There are a few things about Oaxaca that are just ingrained into the local life and culture—mezcal being one of them. If you don’t yet know about this agave spirit, you’re in luck!
One of the unmissable activities to do while in Oaxaca is going on a mezcal tour to the palenques in the Central Valleys of Oaxaca, where you can learn about the origins and process, and sample a range of premium artisanal mezcal straight from “farm to glass.”
Even if you don’t enjoy mezcal’s smokiness or distilled alcohol at all, doing a mezcal tour will leave you in awe and appreciation for this spirit and the Zapotec and Oaxacan communities who take great care in producing it generation after generation.
“Para todo mal, mezcal, y para todo bien, también; y si no hay remedio litro y medio.”Famous oaxacan quote
Whether you are on vacation or living in Oaxaca as a digital nomad and thinking about doing a tasting, you have to head out into mezcal country and visit not just one, but several traditional mezcal distilleries where you can see, sample, and savor some of the finest mezcal in the world.
In this guide, I’ll spill the
tea mezcal about the best mezcal tours in Oaxaca. I’ll also do a deep dive into what to expect from a full-day mezcal tour from Oaxaca. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out by email or drop a comment at the end of this post.
Best Mezcal Tours in Oaxaca
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Feature — Las Bugambilias Mezcal Distillery Tour
Las Bugambilias offers a variety of tours to connect you with Oaxacan culture, food, and landscapes. Their mezcal distillery tour is just one among the bunch—and a good one at that! This is the tour we decided to do for our curious and thirsty jaunt around mezcal country, and it did not disappoint!
René, the founder of Las Bugamilias and local certified guide from Oaxaca City, is attentive, down-to-earth, and well-versed in the realm of mezcal. He will teach you everything you need to know about the agave spirit!
On this all-day tour, you will be shuttled to the World Capital of Mezcal—Santiago Matatlán—located about one hour outside of the city.
Here, you will visit an agave farm and three family-owned mezcal distilleries, have lunch in a typical Oaxacan restaurant, and try fresh pulque (fermented juice from the heart of the maguey pulquero).
During the tour, you will learn about mezcal culture and artisanal production from A-Z and have the opportunity to taste a variety of mezcal from the cultivated agave Espadín, as well as mezcal distilled from wild agaves such as Cuishe, Tepastate, Tobalá, and Jabalí.
We must’ve tried at least 20 mezcals among the three distilleries — each had its own flavor and notes, even if it was distilled from the same agave species!
Keep reading to get an insider’s look at the mezcal distillery tour with Las Bugamilias and the three palenques/destilerías in Santiago Matatlán you’ll visit.
Casa Don Tacho
Your first stop in mezcal country is at Fabrica de Mezcal Don Tacho, a mezcal distillery with over 60 years of experience founded by Don Tacho, a 4th generation distiller.
Here, you’ll get an overview of mezcal from start to finish, with an explanation of the agave plants in the field by René to a full tasting of Casa Don Tacho’s line of artisanal mezcal, Real Matatl, inside at the bar.
This part of the tour is the most comprehensive in explaining how mezcal is farmed, cooked, and distilled, which will lay the foundation of everything you’ll learn (and taste!) throughout the day.
As you’ll learn during your walk-about, Casa Don Tacho replaced horse/mule labor with a machine for crushing the cooked agave with the one-ton stone wheel (“Tahona”).
Did you know? You can tell a mezcal is industrially made if the bottle only reads “mezcal” and not “mezcal artesanal.” If it’s artisan made, it has to display it per CRM’s regulations.
One of the highlights of touring the Don Tacho distillery is that you get to sample a piece of cooked agave—it’s so sweet!
You will also get to learn and try mezcal reposado and mezcal añejo—caramel-colored mezcals that have been aging for at least 1 year+ in barrels (similar to whisky or bourbon)—plus mezcal “ancestral” that has been distilled in a clay pot.
Gracias A Dios
Gracias a Dios (Thank GAD) is the second pitstop on your full-day mezcal tour. I personally loved the backstory of how the company found their 4th generation master mezcalero, Oscar Hernández, and made GAD what it is today with exports around the world.
You can tell that this family is impassioned with mezcal. Oscar’s daughter, Emmy, led our tasting and was kind (she is also an awesome photographer). You get less of an explanation of the mezcals here, but there is a video to watch that will showcase their story.
When you first arrive, you will still tour the facility and learn about their mezcal-making process. It’s a much quicker run-through than your first stop. But what I love about GAD, in particular, is its efforts to achieve maximum sustainability and fair trade.
A few quick stats about Gracias a Dios’ commitment to “salud for tomorrow”:
- Solar panels power 100% of the factory’s energy.
- 60% of the water is collected from rain water.
- The building is built with recycled adobe bricks collected from production waste.
- They plant up to 10,000 mesquite trees/year and sow up to 5 hectares of agave plants/year.
- Employees are paid 25% above the industry standard.
- No chemicals or fertilizers are used on the agave plants.
After a quick tour of the facility, you’ll have your generous mezcal tasting before breaking for lunch in town. The salty snacks and the homemade chocolate (made by Emmy’s mom) served during the tasting will do you over until you get there!
We got to try various types of mezcal at GAD—Espadín, Madre Cuishe, Coyote, Mexicano, Pechuga—but the best surprise was trying their Agave Gin. A specialty of Gracias a Dios, this mezcal-gin combines the best of both spirits (and the small bottle size makes for the perfect gift to take back home).
If ever you wish to repeat visit the distillery or do your own mezcal tour, you can stop by Gracias a Dios for a tasting. Learn more here.
After your visit, you’ll hop back in the van and head into the center of Santiago Matátlan for a typical lunch at Azul Adobe ($100 pesos extra cost). Between Paul and I, we tried the yellow mole and the tacos dorados—everything was delicious and the starter (memelas) was scrumptious.
Casa Cortés, founded by Rolando Cortés, is the final palenque you’ll visit on your tour. This location is fairly small and rustic, but don’t be fooled—this renowned family-owned distillery has gone global with three brands of mezcal to their name:
- Agave de Cortés
- Nuestra Soledad
- El Jolgorio
The first is Casa Cortés’ line of joven, resposado, and añejo mezcal (offered at a lower price point).
Nuestra Soledad is the label dedicated to espadín mezcal originating from six different Zapotec communities of the Central Valleys; these are artisanally made in a single village by a single master mezcalero.
Lastly, El Jolgorio is Casa Cortés’ premium line of specialty mezcal, made from wild and semicultivated agaves such as Tepezate, Tobalá, Madrecuishe, and Mexicano.
Casa Cortés has built quite a reputation for itself, as the second-largest exporter of mezcal in the world. They pay fairly (or actually even more than the industry standard), as Maestra Mezcalera Justina Ruiz Perez—the first woman mezcal distiller to join Casa Cortés—mentioned in an interview.
After your final palenque, you’ll stop by the home/shop of a pulqueria, El Pulquito, where you can taste aguamiel (the nectar/sap from the heart of the agave piña) and pulque (fermented ancestral drink). Then it’ll be time to head back to Oaxaca City (you should arrive back around 5pm).
All in all, Las Bugambilias tours (René) provides a fantastic service. The selection of the palenques was varied and each had something special or new to offer. You will return from your tour with a heightened sense of understanding and appreciation for mezcal than before!
While we had an awesome day tasting mezcal and seeing the palenques with Las Bugambilias, there are other mezcal tours in Oaxaca that are worth checking out!
Mezcal Educational Tours
If you’re eager to learn and do a deep dive into the agave spirit, then consider doing your Oaxaca mezcal tour with Mezcal Educational Tours. These tours are led by long-time Oaxaca residents and expert mezcal connoisseurs Alvin Starkman and Randall Stockton.
Alvin is one of the creators of the Mezcal Tasting Wheel, and the author of the book Mezcal in the Global Spirits Market: Unrivalled Complexity, Innumerable Nuances from which all generated revenue goes to charitable causes in Oaxaca. So, if you have questions, Alvin will have answers (and then some!).
If you have the chance to go with Randall, you’ll be in excellent company. A seasoned professional with over 15 years of experience, Randall knows the cultural and nuanced ins and outs of both the agave spirit and the industry.
Both Alvin and Randall are licensed and certified guides who will lead you into the heart of mezcal land, to the homes of the artisanal distillers who live and breathe mezcal.
Tours can be customized to suit your desires and needs, however, there are day tours you can do that will take you to several traditional palenques to see the ancestral distillation process as well the copper still process (of course, including tastings with the maestros or at the homes of the producers), and sometimes, a visit to a clay pottery village and/or a home where you can taste aguamiel and pulque.
For bookings and to learn more, you can email Alvin or Randall at mezcaleducationaltours (@) hotmail (dot) com or check them out on Instagram @mezcaled.
Banhez is a cooperative mezcal brand co-owned by 36 local families. It is located in the small town of San Miguel Ejutla outside of Oaxaca, where you can stay overnight in their hostel Paraíso Banhez. Visiting Banhez is a unique experience because you get to see first-hand the power of community.
Founder Francisco Javier Perez Cruz learned how to grow maguey as a child. In 2004, he was elected president of the National Mezcal Council, and later founded the Oaxaca Mezcal Maguey Council which ultimately led to the unification of local mezcaleros and members in the industry to come together.
Today, these families are not just struggling to survive, but have found a way to thrive and create better conditions for local mezcal farmers in Ejutla and beyond. You can learn more about their story here.
Founder Clayton Szczech began Experience Agave after permanently moving across the border from California into Mexico. What began as a passion for tequila eventually led him to discover mezcal. He now offers cultural mezcal tours in Oaxaca as well raicilla tours in Jalisco.
If you book with Experience Agave, your group will be small and intimate to ensure everyone can “see, taste, and participate in each moment.”
They offer a mezcal day tour, an immersive four-day mezcal tour, and a “Pechuga Camp” which is their most immersive tour where you camp for 2 days/nights to learn and participate in making your own special mezcal de pechuga in the rural town of San Cristobal Lachirioag.
DIY Tour — Ruta del Mezcal
If you have time and are comfortable driving in Mexico, you could visit the distilleries following the “Ruta del Mezcal” on your own.
You can find mezcal distilleries in these towns outside of Oaxaca City:
- Santa María del Tule (where you can visit the El Arból del Tule—the world’s widest tree!)
- Santiago Matatlán
- San Jerónimo Tlacochahuaya
- Teotitlán del Valle
- Tlacolula de Matamoros (the Sunday market here is huge!)
- San Pablo Villa de Mitla
- Ejutla de Crespo
- Villa Sola de Vega
But first, let’s quickly talk about the pros and cons of doing a DIY mezcal farm tour.
While it may be cheaper, you won’t get the first-hand knowledge that comes with having a guide, who also has connections with the palenques/distilleries you visit. You also run the risk of visiting an industrial palenque instead of a family-owned palenque that cares about the artisanal/ancestral production and distillation methods of making mezcal.
If you were to rent a car and head out into mezcal country on your own, you would need to arrange any tastings/tours in advance. The upside of doing this is you can visit just one palenque of your choice and do a tasting there (like at Gracias a Dios). But, then you would leave having only one perspective of mezcal—which is so nuanced and varies from distillery to distillery.
Doing a mezcal tasting and tour of the palenques in the Central Valleys of Oaxaca is simply a must.
No matter who you choose to do your tour with, you will have an immersive, memorable experience of this mystical agave spirit to take with you back home (plus maybe a bottle or two of artisanal mezcal!).
If you have any questions about these any of these above-mentioned mezcal tours, drop them in the comments below!
PIN THIS OAXACA MEZCAL TOUR GUIDE FOR LATER
Special thanks to Las Bugambilias for hosting me on their full-day mezcal distillery tour. As always, all thoughts and opinions reflected in this guide are my own, and I only recommend vetted tours and organizations through experience and research.
I also recommend to visit Yagul ruins, they are on the way to Matatlan, quite close to Tlcolula. Not crowded at all, nice views to the valley.
Gutted we missed those!