Ilegal Mezcal Joven – Producer: Ilegal. Distiller: Tlacolula Distillery. ABV: 40%. Age: N/A. Price: $40.
Ilegal Mezcal Reposado – Producer: Ilegal. Distiller: Tlacolula Distillery. ABV: 40%. Age: 4 months. Price: $60.
Ilegal Mezcal Anejo – Producer: Ilegal. Distiller: Tlacolula Distillery. ABV: 40%. Age: 13 months. Price: $100.
The agave-based spirit is often recommended to scotch drinkers because of its distinctive smokiness, a result of the agave being cooked in an underground pit for several days before distillation.
But smoke alone isn’t enough to convert the whisky crowd, of course–not least because not all scotch lovers are peat freaks. We’re also used to the subtlety, complexity, and depth of flavor that come from a maturation process in oak that can’t be rushed. (Usually.)
Ilegal is a premium mezcal that has all of the above, even in its unaged version. Let’s dive in, shall we?
The Ilegal Joven (unaged) has a bright, fresh nose, sweet and grassy. The smoke is just barely detectable, which is characteristic of the whole line–and may be welcome news for curious scotch drinkers who hew more to Speysides and Highlands than Islays. The palate has bright fresh fruit notes, agave of course, along with apple. There’s a welcome creaminess to the mouthfeel, and a subtly buttery note to go with it.
The smoke starts to emerge–still restrained–toward the finish, along with a hit of roasted coffee. The lack of barrel maturation means it lacks the vanilla and caramel more familiar to whisky-drinkers, but don’t let that get in your way. This is delicious all on its own.
The Ilegal Reposado adds four months of aging in American oak, and with it, additional complexity. There’s a bright, pure sweetness on the nose here too–think just-ripe wild strawberries. Lemon curd. Floral scents, then a toasted coconut note that delivers the subtle influence of the smoke.
The palate is rich, with kumquat, blood orange rind, and sesame cookies with browned bottoms. The finish balances the fruit and smoke, with the strawberry note back for an encore.
The Ilegal Añejo is the richest of the bunch, aged 13 months in American and French oak. It also has the most familiar profile for whisky-drinkers. The nose is a vanilla custard tart with fresh berries, then a drizzle of caramel. The smoke is more pronounced but well integrated. The palate has the most heft and depth of the three. Ripe aromatic fruit mixes with dark chocolate, spice, and delicate smoke. Finish is long and delectable, mixing sweet and savory.
All three of these should put a smile on the face of a whisky lover. Happily for mezcal lovers and the mezcal curious, Ilegal recently signed a national distribution agreement with Southern Wine & Spirits, so this excellent sipper should be a more common sight.
Cheers, friends! – BO
Ilegal graciously provided samples for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.