Dewar’s has long touted the fact that its whisky is “double aged.” This means that, after initial maturation, the whisky is blended and then goes back into barrels again for about six months to allow the flavors to marry. But recently the storied brand has been trying out some additional maturation processes. Last fall, Dewar’s launched a cask-finished expression of its whisky called Caribbean Smooth, an eight-year-old blend that was finished in rum barrels (which are at the ready in large supplies, considering the brand is owned by Bacardi). Next month, a new cask-finished blend will hit shelves called Ilegal Smooth.
This time, the eight-year-old blend is finished in Ilegal Mezcal casks (Bacardi owns a minority stake in Ilegal). While you might assume this would bring a great deal of smoke to the palate, it’s really only a wisp that curls around other flavors like caramel, butterscotch, and bright citrus. Overall, this is a nice sipping whisky that would also work quite well in a simple drink like a highball.
There have been mezcal-finished whiskeys in other categories before this release. JJ Corry launched The Battalion last year, an Irish whiskey finished in mezcal and tequila casks. And Wigle Whiskey has its Oaxaca Rye that spent an entire year in mezcal barrels. But Ilegal Smooth would likely not have been allowed under previous Scotch Whisky Association rules. These regulations were actually not entirely specific about the type of casks that could be used for maturation, but in practice were mostly limited to bourbon and sherry casks.
An amendment was filed last summer which now specifically allows casks once used to mature tequila, mezcal, calvados, and other spirits to be used to finish scotch whisky. There are still some exceptions, per the SWA: “wine, beer/ale or spirits produced from, or made with, stone fruits; beer/ale to which fruit, flavouring, or sweetening has been added after fermentation; spirits to which fruit, flavouring, or sweetening has been added after distillation.” The intention here seems to be to keep the basic integrity and character of scotch intact, while allowing a wider range of cask finishes — which is something that large spirits corporations like Diageo have been seeking for some time now.
For Dewar’s, the timing of this change worked out well. “We had been thinking about the idea of a mezcal finish for a while, but at that time, the applicable legislation would not have allowed for this product to come into existence in the way you see it today,” said Dewar’s master blender Stephanie Macleod in an email. “Then, during our experimentation, the legislation happened to change and that is what allowed DEWAR’s Ilegal Smooth to come about… It’s an exciting time for the future of whisky and innovation. The new amendment opens up the use of cross-barrel aging to infuse new flavor into the liquid, while also adhering to the celebrated tradition of the flavor and quality that Scotch is known for.”
Ilegal Smooth will be available in April with an SRP of $22.
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