A gorgeous spirit rivaling the world’s finest scotches and cognacs. Maple, clove, and bitter orange aromas. Dark chocolate and sweet agave on the palate. Rounded. Full. Rich. Yet still untamed. Ilegal MezcalClick to explore our complete library of reviews to help you choose your next perfect bottle.
ILEGAL MEZCAL AñEJO
NOSE: Maple-soaked Tobacco | Vanilla | Light Honeyed Fruit | Agave
TASTE: Tobacco | Sugar | Honeyed Fruit | Floral | Campfire
FINISH: The finish has a nice spice to it, warm but not hot. The smoke doesn’t overpower, but it’s definitely there, finishing to tobacco and cocoa with sweet agave throughout. The finish dissipates quickly, but still lingers for a long but subdued end. Exhaling after shows the last bit of smoke still there.
SHARE WITH: Scotch drinkers that think only whisky is worth drinking, or adventurous margarita drinkers that want to add some interest to their drinks.
WORTH THE PRICE: At around $100, it’s not cheap, but it’s definitely worth it. Online prices are as low as about $70, which is an even easier decision.
BOTTLE, BAR OR BUST: Bottle if you’re a fan of Scotch that shows its peat; bar if you’re not sure but are willing to try something. Drinkers new to more robust pours may have some trouble with this one.
OVERALL: I have found that I was wrong about mezcal (and tequila, but that’s for another review). This is a sipper that will have a permanent home on my bar shelf.
ILEGAL MEZCAL AñEJO background
I’m going to be really transparent here and state that I have never been a tequila fan. I’d tried several tequilas over the years, but found them all to have a bite to them I didn’t care for, including some I was told were fairly high end.
Last spring, my wife and I celebrated our anniversary in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and my brother suggested I try mezcal since I’m a fan of peaty Scotch whiskies. Before doing so, though, I had to look up some info on mezcal, from a whisky drinker’s perspective.
First, it’s nothing like using malted barley. It uses the same agave plant that is used to make tequila but uses a different method. Whereas tequila is only made in specific areas using blue agave, mezcal doesn’t have those restrictions. Tequila pressed out the agave juice, but mezcal cooks down the agave in rock-lined earthen ovens that are heated with wood fires. This method gives more smokiness to mezcal. Neither are typically bottled at alcohol levels as high as whiskies, usually right around 80 proof. They’re also not aged nearly as long, and the aged spirits are categorized into groupings:
- Blanco = unaged
- Joven = unaged, blended with a bit of aged spirits
- Reposado = aged in barrels for up to 9 months
- Añejo = aged in barrels for 1- 3 years
- Extra Añejo = aged in barrels more than 3 years
As you can expect, the more a tequila or mezcal is aged, the steeper the price.
Asking around, one mezcal was recommended several times: Ilegal Mezcal. There’s a story behind the name that gets a bit political, but the initial meaning, from 2004 when the brand started, was that the mezcal was smuggled from Mexico to Guatemala to be served at a bar there. To keep confusion down somewhat, the second “L” was dropped, and the brand isn’t overly large on the label. Each bottle is hand corked and waxed, then numbered and signed.
Curt has a love for things that taste good, starting in barbecue competitions, then moving to teaching cooking classes, writing a food blog and writing for national grilling-related companies, and, currently, as a regular on a local news show in SW Ohio doing food segments (for which he’s become known for his use of bourbon in food). In fact, when interviewed about his top five cooking ingredients, bourbon was included in that list.
Curt’s love of whisky goes back years, but, more recently, his wife encouraged him to have more than one partially filled bottle of Lagavulin by buying an Ardbeg for him for Christmas, then letting him add more and more to his collection. Now amassing a pretty nice little group of Scotch, bourbon, and ryes (and a few other whiskeys here and there), Curt enjoys his whiskey mostly with nothing but a couple drops of water (but is fine with a whiskey cocktail now and then, too). Curt’s feeling is that you don’t have to like the same whisky he likes, but he hopes you enjoy yours as much as he’s enjoying whichever is currently in his glass.
Read Curt's full profile.