October is the perfect month to add a little smoke and spice to your favorite drinks

Mezcal — tequila’s estranged cousin — is quickly becoming more popular than ever, and the fact that National Mezcal Day is Oct. 21, serves as a reminder to try it if you have not yet done so.

You won’t have any trouble finding the spirit as the mezcal industry, and especially the market for artisanal and traditional mezcals, is experiencing an incredible boom in the United States. The United States is now the number one consumer of mezcal in the world, with mezcal’s home country of Mexico as the second biggest market.

Unlike most tequilas, mezcal is often hand-crafted in single villages by families who employ traditional production methods passed down for generations, often using almost 100 percent manual labor. 

While most spirits are aged post-production, all mezcal aging is done during planting, resulting in flavors that are considered to be unique. 

The term “mezcal” refers to distilled agave spirits, which originated in western Mexico more than 400 years ago and subsequently spread all over Mexico. The history of mezcal is tightly intertwined with the history of Mexico. But U.S. consumers have a big influence on how mezcal is produced and sold, and National Mezcal Day is a good opportunity to learn more about it.

There are several satisfying brands to try in a range of prices. Here are three to start with.

Vamonos Riendo is an artesanal mezcal that brings together ancient techniques and artistry from multiple Oaxacan communities, to create an extraordinary handcrafted spirit.

El Silencio Espadin is handmade in small batches, and is designed for high-end use in mixology. If you’re looking for a good mixer, this might be it.

Del Maguey Chichicapa Mezcal is hand-crafted alongside the tropical riverbed in the village of San Luis Del Rio where the Red Ant River flows. 

Read about how distilled spirits handled the difficult year of COVID.