First of all, great name. You call anything “illegal” and I’m more than vaguely interested. I’m willing to bet that 90% of you reading this feel the same. I haven’t had the opportunity to drink a lot of mezcal before this bottle showed up on my doorstep, and had actually avoided the liquor because of its legendary smokiness—a characteristic that has put me off of a number of bottles of Scotch in the last couple of years.
Mezcal is usually referred to as tequila’s older, smokier brother, because they’re both made from the same plant—agave. Unlike tequila, which can only be made in a certain region of Mexico, mezcal can legally be made anywhere in Mexico, though it typically comes from Oaxaca. The big difference between the two liquors, is that with mezcal, the agave is slow roasted before it’s distilled. That’s where you get mezcal’s signature “smokiness.”
Ilegal makes three mezcals—an un-aged Joven, a Reposado that’s aged for four months in oak and an Anejo that’s aged for 13 months in oak and bourbon barrels. I tried the Joven and found it to be a hell of a lot more “user friendly” than I expected.
Yes, there is a smokiness to this beverage, particularly when you drink it neat, but that smokiness isn’t overwhelming and honestly, it’s not even the dominating characteristic. Joven is a bit rustic, with some undeniable heat and pepper, but there’s also a great deal of orange and lime in the drink, even a little bit of herbal earthiness and a faint salty element as well. The finish is dry when you take Ilegal neat, but add ice, and the mezcal becomes slick, and a bit more citrusy.
Tequila may be mezcal’s closest cousin, but in my opinion, knocking back Ilegal Joven is more akin to drinking a well-made un-aged whiskey: a bit hot, a bit sweet from the source material, and undeniably charming. I’d love to see what the bourbon barrels do for the Ilegal Reposado—a touch of vanilla might take this beverage into another world entirely.
Hardcore mezcal aficionados might not be satiated by Ilegal Joven, but if you’re bored with tequila and interested in dipping a toe into the world of mezcal, I’d venture that Ilegal is a great place to start.
Distillery:Destileria Tlacolula for Ilegal Mezcal