicious six-course traditional Oaxacan meal paired with mezcal of course.

At the end of this tour, you will have a solid understanding and appreciation for all the love and labor that goes into mezcal production.

What’s more, the guide will take you to a village to see how wool rugs are made. I didn’t think I would enjoy this, but it was extremely fascinating to see!

“We had a very pleasant and informative afternoon. Our guide Rosario was very knowledgeable and we were warmly welcomed at every stop. The mezcal tour and tasting were interesting and the meal was truly amazing. This is an excellent way to spend the day.” -Alaina_L (Read more reviews)

🤩 Check Prices and Availability!

A pile of long roasted agave plants waiting to be crushed manually at a small palenque in Oaxaca, Mexico.

3. Mezcal Workshop: Liquid Culture In Oaxaca

⭐️ RATING: 5/5 Stars | ⏳ TOUR LENGTH:  6 hours | ✅ Book it!

It’s one thing to sample mezcal but to see how it is made from the planting of agave all the way to bottling the famed spirit of Oaxaca is extra special.

During this 6-hour workshop, explore how mezcal is heavily intertwined with Oaxacan culture in a small group setting.

You’ll get to see up close how locals take great pride in making mezcal by hand crafting their techniques over generations to produce top-quality mezcal.

In addition to learning about the making of mezcal and sipping it, you’ll get the opportunity to pair it with traditional local dishes.

This workshop is perfect for those wanting a deeper understanding of the history and making of mezcal!

“Antonio’s vast knowledge in mezcal farming, distilling and cultural history is so exciting to hear and learn. He tailors a tour to what you want to learn about as well so it made it even more special. I learned the complexity and countless possibilities of mezcal flavor profiles that can be achieved from this tour. You will come out with even more appreciation for the art of making mezcal!” – Hisami_K (Read more reviews)

🤩 Check Prices and Availability!

Looking down at the plateau of the stunning mineral pools of Hierve el Agua near Oaxaca City, Mexico.

4. Ultimate Hierve El Agua Hike & Mezcal Tasting

⭐️ RATING: 5/5 Stars | ⏳ TOUR LENGTH:  ~13 hours | ✅ Book it!

This isn’t solely a mezcal tour but a great choice if you also love hiking and seeing gorgeous natural wonders.

It’s a full day tour but well worth it for the experience. You’ll get to start off the day hiking Hierve el Agua which are breathtaking pools of water over petrified waterfalls.

From a distance, it looks like water is cascading down but up close you can see it is petrified limestone. This is one of two places in the world to see this phenomenon, the other is in Turkey.

After taking in Hierve el Agua, you’ll hike to an off the beaten track waterfall (a real one) that you can swim under.

Then rounding out an active day of exploring by visiting a family-owned mezcal distillery for some mezcal tasting.

“Guides were friendly, knowledgeable and super helpful. Be prepared for a very challenging hike – this is definitely meant for fit and able bodied people as the hike portion is a physically challenging but extremely enjoyable. Breakfast was beautiful and delicious. Gorgeous views around the falls. Finally the tour ended with a lunch and mezcal tasting with a family that has been making mezcal for 3 generations. The mezcal master Jeronimo was friendly and we had a great time. Must see!” – Nicole_H (Read more reviews)

🤩 Check Prices and Availability!

A flight of several colorful shot glasses on a tasting sheet for a mezcal and mole tasting with a sommelier on a Viator tour in Oaxaca.

5. Oaxaca Mezcal & Mole Tasting With Sommelier

⭐️ RATING: 4.5/5 Stars | ⏳ TOUR LENGTH:  1.5 hours | ✅ Book it!

If you have a passion for pairing food with wine or spirits, then you will not only love but have fun pairing the most iconic duo from Oaxaca. That is mezcal and mole!

With a sommelier and in a small group, experience pairing various types of mezcal with the classic 7 moles of Oaxaca.

All of the mole sauces are vegetarian and vegan so everyone can enjoy them without worry.

Upon completing this intimate workshop, you’ll have a better understanding of what type of mezcal to pair with a particular food and/or mole. You’ll feel like an expert when ordering at your next meal in Oaxaca!

“We learned so much with Alice! We’re thankful for her kindness and insights into Mezcal and Mole. We felt like we walked away from the experience much more knowledgeable and better able to buy and experience Mezcal. Would recommend to anyone who’s looking for an expert explanation of two of the staples of of Oaxaca’s cuisine.” – shawnhollopeter (Read more reviews)

🤩 Check Prices and Availability!

A colorful art mural of agave plants and logo of Lalocura mezcal, the local distillery in Oaxaca, Mexico.

How Is Mezcal Made?

Starting With Agave Plants

If you are familiar with scotch or wine, you know that a key factor in determining quality and price comes down to how long they have been aged in barrels.

With mezcal, the opposite is true. Price and quality have more to do with the age of the agave plant when it was harvested.

If you see a 30-year mezcal, it means the plant was 30 years old when it was cut NOT how long it was aged.

Upon visiting distilleries or palenques (mezcal farm), a guide will show you that some plants are nearly seven years, others 15 years, and a select group in the 25- or 30-year-old category.

Depending on the type of agave will determine the age at which the plant is harvested.

Rows of agave plants with hills and pretty clouds in the background at a small palenque in Oaxaca on a mezcal tour.
Different varietals of agave plants that will produce different tasting mezcal once distilled in Oaxaca.

The most common agave plant used to make mezcal is Espadin as it is the quickest to grow and ready to use at around 7 years old.

As you can see, it takes a LONG time to grow agave plants. That means great care and a knowledgeable person to watch over these plants is vital.

Once an agave plant is ready to be cut and used to make mezcal, the only part that is used is the heart of the agave plant and is referred to as pina.

The workers will use a machete to cut the agave heart from the rest of the plant before roasting them.

Note: I visited a handful of mezcal distilleries but the photos are primarily from the small palenques of LaloCura and Espina Dorada.

Roasting Agave Hearts

The name mezcal stems from an Aztec word meaning “cooked agave” which pretty much sums up the second step in making it.

As the name implies, an essential step in making mezcal is to roast or cook the harvested agave hearts.

The traditional way to roast the agave is in a large earthen pit where wood coals (usually mesquite or oak) are covered with large stones (later become very hot), topped with fermented agave fibers, then the agave hearts.

A large pit in the ground with agave roasting over coals and rocks and covered with agave fibers.
Roasted agave after being cooked in the ground oven at a palenque in Oaxaca, Mexico.

On top of the agave hearts, more agave fibers are added before sealing in the heat with sand over the entire pit.

The agave is usually slow roasted over a period between 3 and 5 days before moving to the next step.

Smashing The Cooked Agave

After the cooked or roasted agave has cooled down, the next step is to smash it down.

There are two main ways of smashing the cooked agave depending on which palenque or distillery you visit.

The first method is rarer as it is physically demanding. It involves smashing the agave by hand using a huge wooden club which in my opinion is extremely hard!

The wooden club is very heavy so having to lift and slam it down into the roasted agave repeatedly is a feat on its own…

A pile of cooked agave plants ready to be crushed manually in the making of mezcal in Oaxaca.
A girl holding up a huge mallet and crushing the roasted agave in a groove in the ground at a palenque in Oaxaca, Mexico.
A large stone mill that is pulled by a donkey to crush the cooked agave at a small palenque or mezcal farm in the making of mezcal in Oaxaca.

More commonly, you will see the roasted agave crushed via a large stone mill. The stone wheel is pulled in a circle by a donkey or a horse until finished.

The mezcalero (person making the mezcal) I met at Lalocura who smashes with the wooden mallet says doing it this way imparts a different flavor profile than with a stone mill.

It may require more labor but as with all spirits, a mezcalero has a vision of what they want their mezcal to ultimately taste like. And that involves using different techniques to achieve that.

Agave Fermentation

The smashed down roasted agave is now ready for fermentation. In giant open topped wooden barrels, the agave fibers with water added begin the fermentation process.

In contrast to winemaking, there is no added yeast to start fermentation.

In making mezcal, fermentation starts spontaneously with native yeast found on the plant itself. Fermentation can last anywhere from a week up to a month depending on the climate, sugar content, etc…

A huge wooden open barrel filled with reddish brown agave fibers to start the fermentation process in making of mezcal.
Several large wooden open top barrels filled with agave fibers fermenting in the juice prior to distilling at a mezcal farm in Oaxaca.
A close up view of the fermented agave that is a dark brown mush ready for the next step in the making of mezcal.

Distillation – Making Mezcal!

The last step in producing mezcal comes down to distilling the fermented agave liquid in either a copper or clay boiler over direct fire. You’ll likely see copper more often.

If it is fermented in clay, it would be considered ancestral mezcal.

Constant attention must be given to continually adding more wood to keep the fire going until distillation is complete.

The guide showing how the clay pot sits over wood burning in the distillation process of making mezcal at a family run distillery in Oaxaca.
The above ground oven setup with fermented agave on top of clay pots sitting over burning wood slowly distilling mezcal into a container on the side.

It is at this stage where flavors can be introduced with the addition of fruit and/or herbs. I have had mezcal infused with pineapple, hemp, apples, bananas, passion fruit, and more.

If you are visiting around Day of the Dead, then you might even sample a mezcal distilled with apples, bananas, and a chicken!

It is called Pechuga and a local treat this time of the year. I had the opportunity to try some the day after it was made, and it was fantastic.

Once distillation is complete, it is distilled a second time. After the second distillation, you can consume the mezcal right away.

Unlike Scotch or wine, there is no aging after distillation.

Two buckets filled with small apples cut into little pieces to be added in the distillation process of mezcal.
Holding two ripe bananas that will be used in distilling a special type of mezcal for the Day of the Dead celebration in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Mezcal Tasting In Oaxaca

Now for the fun part, tasting mezcal!

If you are visiting a family-owned palenque then you are sampling small batch mezcal which in my opinion is the best. You know it has been made with great care and free of additives.

Plus, you will get to try mezcal from different types of agave which usually translates to different amount of years aged before the agave plant was harvested.

It is a fantastic way to see which varietals of mezcal you prefer the most. So, what is the proper way to taste mezcal?

To take tiny sips or “little kisses”. As locals say, “pequenos besos”…

Unlike what you are familiar with, mezcal is not meant to be thrown back. Instead of downing a shot quick it is something to be sipped slowly and savored.

Tip: If you have the chance to try fresh pulque at a palenque or at a market in town, do so! For more info on what pulque is, explore my post on traditional food and drinks in Oaxaca.

Holding a small bottle of recently made mezcal in a tasting room at a palenque in Oaxaca, Mexico.
Holding a shot glass with clear mezcal during a mezcal tasting at a small family run mezcal distillery in Oaxaca.
A line up of several small shot glasses of different mezcal tasted on a mezcal tour in Oaxaca.

Best Mezcalerias In Oaxaca

After taking one of these mezcal tour experiences, you’ll likely have a greater appreciation for mezcal and be on the hunt to try other types and styles.

Luckily, there is a mezcaleria or mezcal bar on almost every block in Oaxaca City for you to stop in and sample the beloved spirit.

Each mezcal bar is quite small and cozy. Usually standing room only making it a fun experience all together.

Although there are a ton, these are my favorite mezcal bars for a great selection of mezcal, knowledgeable staff, and top ambiance.

Plus, you’ll find the best mezcal cocktails made with the freshest fruit juices, herb, and more!

  • Mezcaleria Los Amantes
  • Mezcalogia
  • Tres Hermanas Bar
  • La Mezcalerita
  • La Casa del Mezcal
One of the best cocktails made with mezcal and fresh fruits and herbs at a mezcaleria in Oaxaca City.

Where To Stay In Oaxaca

All of these hotels have prime location to the central historic district and walkable to many of the attractions.

An art mural of a skeleton wearing a sombrero hat and holding a bottle of mezcal with a yellow background in Oaxaca City, Mexico.

FAQ About Mezcal In Oaxaca

Is Oaxaca Famous For Mezcal?

Yes! Why so? Oaxaca is the largest producer of any state in Mexico and in the world. They have mastered making craft mezcal in various styles. The best mezcal in the world is found in Oaxaca.

What Is The Difference Between Mezcal And Tequila?

Is mezcal the same thing as tequila? No, but there are some similarities.

They are both made from agave, but the key difference is mezcal is made from any agave whereas tequila is made ONLY from blue agave. Tequila is a type of mezcal but not all mezcal is a tequila.

What Is Mezcal Artesanal?

Mezcal artesanal refers to mezcal made by traditional ways, not industrial. It involves roasting the agave in the ground over wood and rocks or an above ground chamber, mashed by hand, fermented, and distilled in wood, clay, copper, or stainless steel. Largely each step is manually done.

Where Is Mezcal Made In Oaxaca?

To be considered mezcal with a stamp of authenticity, mezcal MUST be made in one of nine states in Mexico.

The states are Oaxaca, Guerrero, Michoacan, Puebla, San Luis Potosi, Durango, Zacatecas, Guanajuato, and Tamaulipas. Flavor and style will vary depending on what state it is produced in.
The most famous and recognized region for mezcal is Oaxaca.

Why Does Mezcal Not Give You A Hangover?

Technically if you drink way too much, you can still get a hangover but compared with other spirits it is rare to get one.

I have never had a hangover from mezcal and from I am told, it has to do with the type of sugar that is converted in our body compared to other spirits. There is less of it, and it breaks down immediately with less to be processed, hence minimal or a non-existent hangover.

Is Mezcal Gluten Free?

Yes. Pure, high-quality mezcal is gluten free. If it is made in small batches at family-owned distilleries or palenques then you know the mezcal has no additives, fake flavorings, or preservatives.

If you are buying a big brand that is industrially made mezcal then likely not as there are probably additives in it. Stick with ancestral or artesanal mezcal from Oaxaca and you can count on it being gluten free.

How Much Mezcal Is Made In Oaxaca?

In the state of Oaxaca largely surrounding Oaxaca City, about 90% of mezcal is made here.  Oaxaca dominates mezcal production in Mexico and the rest of the world.

How Much Mezcal Can I Bring To The US?

When traveling back to the United States, each person can bring 5 liters of mezcal back in a checked baggage. That is around 6 bottles person depending on the size. Beyond that, bottles will likely be confiscated and/or taxed.

What Is Pulque?

Pulque is a slightly tart drink that is made from the agave plant sap. You want to drink fresh pulque that has been made within the day for the best taste.

The agave juice is fermented and has a low alcohol content similar to a light beer. Even though it has alcohol, the alcohol can barely be detected when tasted. You can find pulque at palenques or local markets.

🤩 Find Out Why This Is Such A Popular Mezcal Tour!

Before You Go…

If you want to know what to do in Oaxaca in addition to sipping the best mezcal, explore my post on Things To Do In Oaxaca City that you don’t want to miss!

Plus, find all the info you need on where to stay, where to eat, how to get there, and how long to spend.

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Vanessa Shields

Vanessa Shields is the founder of Traveling Ness helping people with trip ideas, itineraries, travel planning, and boosting confidence for female travelers to take a solo trip. She has been a travel writer and content creator since 2019.

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