Ilegal Mezcal - The Comprehensive Brand Review
by Greg Rutkowski
Does the phrase "Donald Eres un Pendejo" ring a bell?
Well, if you are a mezcal lover, then you know it was a popular term in the successful Ilegal Mezcal campaign during the 2016 US election. If you are just starting to go deep into your love journey with mezcal, then this article will open your eyes to everything as far as Ilegal Mezcal is concerned.
I guess you are wondering why it's called Ilegal, how it is produced and whether it's good for you or not. So, without further ado, let's dig right in.
History of Ilegal Mezcal
John Rexer is the founder of Ilegal Mezcal. He started smuggling it to his own bar, Cafe No Se, located in Antigua, Guatemala. Ilegal Mezcal is a brand that was established in 2005, and has grown significantly over the years.
Ilegal Mezcal is made entirely by hand from Agave Espadin that has been roasted and baked with mesquite and eucalyptus wood.
In the United States, Ilegal is the most popular handmade mezcal. It's created from sustainable raw materials and processes.
Why The Name?
It's named Ilegal because the brand's founder used to sneak it out of Mexico and into Guatemala when he first started. Some of the tales are rather bizarre.
Mezcal gained a lot of traction in a short amount of time. He was bringing unbranded mezcal down from a number of Oaxacan communities at the time, including San Lorenzo, Sola De Vega, Santa Catarina Minas, Hierve el Agua, Santiago Matatlan among others.
Growing and Harvesting
Agave Espadin only blooms once in its life, producing a towering stem from the center, and then dies. When the plant is seven or eight years old, it is generally harvested.
The plant's spines are chopped off once it is harvested, and the surviving heart, known as the piña, may weigh up to 220 pounds.
First, a fire is lit at the pit's base, and river stones are piled on top. The piñas are chopped in halves or quarters and thrown into the pit when the rocks are red-hot.
It is then wrapped in agave leaves, fiber, and straw mats, then buried in dirt and left to roast for five to seven days. The piñas are taken from the pan once enough time has passed.
At this point, a special horse-drawn grinding mill called Tahona crushes the agave. As the mule is pulling the roller, someone moves it inside the mill using a pitchfork. This is to make sure it grinds up consistently.
After the crushing, it is then fermented inside wooden barrels. Hot water is then poured into the barrels after which they are left for several days and then filled up with cold water.
After around 7-10 days in pine vats, the fermentation process will be complete but this will be depending on the type of weather at that particular time. The process tends to be faster when the temperature is high.
Ilegal mezcal is double distilled. Once the fermentation process is complete, the mash undergoes distillation. The alcohol from the first distillation is of low grade. The fibers on the still are removed and another distillation is done on the first distilled alcohol.
Mezcal is aged in a variety of ways. Mezcal Joven is left to mature for up to two months or not at all. Mezcal Reposado is aged for two to twelve months.
Types of Ilegal Mezcal
Ilegal Mezcal comes in three different variations. Continue reading to know more about each type, to help you make wise decisions when purchasing your Ilegal mezcal.
Ilegal Reposado is matured in American oak barrels for four months. The mouthfeel is silky all the way through. This Mezcal is excellent for your guests who don't enjoy Mezcal since the barrel aging imparts a woody taste that whiskey and tequila drinkers are familiar with.
- Scent - Caramelized pear and bitter orange
- Taste - Clove, toffee, and traces of vanilla.
- Aroma – Silky, with a little aroma of straw on a hot summer day.
- Finish - There's sweetness, spice, and warmth, and the flavor is strong yet mellows in the tongue.
- Aging - 4 months
- Food pairing - It would go nicely with a cheese platter with Mexican or Spanish cheeses.
For 13 months, Ilegal Añejo is aged in a mix of American and French oak. It's a stunning Mezcal that rivals the world's best scotches and cognacs.
It smells like maple, clove, and bitter orange, and tastes like dark chocolate and sweet agave. It has a rounded, full, and rich flavor. This is considerably softer and smoother than the Reposado when sipped and enjoyed. It has a rustic quality to it, yet with a strong Espadin fruit flavor. This Mezcal is perfect for serving to those who say they don't like Mezcals because of its age.
- Scent - maple, clove, and bitter orange
- Taste - dark chocolate and sweet agave
- Aging - 13 months
Ilegal Joven is unaged, which distinguishes it from the aged Ilegal reposado and Ilegal Añejo. Deep agave aromas mingle with undertones of green apple, lemon, and white pepper in this wine. There's a lingering heat and sweetness.
This Mezcal Joven works well in cocktails and may also be enjoyed on its own.
- Taste - Full bodied agave flavor. Hint of smoke, lingering heat
- Aroma - Eucalyptus and mineral, with compliment hints of red chiltepe, green apple, fresh citrus
- Aging - Un-aged
Ilegal Mezcal x Bronx Brewery: Side Hustle Seltzerita
The brand has joined forces with The Bronx Brewery to create a new type of hard seltzer. This one bursts with grapefruit, mezcal flavor and lime. The idea behind it is that we’re all better together.
It is characterized with flavors of grapefruit, bravo hops and lime. It is aged using Ilegal Mezcal oak staves.
Why Go for Mezcal Ilegal?
In the Oaxaca area, the activities show the dedication to sustainability and biodiversity. Ilegal is all natural, with no artificial colors, yeasts, tastes, or additions. It's just agave, the sun, and the passage of time.
Every step of the process, from harvest to first drink, demonstrates the commitment to quality. Ilegal Mezcal is made in tiny batches, and each bottle is hand-corked, labeled, and numbered. Only wonderfully ripe Espadin agave is used by the fourth-generation mezcaleros, who double distill it in the Santiago Matatlan Valley in Oaxaca, Mexico.
Above all, Ilegal Mezcal has a well balanced profile, with a mouth full of agave as well a hint of smoke.
5 Stars or Not?
There is a popular Mexican saying that goes, "For everything good Mezcal, and for everything bad too."
Well, the truth is, you can never go wrong with smoky mezcals. Lovers of mezcal give it an average of 4.5 out of 5 stars. Comment below with your rating and let us know your favorite bottle of Ilegal Mezcal and whether you like it clean or in mezcal cocktails.
You can also check out our blogs for more articles on mezcal and her immediate cousin tequila. If Mexico is in your wish list of travel destinations, then our article on Tequila Jalisco would be perfect for a virtual reconnaissance.
We care about both drinkers and non drinkers alike. If you are in that season in your life that your favorite bottle of tequila is a no-go zone, or if you are simply not into wines and spirits, you don't need to put on a long face. There are still lots of agave products like ayate washcloths and talavera pottery that you can buy and use in your day to day life.
That said, happy drinking as you savor your damn good Ilegal Mezcal!