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about

Erstwhile Mezcal

Erstwhile Mezcal is an importer based in Brooklyn, New York. We specialize in artisanal and ancestral mezcal.

Yes, we sell mezcal. But we always aspired for Erstwhile be more than just a mezcal brand. Our founders created Erstwhile to be a platform for the core values and social missions that we believe in:

Mezcal education. Promoting and helping small producers to export for the first time. Women representation and empowerment in the mezcal industry. Transparency in who we are as individuals, and in every aspect of how we do business.

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. We do not ask them for exclusivity or discounts.

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.

Unlike family-owned brands, we are not encumbered by loyalty to any particular family.  When you support Erstwhile, you support not just one but all the family producers we partner with.

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 or extraordinary mezcal. No matter how small the volume. No matter how cumbersome the logistics.

Erstwhile is a woman-owned, woman-operated business. We support fellow women in mezcal production and all aspects of the mezcal / wine & spirits industry whenever possible.

the vision of

Our Founders

Hello friend.  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 legal research on Burning Man, 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 (or wherever else these producers are based in Mexico)?

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.  Women representation and empowerment in the mezcal 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

Thrillist

Dustin Nelson’s article for Thrillist spotlights a May 7, 2020 Virtual Mezcal Tasting featuring Erstwhile Mezcal, hosted by The Crafty Cask’s Suzanne Henricksen and Sommelier Evan Rothrock.

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.

PACIFIC San Diego

In this writeup for PACIFIC, a magazine affiliated with The San Diego Union-Tribune, Carolina Gusman spotlights a March 5, 2020 mezcal presentation, tasting and fundraiser that Erstwhile Mezcal hosted in conjunction with Tahona Bar in San Diego, California.  All ticket proceeds from the event were donated to S.A.C.R.E.D. (Saving Agave for Culture, Recreation, Education and Development) for their project of replanting tobalá agave seedlings, and gifting seedlings to mezcal producers and farmers in need of agaves.