You may call “mezcal” the cultured-distant cousin of tequila without offending the bottle, but DO NOT call it the cheap alternative to tequila. That may spark a fight, especially when it comes to Ilegal Mezcal. The tough, rebel spirit, Ilegal Mezcal is a high quality, handcrafted spirit created in Oaxaca, Mexico. The name “Ilegal” refers to the time when the brand’s creator, John Rexer, had to take matters into his own hands. John wasn’t pleased with the limited options he had for his Cafe, so he smuggle the spirits from the village stills in Mexico to stock his bar in Guatemala. Often related to Tequila, Mezcal set itself apart in a few ways. Here are a few ways:
- Most tequilas are made by big companies with large marketing budgets
- Tequila uses only a variety of agave which is called, “blue agave.”
- Tequila makers cook the piñas in ovens and sometimes in tequila factories
- Mezcal spirits are still being made by Oaxacan villagers in virtual backyard operations
- Mezcal is distilled from fermented juice of the pineapple-shaped core — piña — of a succulent plant called the “agave”
- Mezcaleros roast the piñas in earthen mounds over pits of hot rocks. Each village can be home to dozens of small-market distilleries, called fábricas or palenques
I had the chance to try out this exceptional mezcal with the Ilegal team. The collective group walked me through the process of how this flavorful spirit was created:
- The Mezcal is created by using wild Espadin Agave and slowly roasted over a specially-crafted rock pit in order to absorb the rich flavors of earth and wood smoke.
- The agave is crushed, fermented and distilled in small batches using traditional production methods.
- Then the woody, earthy and roasted liquid is then bottled and labeled by hand.
What really gives the Reposado its powerful taste is its aging process. The spirit is aged from four to five months in medium charred new oak barrels. If you ever have the chance to experience this liquid spirit of Mexico (which you will if you see below) you will notice the enticing notes of agave, green apple and oak barrel smoke. Like a beautiful symphony all of these flavors work together to give your palate a pleasurable experience.
Bottled at $75 this Reposado is not something you place in a cocktail. This is a sipping spirit that should be served neat. Drink it straight up and enjoy the taste of Oaxaca, Mexico in the comfort of your home.