Cask finishes are nothing new for scotch whisky. But mezcal cask finishes are. And that’s what makes the release of Dewar’s Ilegal Smooth so notable. The product is a collaboration between Dewar’s and Ilegal Mezcal, and results in an eight-year-old blended scotch being rested in Ilegal Mezcal barrels, which impart notes of sweetness and mild smoke to the spirit.
Following the launch of Dewar’s Caribbean Smooth last year, this is the second expression in a new cask-finished series of scotch whiskies. It’s a nice piece of innovation from the old-guard brand, which dates back to 1898.
Dewar’s Ilegal Smooth starts with the distillery’s signature recipe, a blend of up to 40 single malts and grain whiskies. After maturing in wood for at least eight years to get that smooth Dewar’s profile, the liquid is finished in ex-Ilegal Mezcal casks that were sourced straight out of Oaxaca, Mexico.
Dewar’s Master Blender Stephanie Macleod describes the unique flavor profile as one featuring subtle notes of caramel, sliced green pepper, and a wisp of smoke. That smoke is evident from the nose to the finish, but it’s unlike the typical peat smoke you find in Islay whiskies and other smoky drams. Instead, it’s more earthy and herbal, like setting fire to a green plant and then quickly putting it out before it sets the forest ablaze.
“Many of the barrels utilized in aging mezcal are used whisky barrels. It’s a nice shift to have our used Ilegal Mezcal barrels crossing borders to age whisky in Scotland,” says John Rexer, Founder of Ilegal Mezcal.
The whisky is flavorful—albeit more straightforward and less nuanced than you might expect considering the unique finish—and it maintains the easy-drinking qualities Dewar’s is known for. The brand suggests mixing the product into highballs, if that’s your thing. Drinking it neat works nicely, as does adding a drop of water or pouring the whisky over a large, slow-melting ice cube. The latter opens things up to mild fruit, honey, and more cooling green notes, though a bit of that smoke is lost and replaced by more oak.
Dewar’s Ilegal Smooth ($21.99) will debut on shelves in the U.S. and Canada in mid-April, with full distribution on May 1.