Celebrate Cinco de Mayo with Ilegal Mezcal

I thought about titling this post, “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off” or “Mas Tequila.” There was even a little snicker as I thought about Pee Wee Herman dancing to “Tequila” in a biker bar in the movie Pee Wee Herman’s Great Adventure. Alas, none of that either happened or made sense for this post. The reason…we’re not talking about Tequila, we’re talking about Mezcal.

As a wine blogger, no one was more surprised than me when I received three trade samples of Ilegal Mezcal. My level of agave experience is limited to tequila shots, margaritas, the occasional smooth Patron and mostly memories of sickness and hangovers. Before beginning my research, I had no idea the difference between mezcal and tequila. With people consuming the agave nectar in mass for Cinco de Mayo, I was eager to do my duty to uncover the world of mezcal for wine lovers everywhere.

Mezcal vs Tequila

From what I can tell here are the basics differences between Mezcal and Tequila

  • Both come from the Agave plant, but from different species
  • Tequila is from Jalisco and mezcal is from Oaxaca
  • Tequila is made from the crushed fermented juice of the agave plant; mezcal is made from steamed condensation of the process and then distilled.
  • Tequila contains no worm, mezcal contains a worm.
  • Tequila cannot be called mezcal but mezcal can be called tequila

There may be more differences but they become less important as the shots flowed.

The NectarView

With 3 bottles of Ilegal Mezcal and Cinco de Mayo around the corner, I decided the only way to do this review was with some authentic Mexican cuisine. I stopped by a tiny Mexican restaurant and picked up a variety of tacos (steak, beef, fish) and set out to discover the world of mezcal. Due to my lack of experience with tequila and mezcal, I won’t be giving scores to the following but will only offer my consumer based opinion.

Joven ($55)

The “low end” mezcal isn’t aged for any length of time but is double and triple distilled. The color is like water, completely clear. On the nose the wine is very pungent. At first sniff there is an overwhelming aroma of burnt plastic (like when a piece of Tupperware gets burned in the dishwasher), cheap perfume and sweet fruit. Let this mezcal sit for a few minutes and most of that offensive aroma dissipates. In the mouth I get strong smoke, pepper, and a sweet fruit that I just can’t pinpoint along with a HUGE amount of heat.

SHIVER FACTOR: (this is the score of how smooth the mezcal is – the higher the score the more smooth) – At first sip, the Joven is very tough to swallow and earns a shiver score of 3-/5

Overall, I’m not sure I could enjoy this mezcal without a mixer. The aroma off plastic was overwhelming and the hot finish left me shuddering and even coughing a little.

Reposado ($69)

Reposado is aged for 4 months in new and recharged whiskey barrels. The mescal is slightly darker than the first but still a very pale yellow color. The sniff boasts a soft cedar and butterscotch aroma followed by hints of vanilla. This reminds me of a well aged scotch. Hints of burnt plastic still accompany the other aromas. The front palate is very soft with caramel undertones but immediately lead to a long strong hot finish (that’s what she said). This Reposado is much more balanced than the Joven.

SHIVER FACTOR: Much more balanced of flavor and alcohol heat with a nice sweetness 3+/5

Nicely done and full of unique flavors. The Reposado was immensely more drinkable than the Joven.

Anejo ($110)

So, I started this tasting by sipping along with my tacos not knowing the price points of each mezcal. The Anejo quickly stood tall above the others for aroma, taste and finish. On the swirl the Anejo is about the same color as a corn tortilla (pictured). Since I’d already tasted a little bit, I’ll rely on my notes for memory, “oh my gosh, so buttery with deep undercurrents of smoked cedar and sweet fruit.” The Anejo spends 14 months in new and recharged whisky barrels. The mouth feel of this mezcal is very enjoyable with a ton of earthy flavors, tobacco, butterscotch, and more. There is a sweet fruit / candy flavor to the very tip of the flavor that quickly gets overtaken by the smoke, butterscotch and alcohol. DO NOT MIX THIS MEZCAL, just sip it neat or over ice.

SHIVER FACTOR: Nice and smooth with a kick of smoked hickory and heat. 4/5

Very intrigued by the complexity of aroma and flavor. As someone new to the drink, I found myself just enjoying the aromas before sipping on a glass with ice. The finish was balanced and lacked the typical hot chest burning fire.

This Cinco de Mayo enjoy a glass of mezcal. The intense smoky butterscotch may be a little overpowering for a margarita but try sipping on a shot with a few cubes of ice. Who knows, you may be singing “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off” or dancing like Pee Wee Herman. Here are a few videos for inspiration.

PEE WEE HERMAN “Tequila” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BodXwAYeTfM

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Owner of Nectar Tasting Room in Spokane, WA. (@nectarwine) Publisher of Spokane Wine Magazine (@spowinemag), author, speaker, consultant and internet marketer with Nectar Media (@nectarmedia)

10 comments on “Celebrate Cinco de Mayo with Ilegal Mezcal

  1. Joe

    Biggest difference to me is the smoky flavor of Mezcal. The plant must is roasted with Mezcal, whereas it is not when dealing with Tequila.

    One of the best things I’ve ever had (last week, in fact), was a margarita-type drink made with smoky Mezcal, lime juice, and grilled pineapple at Frontera in Chicago. The grilled flavor of pineapple (that everyone has to love) was awesome with the smoke of the liquor. Yowza!

    1. Matthew "mmWine" Horbund

      Joe – I did a few hours of research on tequila last night before I wrote my piece on it. From what I saw, making tequila from blue agave entails them cutting the pina (pinecone) from the agave, roasting it, and then fermenting. As a matter of fact, I saw some nifty photos of the pinas piled up outside of an adobe oven.

      I found that the smoke was more in the aging. Joven,blanco and silver dont see any oak treatment, where as reposado, anejo and extra anejo do. I’ll be taking a deeper dive into these three, and other tequilas on my new site in the coming weeks. I’d love to see anything you find on the drinks, esp if what I read about smoking the pina was wrong!!


    2. drinknectar

      Hey, Joe – I did try some with margarita mix and enjoyed how the smoky flavor cut through the sugar sweet. Your mix of lime and pineapple juice sounds amazing. Too bad all my mezcal is gone :(


  2. Matthew "mmWine" Horbund

    Great Piece! I actually just sipped these three, plus 7 more. I didn’t write them up in such detail, but more gave some history and a little tasting note on each. I’ll dive deeper in the future. It’s on my new project http://pourmeanother.net – Stop by if you have the time.


    1. drinknectar


      Thanks for the comment, can’t wait to read your piece. Like your new project. Good luck with it.


  3. Gary Wolf

    “just sip it neat (over ice)”

    “Neat” means a shot of booze in a glass with no ice.

  4. Mezcal Drinker

    Mezcal is not a well-known drink, so all the errors in this article are not surprising.

    First, any drink made from the agave family of plants is a mezcal. Thus, tequila, which is made from the blue agave, is a type of mezcal. To be called “tequila,” it must, among other things, come from specific regions of Mexico.

    Much mezcal is made in Oaxaca, but it can actually be made anywhere; there is no rule that it has to be made in a specific region, like with tequila.

    Mezcals can be made with any plant in the agave family.

    The tequila pinas are steamed, NOT roasted.

    The mezcal pinas are typically roasted, NOT steamed. This roasting produces the characteristic mezcal smokiness. There are currently, however, some mezcals that do steam the pinas to avoid that smokiness.

    Both tequila and mezcal can have a worm. All tequilas and mezcals that have worms or scorpions or other dead things in them are BAD tequilas/mezcals. For tourists and frat parties only.

    Those are the facts. Venturing into the world of opinion, judging a mezcal or tequila or whisky or wine, etc. by its “smoothness” is a mistake. These drinks should be judged on their taste and mouth-feel qualities, and not on how easily they go down the gullet. To me, “smooth” is really another way of saying “bland.” Water is smooth. Is it really useful to rate beverages on how closely they resemble water, with the most water-like beverages rated the highest? The only beverage I can think of that can be usefully judged on its smoothness is cough syrup.

    Hope this has been helpful.

    1. drinknectar

      There is a good way to provide criticism. This is it.

      However, thank you for sharing your knowledge.



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