Born in the back of a Guatemala bar in 2006, and launched in the U.S. in 2010, Ilegal Mezcal has seen a lot in its short history. The mezcal brand supports a multitude of artists and human rights organizations, has raised more than $50,000 for advocacy groups, and once launched a very famous anti-Trump campaign.
Here are 10 more things you should know about Ilegal Mezcal.
Ilegal Mezcal is backed by Bacardi.
Don't Miss A DropGet the latest in beer, wine, and cocktail culture sent straight to your inbox.
It’s Mexican booze with an international spirit.
Ilegal Mezcal is produced in Oaxaca, Mexico. The brand launched out of a Guatemala bar, Café No Sé, as the pet project of an American expat, John Rexer. It is currently headquartered in NYC.
“The company is comprised of Mexicans, Guatemalans, Mexican Americans, an El Salvadoran American, a Venezuelan, an Ecuadorian, New Yorkers, Californians, an Alabamian, a Philadelphian … people from an array of other ethnicities, cultures, and sexual orientations,” Ilegal says on its website.
There are tres mezcales.
Ilegal produces three mezcals: Joven, an unaged spirit ideal for cocktails; Reposado, a drinking mezcal aged four months in medium-charred American oak; and Añejo, a full, rich version aged 13 months in American oak, French oak, and used bourbon casks.
It’s Ilegal, not illegal.
At one point, it wasn’t exactly legal. When bar owner and future Ilegal Mezcal founder John Rexer decided he wanted to sell mezcal in his Antigua, Guatemala bar, mezcal was not yet a legal export. (This was 2003, and mezcal wouldn’t become available for legal export until 2006.) So, Rexer did what any enterprising small business owner would do: He “creatively transported” mezcal to Café No Sé, “accidentally” making it the first mezcal bar outside of Mexico, Kaylan Rexer, brand director, tells VinePair. In other words, he smuggled mezcal across the border via day-and-a-half-long bus trips to Mexico, stuffing duffle bags with mezcal from small farms packaged in gas cans and used Jack Daniel’s bottles.
But the real reason the brand took its name, Rexer says in an interview on Ilegal Mezcal’s website, was to show solidarity with the “illegals,” or undocumented immigrants, with whom he worked.
It’s hip to be Ilegal.
Ilegal boasts all the bohemian-friendly qualities — “handcrafted,” “artisanal,” and “clandestine” among them. But it’s not all talk: The mezcal brand has produced several music series, including a three-part benefit concert for Planned Parenthood that helped raise $15,000 for the organization, along with $4,000 for a youth music school in Oaxaca, Mexico.
Its NYC headquarters also doubles as an art gallery where it hosts a curated quarterly series supporting independent artists. One show, Ilegal Pride, donated a portion of proceeds to LGBTQ youth charities.
It’s crafted by hand and hoof.
Ilegal Mezcal is made with 100 percent Espadín agave. According to the brand, all the agave is harvested by handheld machete and crushed by horse-drawn mill. Once bottled, the mezcal is corked, labeled, and numbered by human digits.
Ilegal keeps it real.
The mezcal is 100 percent natural, with no artificial colors, flavors, or additives.
It goes really well with chilis.
Brand director Kaylan Rexer cooks a lot of Mexican food, and often uses mezcal in her recipes. When she does, she told Bustle in 2017, “I always use chilis … I love the smoke mixed with agave flavors of Mezcal, and the spiciness of chili.”
Ilegal Mezcal loves people and hates inequality.
The mezcal is famous for its guerilla marketing campaign, Donald Eres Un Pendejo (translation: Donald, you’re an asshole). Launched two days after Trump announced his candidacy for president in 2015, the campaign was a response to racist remarks Trump made about Mexican immigrants. (Most notably, he called them “rapists.”)
John Rexer and Kaylan Rexer, John’s niece, clapped back by designing the campaign. Its message was stenciled, postered, and projected across buildings in New York. It was even projected on City Hall during the Democratic National Convention, and onto 30 Rockefeller Plaza the night Trump performed on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” program.
The viral campaign spread throughout the U.S. and Mexico, and raised over $25,000 for Niños de Guatemala through fundraising and merchandise sales. It also earned Ilegal the 2017 Shorty Award Gold Distinction for Brand Identity.
It’s raised about as many dollars as eyebrows.
Despite its edgy ethos, Ilegal Mezcal is passionate about people. The brand has raised more than $50,000 for organizations such as Planned Parenthood, Birmingham AIDS Outreach, education scholarships in Guatemala, earthquake relief in Oaxaca, and Hurricane Harvey relief.
Through its Love Your Neighbor project, Ilegal Mezcal has contributed to various organizations that address immigration policy and gender equality. From Oct. 31 to Dec. 31, 2018, Ilegal Mezcal will donate all profits from its merchandise line plus an additional $2,000 to Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project and The National Center For Transgender Rights.