Alcohol in Mezcal: Mezcal ABV

By: Michael Prentice

The alcohol content in mezcal is impacted by regulations, commercial interests and what tastes best. Most mezcal is around 40%-43% ABV. Mezcal must be bottled at between 35% and 55% ABV according to official regulations. If sold in the US it must be at least 40%. Higher quality mezcal is typically at least 45% ABV.

How Much Alcohol is in Mezcal?

  • Certified mezcal must be between 35% and 55% ABV.
  • The most popular mezcal brands have ABVs of between 40%-43% (80 to 86 proof).
  • The minimum ABV for mezcal sold in the USA is 40%.
  • Higher quality mezcal typically has higher ABVs (45%+).
  • Non-certified mezcal (known as destilado de agave, or agave spirit) can be 60% or more ABV and is sometimes labeled as “puntas”.
  • Mezcal with lower ABV is typically better for cocktails, higher ABV for sipping.
  • Mezcal typically has a higher ABV than tequila.
Chart with Mezcal alcohol content

Mezcal is traditionally drunken straight so the alcohol content is one of the first things you notice. Good mezcal is very complex and has a long finish. A higher alcohol content helps retain the complexity and contributes to a long finish.

For those not used to drinking spirits straight the taste of mezcal can be overpowering at first. It is common for mezcal to have much higher ABV than other spirits so even seasoned drinkers can be taken aback.

Certified Mezcal Must be Between 35% and 55% ABV

Mezcal must be between 35% and 55% ABV according to the official regulations for mezcal. Spirits bottled outside this range cannot use the term “mezcal” and must be referred to as destilado de agave or agave spirit or similar.

Mezcal sold in the US must be at least 40%

Mezcal must be at least 40% ABV when sold in the US according to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) rules. These rules apply to all spirits, not just mezcal. So in the USA, certified mezcal must be between 40% and 55% ABV.

Most Mezcal is Between 40% and 43% ABV

The most popular brands of mezcal have ABVs of between 40% and 43%. This goes for the highest selling variety of mezcal for each brand. Brands often have special releases at higher ABVs.

ABV of Top Selling Mezcal Brands

Here is a list of the most popular mezcal brands in the US and the ABV’s of their most popular expression.

Del MagueyVida42%
BanhezEspadín & Barril42%
400 ConejosJoven40%

These brands are all owned by major companies who are primarily commercially focused. It is cheaper to produce mezcal at lower ABVs so it is not surprising the most popular brands have lower ABVs than independently owned brands.

That said, three of the top six brands have ABVs greater than the minimum. In the world of tequila, almost all major brands have ABVs at the minimum of 40%.

The highest selling brands tend to be targeted for cocktails, and not sipping straight. In Mexico, 400 Conejos is sold at 38% ABV.

Higher Quality Mezcal Has Higher ABV

Mezcal made with quality as the top priority tends to be 47% to 52% ABV. Producers (mezcaleros) bottle at these levels because that’s what they think makes the best mezcal.

ABVs of Top Rated Mezcal Brands

5 SentidosCoyote46.6%
El JogorioJabali50%
Rey CamperoJabali48%
Del MagueyChichicapa48%
Top rated mezcal tends to have higher ABV

Non-Certified Mezcal can be 60%+ ABV

Mezcal made at ABVs of higher than 55% cannot officially be sold as mezcal (even though it would still be common to call it mezcal informally). Agave spirits with ABVs in this range are often known as “puntas”.

Puntas means “tips” in English and refers to the heads of the distillation. The heads are the first liquids to be evaporated during distillation and are higher in alcohol content and flavors than the body and the tail (“colas” in Spanish).

Puntas are typically separated and used to blend with the second part of the distillation, the body, to create the desired flavor profile.

High ABV agave spirits use more of the puntas in the finished product.

ABV’s of Puntas Agave Spirits Brands

Gusto HistóricoPuntas59.1%
Mal BienMadrecuish Puntas56.5%
LalocuraPuntas de Espadín69%
MacurichosCirial / Coyote Puntas65%
ChacoloIxtero Amarillo Puntas60.8%
Puntas mezcal can be around 60% ABV or more.

Related Topics

About ABV

ABV stands for “alcohol by volume” and is the recognized measurement standard for measuring the proportion of alcohol in a drink. The measurement applies specifically at 20 degrees Celsius. This is because the volumes of water and alcohol expand and contract at different rates depending on the temperature.

Mezcal with 40% ABV means 40% of the total volume is alcohol. A 750 ml bottle will have 300 ml of alcohol, and a 1.5 ounce shot will have 0.6 ounces of alcohol.

In the US, the measurement “proof” is often used. The proof is two times the ABV. So a mezcal with a 42% ABV will be 84 proof.

Mezcal vs Tequila ABV

Mezcal is more commonly bottled at higher ABV than tequila. The vast majority of tequila sold in the US is 40% ABV. In Mexico, tequila is more commonly 38% ABV.

The regulations for tequila and mezcal are the same when it comes to ABV: tequila and mezcal both must be between 35% and 55%.

ABV at Distillation vs Bottling

Almost all mezcal is bottled at lower ABV than it comes off the still. Mezcal distillate, still-strength mezcal, can be from 50% to 60% ABV. Mezcal bottled with a high portion of the first cut, or puntas, can be well over 60%. Filtered water is added after distillation to bring the ABV down for bottling.

Impact of Aging on ABV

Although not as common as with tequila, some mezcal is aged in oak barrels for over two months (reposado) or over 12 months (añejo). As it ages a portion of the liquid is lost due to evaporation. The loss of the liquid is known as the “angel’s share”. The ABV of the liquid can also change depending on the relative loss of water vs alcohol.

In certain climates more alcohol than water evaporates and the ABV reduces over time. This happens in cool, humid conditions. For example, in France, Armagnac reduces in ABV as it ages.  

In other climates the reverse happens and the ABV actually rises as more water than alcohol is evaporated. ABV increases in hot, dry climates.

Even barrels stored in the same room can have opposite movements in ABV depending on the micro climate around them.

Read more about the impact of aging in Tequila Vs Bourbon Aging.

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