It’s been nearly ten years since our introduction to and first review of Ilegal Mezcal, a small-batch, Oaxaca-based brand that produces a range of mezcals, both unaged and aged in oak. We started off with a look at batch #1 in 2010. Come 2019, we find batch #80 of the joven mezcal on our desks, ready to compare to its progenitor.
One thing of note: Ilegal’s batch-based production levels seem to have gone up quite a bit. While back in 2010, Ilegal said its batches were typically under 2,000 bottles each, batch #80 comprises over 5,000 bottles. Does the ramp-up of production make a difference for Ilegal’s quality? Let’s find out with this fresh look at Ilegal Joven.
The short answer is yes: Ilegal batch #80, side by side against batch #1, is a decidedly different spirit. While the original Ilegal Joven was a lightly smoked, fruit-forward offering, this version kicks things off with a heavy dose of smoke. In fact, it’s one of the more overtly smoky mezcals I’ve experienced in recent memory. There’s still some fresh fruit (heavy on the citrus) here, but the smoke washes most of it out, along with a somewhat peppery, antiseptic character. The palate is fruitier but still quite smoky, altogether a bit better balanced than the nose would initially indicate. The finish is on the flat side, offering notes of cherry candy but also plenty of lingering, enduring smoke.
Ultimately, it’s a clear case in point as to why we periodically re-review spirits: Things change over time, sometimes dramatically. As for Ilegal’s 2019 representation — if you’re a smoke fanatic, you’ll love it. More casual drinkers may find it a bit overwhelming.