The explosive growth of the tequila category made headlines in 2020, but the spirit isn’t the year’s only agave-fueled success story. Mezcal, tequila’s smoky sibling, has become a favorite of bartenders and cocktail enthusiasts, and the spirit is rapidly growing in popularity as new consumers discover it.

“People are looking for quality products with authentic stories and transparency in brand values,” says Kaylan Rexer, the chief marketing officer at Ilegal Mezcal, which increased its U.S. off-premise sales by 70 percent in 2020. “You don’t get a more hand-crafted, quality product than artisanal mezcal.”

Drizly’s mezcal sales surged 600 percent year over year in 2020, and in the 52 weeks ending Dec. 26, mezcal sales in Nielsen-measured off-premise channels grew 86 percent by value and 69 percent by volume. In a survey conducted for the 2020 BevAlc Insights Retail Report, 39 percent of retailer respondents said they plan to stock more mezcal in the next few years.

“Though mezcal is still a relatively small segment of the liquor category, accounting for just over one percent share of Drizly’s liquor sales in the last 12 months, it is among the fastest-growing categories on our platform, surpassing the growth rate of tequila,” says Liz Paquette, Drizly’s head of consumer insights. “It’s certainly a category for retailers to watch in the coming months and years.”

Omar Korin, the owner of Savemore Market in Oakland, Calif., has been steadily beefing up his in-store and online mezcal inventory to meet increased demand. “I started with only two SKUs on the shelf, but now I have at least 25,” he says. “I don’t have enough room for more, so I carry around 85 mezcals online.”

Korin sees mezcal’s popularity spike as similar to the bourbon boom that occurred a few years back. “Everybody’s interested in trying new stuff,” he says. “Right now this is the mezcal era.”

To help retailers take advantage of mezcal’s continued rise, explore Drizly data for the past 12 months and examine trends for 2021 and beyond. 

Who’s Drinking Mezcal, and Where?

Mezcal sales during the last year were driven largely by younger consumers. The 28 to 34 age group accounted for Drizly’s largest share of sales in the last 12 months (37.8 percent), followed by the 35 to 41 age group at 31 percent, and the 42 to 48 age bracket at 12.3 percent. Consumers aged 56 and older have been slower to embrace the mezcal trend, accounting for just 3.7 percent of Drizly’s sales share.

Sales vary by market, with most of Drizly’s sales activity occurring in major U.S. cities. Currently, markets that over-index on mezcal compared to overall Drizly sales include Los Angeles, New York City, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Oakland, Calif., and Austin, Texas. 

The top-selling SKUs in each market vary depending on regional differences in distribution and inventory. “In Los Angeles, for example, the three top-selling mezcals are Del Maguey Vida, Dos Hombres Joven, and Mezcal El Silencio Espadin,” notes Paquette. “At the national level, however, the top three SKUs are Del Maguey Vida, Ilegal Joven, and Casamigos Joven.” L.A.’s best-sellers also include SKUs that are not among the national top 10, such as XICARU Silver and Bozal Ensamble. 

Top-Selling Mezcals

One of mezcal’s distinguishing factors compared to other spirits categories is its premium price-point. While other liquor categories like vodka can often be purchased at retail for less than $20 per 750-milliliter bottle, Impact Databank reports that the average cost for a standard-size bottle of mezcal increased in 2019 from $37.40 to $41.08. The higher price point has done little to deter consumers from seeking out premium and ultra-premium bottles. 

Year-over-year, Drizly’s three best-selling mezcal SKUs have maintained their rankings. Two new entries—Dos Hombres Joven and Madre—broke into Drizly’s top 10 this year, while Ilegal Reposado and Clase Azul fell out of the top 10. 

Drizly’s Top-Selling Mezcal SKUs, Last 12 Months

  1. Del Maguey Vida
  2. Ilegal Joven 
  3. Casamigos Joven
  4. Dos Hombres Joven
  5. El Silencio Espadin 
  6. Banhez Mezcal 
  7. Union Uno 
  8. Del Maguey Chichicapa
  9. Madre Mezcal 
  10. Montelobos Joven

Several up-and-coming mezcals saw strong year-over-year sales growth, earning them a spot on Drizly’s list of “mezcals to watch.” 

Drizly’s Fastest-Growing Mezcal SKUs

  1. Wahaka Madre Cuishe
  2. Yuu Baal Joven Pechuga
  3. Fidencio Joven Clásico 
  4. Gracias A Dios Gin
  5. Alipus Santa Ana del Rio
  6. Del Maguey Espadin Especial 
  7. Rey Campero Tepextate 
  8. El Silencio Espadin
  9. Rey Campero Cuishe 
  10. Madre Mezcal

Mezcal’s Future

As 2021 progresses, Rexer of Ilegal Mezcal predicts a bright future for the mezcal category. “We see consumer interest in mezcal and in premium agave spirits continuing to grow in the coming years,” she says. “We are forecasting growth not just in our major markets but across the country. Mezcal will be a staple on every cocktail menu and off-premise retail shelf.”

Part of this will be integrating the spirit into classic, mezcal-friendly cocktails like the margarita and Paloma. To help propel the trend and encourage at-home engagement with the spirit, Ilegal recently introduced margarita kits for retail and e-commerce sales, and launched a direct-to-consumer website.

As consumers’ interest in mezcal grows, Paquette predicts that new mezcal brands will enter the market in the coming year. “Over the past 12 months the number of mezcal SKUs available in Drizly’s catalog has grown 86 percent,” she says. “In 2021, as the category continues to surge, we expect to see new brands emerge, as well as tequila brands foraying into mezcal, as we’ve been seeing in recent years.”