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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, social impact-driven company.  Erstwhile’s mission: advocate for small, independent, family-owned producers who lack representation outside their local communities in Mexico; and bring extraordinary agave spirits to mezcal enthusiasts like ourselves in international markets.

You support and choose direct social impact with every purchase of Erstwhile Mezcal.  This is how we do it.

Autonomy for and fair trade with producers are among our core values. We focus on Mezcal education, knowing that it empowers consumers and industry colleagues 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. The QR code on the back label of every Erstwhile bottle takes you to the page dedicated to that batch, with rich video content, producer interviews, footage of production in progress, photos, and production details. 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 the Erstwhile lineup is constantly changing, showcasing new and exciting small-batch productions from new partner producers. We curate for you not one – but a rich 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; build distribution, sales, and fans for these these families and their mezcals; introduce them to you and to our fellow 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, extraordinary spirit. No matter how small the volume. No matter how cumbersome the logistics.

Erstwhile is a woman-owned, women-led business. We work closely with women master distillers who head their family businesses. We believe diversity makes our business – and our industry – smarter and stronger. We are outspoken about elevating underrepresented voices – including, but not limited to those of 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.

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 mezcals and mission 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 mezcal 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 mezcal 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 Oaxaca 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 Mezcal’s mission a few more core values that are 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 the finest quality and 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 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, 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 Silverio 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 Tobalá (2018 Limited Edition) distilled by the late Juan Hernández Méndez in Santiago Matatlán, Oaxaca.

Drizly

Drizly, North America’s largest e-commerce alcohol marketplace, spotlights Erstwhile Mezcal as one of the most popular AAPI-owned brands. Sales of AAPI-owned brands across Drizly have grown by 60 percent from 2020 to 2022 – reinforcing the growing importance of diversity and brands’ core values in the alcohol space.