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about

Erstwhile Mezcal

Erstwhile is a boutique importer of mezcal and agave spirits based in Brooklyn, New York.

We are a mission-driven company.  Erstwhile’s mission is to partner with small, independent, family-operated producers and bring their craft to international markets for the first time.

Autonomy for and fair trade with producers are among our core values. We focus on Mezcal education, knowing that it empowers consumers to be confident, informed decision makers.

We set ourselves apart from others in several ways.

First, the small producers we work with are independent family businesses. They are Erstwhile’s partners, not employees.  Our partner producers have complete autonomy over what they make, exactly how they want to make it.  We pay our producers fairly.  No bargaining.  No exclusivity contracts.

Unlike family-owned brands, we are not encumbered by loyalty to one family to the exclusion of others.  When you support Erstwhile, you support not just one but all the independent producer families we partner with.

We seek out small producers who are interested in exporting out of Mexico, but do not have the means to do so on their own.  We believe in empowering producers to own as much of their export process as possible, be it using their own bottling facility or hiring their own workers.

We step in if and only if they want our help.  If they are missing certifications or licenses for export, for example, we front the legal and application fees to get them the right paperwork.  If they don’t have access to a bottling facility, we would look and arrange for the most convenient option nearby.

We feel good about the fact that we help our partner producers clear these hurdles from the get-go, independent of their work with us in the future.

Second, we are committed to transparency.  Look at the back label of every Erstwhile bottle: it gives full disclosure of where you can find our partner producer in Oaxaca and buy directly from the source if you so choose.  Talk to us in person.  Read our website, product pages, blog posts, newsletters, social media.  We are proud and open about who we are, who our partner producers are, and every aspect of how we do business.

Third, we are committed to mezcal education, both as teachers and as students.  That is why Erstwhile takes a curatorial, rotating approach when deciding which mezcals we want to bring you.  We bring you not one but a variety to showcase mezcal’s infinite nuances: different agave species, different flavor profiles, different producers, different production methods, different [fill in your suggestion here, we want to hear from you!].

Our vision and commitment to you: keep on discovering kickass distillations by small family producers who want to grow through export; promote these producers and their mezcals; introduce them to you and to mezcal lovers all over the world.  We do not sacrifice excellence to maximize profit or convenience. We commit the Erstwhile name if and only if it is an excellent and extraordinary mezcal. No matter how small the volume. No matter how cumbersome the logistics.

Erstwhile is a woman-owned, women-led business. We are outspoken about elevating women in Mezcal and the broader Wine & Spirits industry.

the vision of

Our Founders

Hello!  Yuan and Kevin here, mezcal enthusiasts and founders of Erstwhile Mezcal.

Before Erstwhile, we were (and still are) best friends who first met in NYC’s cocktails / swing dance / vintage scenes.

Before Erstwhile, we had careers and aspirations in completely different fields.  Kevin, a scholar and dealer of antique maps, was (and still is) the owner of Geographicus Rare Antique Maps.  Yuan – an attorney specializing in antitrust law at the time – loves anything that has to do with economics, law, social entrepreneurship, or the intersection of these fields.

Erstwhile’s core values are our core values as individuals, shaped long before we knew anything about mezcal.  Yuan’s pro bono representation and advocacy of immigrant families, and Kevin’s focus on providing free, high-quality education content for consumers in his antique map business — among many other experiences — have shaped our belief that one can, and should, do good by doing business.  That for-profit businesses can be driven by social missions, and contribute to the greater public good.

We were fortunate that we started learning about mezcal together in the best environment possible – directly in front of small producers, at their homes and distilleries in Oaxaca.

Back home, in Brooklyn and the United States in general, we noticed a problem that was important to us as mezcal consumers.  We looked around but did not see any good solution.

What is this problem?

During our time in Oaxaca, we were amazed by the sheer number of small independent producers we had met, and the rich mezcal variety they offered in terms of agave varietals, flavor profiles, distillation styles, etc.

These small producers want to grow their family businesses, but barely have sales outside their rural communities – let alone in the United States.  Back home in the United States, we knew that many mezcal enthusiasts like ourselves would love to support these producer families and purchase their mezcals – not just one or two families, but as many as possible.

But how can mezcal enthusiasts like us reach small independent producers, short of booking a round trip flight and rental car to Oaxaca?

We looked around, but did not find any mezcal brand, importer, etc. that identified this disconnect as an obvious problem, let alone have a business model that proactively offers a solution.

That, in a nutshell, was the genesis of Erstwhile Mezcal.

Over time, we have added to Erstwhile Mezcal’s mission statement a few more core values.  Core values that are extremely important to us as mezcal evangelists and consumers:

Mezcal education.  Elevating women in Mezcal and the broader Wine & Spirits industry.  Transparency in who we are, as individuals and as a business.

A mezcal portfolio after our own hearts.  With a reputation for mezcal made the old-fashioned way, of only the finest quality or extraordinary provenance.  Painstakingly curated after many a tasting trip through the Oaxacan countryside.  Sourced from producers’ personal libraries.  Made available for the first time to mezcal lovers in the United States and international market beyond.

The mezcal of choice for doers.  For risk-takers, nonconformists, creative folks, independent thinkers, and swashbucklers.  For people who lead lives believing if their dreams do not scare them, the dreams are probably not big enough.  

When you sip an Erstwhile Mezcal, you support our partner mezcal producers, and partake in their family traditions.  You experience the complexities and flavors of a slow, small-batch handcraft, honed and passed down from generation to generation.  

You make into reality a world that we dreamed about, and then built with our hearts and souls.

— Yuan Ji & Kevin J. Brown, Founders of Erstwhile Mezcal

Yuan and Kevin

some of our

Media and Press Mentions

Wine Enthusiast

Wine Enthusiast magazine’s “Top 100 Spirits” list spotlights Erstwhile’s Espadín mezcal, produced by Silverío García and Epifania Gómez in Rancho Blanco Güilá, Oaxaca.

Forbes

In this Forbes article titled “A Comprehensive Guide to the Best Mezcals: 25 Bottles to Try Now”, Karla Alindahao interviews Lou Bank — founder of S.A.C.R.E.D (Saving Agave for Culture, Recreation, Education and Development) — on Mezcal 101 and his top mezcal recommendations, including Erstwhile’s Tobalá distilled by Hortensia Hernández Martínez & Juan Hernández Méndez in Santiago Matatlán, Oaxaca.

Wine Enthusiast

In this article for the October 2019 issue of Wine Enthusiast, Kara Newman (Spirits Editor of Wine Enthusiast) shares her praise and tasting notes for Erstwhile’s Arroqueño mezcal distilled by Hortensia Hernández Martínez & Juan Hernández Méndez in Santiago Matatlán, Oaxaca.