Hello! Yuan and Kevin here, mezcal enthusiasts and founders of Erstwhile Mezcal.
Erstwhile was born from our passion for historical preservation, social entrepreneurship, consumer welfare, and advocacy for underrepresented voices.
We started Erstwhile based on our experiences as consumers and mezcal enthusiasts. Erstwhile’s mission and products encapsulate what we wanted – but could not find – in our local stores, bars, and the broader US market.
Our story began long before we knew anything about agave spirits. Kevin, a scholar and dealer in antique maps, was (and still is) the owner of Geographicus Rare Antique Maps. Yuan had a successful legal career, specializing in antitrust law at a major firm.
Yuan’s pro bono advocacy for immigrant families, and Kevin’s focus on building scholarship into the antique business – among other experiences – have shaped our belief that one can do good by doing business. We believe for-profit businesses can be driven by social missions, and contribute to the greater public good.
Today, advocacy for real people – small, independent mezcal producers in Mexico – is at the core of what we do at Erstwhile.
Before Erstwhile, we were curious but clueless mezcal consumers. Bottles looked the same. And labels, if written in English at all, looked like gibberish. We did not know what most of the words meant.
That changed with our first visit to Oaxaca. On our first day trip focusing on mezcal education, we met many producer families who welcomed us into their homes with warm hospitality. We began to understand mezcal in the best environment possible: directly from small producers who have made traditional mezcal for generations. In the process, we immersed ourselves in not just technical mezcal know-how, but also developed a lifelong love for Oaxaca’s land, culture and people.
We continued to focus on mezcal education in subsequent visits over the next two years. These voyages transformed us from clueless consumers into agave spirit evangelists. We bought mezcal in recycled water bottles directly from the producers – as much as we could fit in our suitcases. Friends at home loved the mezcal, and our photos and stories of the producer families even more.
Our personal supply ran dry quickly. We noticed a problem:
Where can we buy the mezcal of the families we know and want to support, before our next trip? They were not in our local shops, bars, or restaurants. Searching on Google returned zero hits. Their reach was so limited that, even in their local capital Oaxaca City, we could not find these families’ mezcal for sale anywhere.
We know many of these producers want to grow their family businesses, and are interested in accessing international markets. Barriers to entry, however, are particularly high in the United States, a heavily regulated market where alcohol is concerned.
These producers barely have sales outside their rural communities. Back home in New York, we knew that like-minded consumers would love to directly support producer families and buy their mezcals – not just one or two families, but as many as possible.
But how can consumers like us discover and connect with small independent Mexican producers, short of booking a round trip flight, renting a car, and then knowing exactly where to go after that?
We looked around. But we did not find any mezcal brand that identified this disconnect between consumers and small producers, or had a business model that offers a solution.
So we created one.
Over time, we have added to Erstwhile’s mission a few more core values that are important to us as agave spirit evangelists and consumers:
Mezcal education. Elevating underrepresented voices – including those of 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 the finest quality and extraordinary provenance. Painstakingly curated after many a tasting trip through Mexico’s 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 producers in Mexico, and partake in their family traditions. You experience the complexities and flavors of a slow, timeless handcraft, honed and passed down from generation to generation.
You make into reality a world that we dreamed about, a world we are building with our hearts and souls.
— Yuan Ji & Kevin J. Brown, Founders of Erstwhile Mezcal