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Ilegal Mezcal Review

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.

After some malternative exploration in the cognac vein, it seemed high time to dip into mezcal. Ilegal Mezcal is a great way to do it.

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

Buy Ilegal Mezcal at Mash + Grape

Ilegal graciously provided samples for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.

Barrell Bourbon Batch 11 Review

Producer: Barrell Craft Spirits. Distiller: undisclosed Tennessee distiller. ABV: 57.4%. Age: 6 years. Mashbill: 70% corn, 25% rye, 5% malted barley.

You’ve all seen Baldo’s deep and deserved love for the terrific offerings from Barrell Craft Spirits (f.k.a. Barrell Bourbon), but it was only recently that I was able to review a bottle of this superb product.

The Barrell Bourbon Batch 11 is from barrels distilled and aged in Tennessee, then bottled in Kentucky, with a mash bill of 70% corn, 25% rye, and 5% malted barley.

As you’d expect from a barrel strength bottling, this bourbon truly opens with a splash of water. I caught vanilla and caramel on the nose, along with summer county fair corn on the cob and a hint of cotton candy. The palate is a thing of complex and rich beauty. There’s a bit of brown butter sauce, subtle layers of spice over oat cakes, and a delightful hint of peanut brittle. The finish has all these flavors and more and is very nicely sustained. Very pleasingly to me, there was even a faint note of French press at the back end.

I was thrilled with my first Barrell experience and I can’t wait to see the next batch. Cheers, friends! – TM

Barrell Craft Spirits graciously provided a sample for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.

Buy Barrell Craft Spirits online at Mash + Grape

Benromach 35 Review

Distiller: Benromach. Region: Speyside. ABV: 43%. Age: 35 years. Price: $500-700.

There’s a bit of a dilemma when you’ve got the chance to sample something truly special. On one hand, you’re itching to pour the day it arrives. On the other, you’re keep telling yourself you need to wait for the Perfect Moment™.

After a few weeks of staring longingly at the sample of Benromach 35 on the counter, I decided my perfect moment was a perfectly ordinary Wednesday. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, and all.

Benromach has been doing wonderful things at its small, deliberately old-fashioned, far northern Speyside distillery since Gordon & MacPhail purchased and revitalized it in the 1990s. Their oldest standard release is a (very good) 15-year-old. This 35-year-old release, like a few 1970s vintage releases, comes from the old stocks that predate the revival.

The 35 is an all-first-fill-sherry blast from the past. Bewitching nose. Beautiful bourbon-soaked stone fruits–stewed cherries and prunes. Mature oak, chocolatey mahogany. Sweet old library must. Raspberry syrup. Wet cedar.

Palate has a subtle sourness behind the rich stewed fruits. Just the right bite. Mulled wine with heavy cinnamon and clove. Burnt apple pie. Beguiling finish with lighter fruit notes: lychee and fresh coconut.

Lesson learned: you can wait for the perfect moment, or you can make one by pouring something this good.

Cheers, friends! – BO

Benromach graciously provided a sample for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.

Macallan Edition 2 Review

Distiller: Macallan. Region: Highlands. ABV: 48.2%. No age statement. Price: $80-100.

I think I’ve got a new favorite Macallan. Got an overdue taste of the excellent Edition No. 2 with my friends at Jay’s Bar recently. I’d heard raves about this no-age-statement release from Mark  good folks at Scotch ‘n’ Sniff and Malt Review. Now I know why.

The Edition No. 2 is a collaboration between Macallan Whisky Maker Bob Dalgamo and Catalonia’s legendary El Cellar de Can Roca restaurant. In terms of profile, it’s square in Macallan’s sweet spot: dense sherried goodness balanced by just the right amount of darker, drier tannic notes.

On the nose there’s blood orange, marzipan, marshmallow, sweet old oak, and a whisper of mint. The palate adds sponge cake, toasted coconut macaroons, candied ginger, and fig. Full body. The finish has clove-studded Christmas orange with musty grapevine and more sweet oak.

BIG success, this one. Looking forward to adding a bottle to my collection–and trying it alongside the Edition 1.

Slàinte, whisky friends! – BO

Craigellachie 31 Review

Distiller: Craigellachie. Region: Speyside. ABV: 52.2%. Age: 31 years. Price:  $800-1,000+

Hot damn. The Craigellachie 31 is in pretty rarefied territory. As Axis readers know, I’ve tried–and hugely enjoyed–every other distillery bottling: the 13 (one of the best buys in stores), the 17 (a welcome step up), the 19 (one of my favorites of 2016, sadly Duty Free-only), and the 23 (challengingly sulphuric, and damn pricey).

The 31, though, I doubted I’d get to try–at least any time soon. But there it was on offer at the end of the brilliant Dewars single malt dinner at Ink LA recently. I took full advantage.

Craigellachie is not for beginners, and they’re proud of it. The 31 is intense. Many other distillers release their oldest malts watered down, but this bottling is 52.2% ABV. It starts with a massive leathery note on the nose the younger Craigellachies don’t have. Dense strawberry and pineapple. Peppery vanilla bean. A little water, and the dram bursts open.

The palate explodes with spice-infused fruit: cinnamon, dried ginger, nutmeg. Bitter chocolate truffles. That characteristic Craigellachie meatiness. Toasted almonds. Old leather-bound library volumes. White smoke. Constant evolution in the glass, and a finish that goes on forever.

One of the more extraordinary drams I’ve tasted. The jury of Whisky Magazine’s World Whisky Awards seems to agree: they named the Craigellachie 31 the best single malt in the world for 2017.

Here’s to the grails, whether we’re drinking them or dreaming of them. Slàinte, friends! – BO

Malahat Bourbon and Rye Review

Malahat Straight Bourbon – Distillery: Malahat Spirits Co. ABV: 46%. Mashbill: undisclosed/high wheat. ABV:  Price: $65.

Malahat 100% Rye – Distillery: Malahat Spirits Co. ABV: 46%. Mashbill: 100% rye. Price: $65.

You know microdistilling has hit its stride when you see headlines like “7 San Diego Distilleries You Need to Know.” And you realize the article’s two years old.

California law hasn’t been kind to microdistilleries, though that’s finally changing for the better. My current home town of Los Angeles has been uncharacteristically slow on the uptake, but our sister city to the south is right in the center of the U.S. microdistilling boom. Among its most promising representatives is Malahat Spirits Co.

Malahat–the name of a schooner that ran bootleg booze to Southern California during Prohibition–was opened in 2014 by three friends, Ken Lee, Tom Bleakley and Tony Grillo. They focused on rum at first, with their Cabernet-aged rum winning Best in Class from the American Distilling Institute the last year. They also have one of the best-looking tasting rooms I’ve ever seen:

Photo from malahatspirits.com

I learned about Malahat from a friend a good two years ago, and had been waiting for a taste of their bourbon and rye. The wait is over!

Malahat Straight Bourbon was aged 2+ years in 30-gallon barrels. The mash bill is undisclosed, but Tony Grillo told me it’s “fairly high wheat.” That shows on the nose, which is big and fruity. Apple is prominent, followed by fragrant notes of cedar, vanilla, and lemon pith. Very pretty nose, with little indication of the spirit’s youth.

The palate’s a bit of a let-down after such a promising beginning. The fruit and fragrant notes are here too, together with baking spice, raw leather, and a certain lacquer bite that carried through to the finish. With some more time, this one will likely be a winner.

The Malahat 100% Rye is ready right now. It’s a great young rye–and all the more impressive given the technical difficulty of distilling from a 100% rye mashbill. Asked why Malahat chose to go 100% rye, Tony said, “For the challenge!”

Met and mastered. The nose is amazingly bright. A fresh fruit and berry basket, with just a hint of mint. Blueberries stewed in cinnamon. Fresh sweet grain. Lemon danish.

The palate is just as enjoyable, with spiced apple peel, creme brulée, Meyer lemon, and vanilla pipe tobacco. The spice persists through the medium finish.

A strong start for Malahat’s whiskey-making. Availability is wide in California, including various online retailers.

Cheers, friends! – BO

Malahat Spirits graciously provided a sample for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.