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 left a successful legal career to start Erstwhile, but had no professional interest in the spirits industry. Yuan is, however, passionate about social entrepreneurship, consumer welfare, and advocacy for marginalized, underrepresented individuals and families.
Erstwhile’s core values are our core values as individuals, shaped long before we knew anything about mezcal. Yuan’s pro bono advocacy for 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 mezcal producers we had met, and the richness of their offerings 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 local (and often 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, renting a car, and knowing exactly where to go after that?
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.
So we created one. That, in a nutshell, was Erstwhile Mezcal’s origin story.
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 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 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