Mezcal is finally getting the respect it deserves, and not just from bartenders. Departing from the image of touristy, worm-laden bottles, an increasing number of handcrafted mezcal brands are coming on the market, readily being purchased in stores or requested by customers as a substitute for tequila in cocktails.

With its rich history and complex, smoky flavor, mezcal might strike some as having the attributes of a fine Scotch, and surprisingly it is a spirit that plays well with a wide range of other spirits and modifiers, providing it is balanced properly. A great application I sipped at last month’s Tales of the Cocktail was a mezcal Negroni created by cocktail luminary Charlotte Voisey, using Lillet Rosé in place of vermouth and Aperol in place of Campari as a bitter. The result was an incredibly refreshing and approachable aperitif cocktail, showcasing the versatility of this distinctive spirit.

Though Voisey used a lighter version of mezcal for her drink in New Orleans, I decided to try my hand at Sombra Mezcal, a smooth, spicy spirit that, like many mezcals, is excellent for sipping, but this one also has the potential to be more robust in a cocktail. Of course, honing a drink’s balance can be a difficult task, but sticking to the Negroni’s original equal-parts specifications, this cocktail displayed a marriage between the spicy palate and smoky aroma of the mezcal, an citrusy sweetness from the Aperol, and the distinct rosé wine roundness from the Lillet. Still boozy, but certainly a great drink for lunch or an early afternoon. Enjoy!