Before I get into all the details of Dewar’s Ilegal Smooth, let me tell you how I got here. I was in college and I had just begun to drink some “finer” spirits. That’s not really saying much as I was just turning away from flavored vodka like Svedka or Smirnoff. I had let my brother know that I was drinking some scotch and wasn’t a big fan.
His response, “let me guess, you’re drinking Dewar’s”
“That’s why you don’t like it.”
Later, he had introduced me to finer options such as Aberlour. Since then I’ve tried a bunch of different scotches, but I never really found my way back to Dewar’s. Until recently that is. I continually saw Dewar’s aged scotches take home gold medals and best whiskey in the world awards. So, I decided it was time to try some other options.
I wasn’t ready, however, to spend hundreds of dollars on a 20-something year aged bottle. I figured I’d start smaller and maybe work my way up. That brought me to Dewar’s Ilegal Smooth 8 Year Scotch. It was cheap, aged much longer than the white label, and finished in ex-mezcal casks. It was interesting and unique enough for me. Let’s take a look at the taste, price, and value to see if my view of Dewar’s has changed.
John Dewar began his business ventures in 1846 by opening a merchant shop in the town of Perth, Scotland. Soon after, Dewar created his own scotch by blending whiskies together. Eventually, John Dewar passes down his business to his two sons, John Alexander Dewar and Tommy Dewar.
These two took over in 1880 and launched Dewar’s into a global brand. John Alexander worked on the production of whiskey whilst Tommy focused on Marketing. Tommy even sent US President Benjamin Harrison a cask of Dewar’s scotch. While this ruffled some feathers of the American People at the time, it also got them featured in the New York Times.
Tommy Dewar also traveled around the world for two years, visiting 26 countries, spreading word of their scotch. It’s said that Dewar also invented the highball, a fancy term for a whiskey ginger ale. He also managed to receive a Royal Warrant from Queen Victoria in 1893.
Present day, Dewar’s is owned by Bacardi after they purchased the scotch from Diageo.
Dewar’s Aberfeldy Distillery was built in 1898 just outside the village of Aberfeldy. It’s located in the Highlands region and uses The Pitilie Burn and The River Tay as it’s water source.
Much of the Scotch distilled at the Aberfeldy Distillery is single-malt and goes towards making Aberfeldy Single Malt Scotch. However, Dewar’s is a blend of over 40 single malts, so most of the whiskey they use comes right from their distillery.
Dewar’s Ilegal Smooth Overview
Now that we’ve covered some of the basics of Dewar’s, we can get into the specifics of their Ilegal Smooth. Dewar’s partnered with Ilegal, a producer of mezcal in Oaxaca, Mexico in order to barrel finish their scotch.
Barrel finishing scotch whisky is a common practice that we mostly see done with bourbon or wine barrels. Once the whisky is done with the aging process, it spends time in a previously used cask in order to soak up some of the extra flavors. Dewar’s decided to be the first to try it with ex-mezcal casks.
As a blended whisky, Dewar’s undergoes the aging process first. As for the Ilegal Smooth, they blend whisky that’s sat for 8 years, and then finish the product in mezcal casks for 6 months. Lastly, it’s bottled at 80 proof (40% ABV).
What is Mezcal?
So Dewar’s Ilegal Smooth spends 6 months sitting in ex-mezcal casks, but what does that mean? What is mezcal? Many people know of mezcal and think of it as a “smoky tequila”, which isn’t a far off interpretation.
Mezcal is defined as any spirit distilled from agave. Tequila must use blue agave and be produced in certain regions of Mexico. In essence, tequila is a type of mezcal much like scotch is a type of whiskey. One common trait of mezcal is the smoky profile it offers. Mezcal is typically produced by cooking the agave heart in earthen pits with wood and charcoal.
Dewar’s Ilegal Smooth Tasting Notes
There’s really two primary things that we’re looking for when it comes to drinking the Ilegal Smooth. Does it take on smoky flavoring? Does it add the sweet flavors of agave? Let’s find out.
Nose: Citrus and floral aromas stand out most to me.
Taste: Honey and green pepper with some citrus notes as well.
Finish: Short to medium finish. Some warmth that can borderline pass as smoky.
Dewar’s Ilegal Smooth Taste Summary
Dewar’s Ilegal Smooth is an interesting and unique pour. It’s not entirely complex or rich, but that’s not really what we expected anyway. I was a little disappointed, though, as I hoped for a smokier profile and stronger notes of agave. I didn’t get as much of that as I wanted. The citrus agave notes are there, but it lacks a smoky profile. I was expecting something closer to a peated scotch, but got a light hint of it at best.
It’s safe to say that I prefer Dewar’s Ilegal Smooth to their white label because it’s more interesting. The flavors are different than that of a traditional scotch which simply makes it more fun to drink than plain old Dewar’s White Label.
Dewar’s Ilegal Smooth Price
Here we have a bottle of scotch that has been aged 8 years and finished in Ilegal Mezcal casks. So, how much will it cost us to get or hands on a bottle? Not that much. Below is the average price of a 750ml bottle of Dewar’s Ilegal Smooth. I get these averages from various locations of Total Wine.
Dewar’s Ilegal Smooth: $20-25
Dewar’s Ilegal Smooth is aged 5 years longer than the white label and is barrel finished, yet it is only $5 or so more than their standard white label. I’d say that’s a pretty good deal.
Dewar’s Ilegal Smooth Value
If you’re someone who’s just looking for a decent scotch to drink for a decent price, Ilegal Smooth is probably not your go-to. It’s not bad and it’s cheap, but it’s not a traditional scotch. If you like trying a bunch of different whiskies and comparing them, then I certainly recommend buying a bottle of Ilegal Smooth.
The best thing about this bottle is that it’s $20. If you don’t love it, it doesn’t burn a hole in your pocket, so it’s worth a try. There are also other selections in this series such as the Portuguese Smooth, Japanese Smooth, and Caribbean Smooth.
Dewar’s Ilegal Smooth Summary
Much of the value of Dewar’s Ilegal Smooth comes from its uniqueness and price. It’s the first scotch offering that is barrel finished in mezcal casks. As of recent, mezcal and tequila have become more popular spirit choices, so it appeals to many people too. Next, spending $20 on a 8 year bottle of scotch that offers a unique profile is easy.
Is Dewar’s Ilegal Smooth a great scotch whisky? No, I wouldn’t say so. Is it good enough and cheap enough for me to buy a bottle of their Japanese, Caribbean, and Portuguese Smooth? Yes, yes it is.
At the end of the day, if you like scotch and you like mezcal, or if you like trying different offerings, go pick up a bottle of Dewar’s Ilegal Smooth.