The Mezcal Making Rabble Rousers
Kaylan Rexer and Gilbert Marquez of Ilegal Mezcal aren’t afraid to stir the pot. Political activism has always been close to brand ambassador Marquez’s heart. As a teen, he played in a political Spanish punk band called Venganza, which toured around California and Mexico and donated profits to immigration reform or after school youth programs. Now, he heads Ilegal’s political demonstrations and concert series benefiting organizations like Planned Parenthood. Brand director Rexer oversees marketing and acts as creative director for the company’s political campaigns (perhaps most notably, they created posters with the phrase “Donald Eres Un Pendejo,” condemning first the candidate and then the president). And then, of course, there’s the mezcal itself. Made in Oaxaca, Mexico by a small family owned distillery, it’s a perfect addition to the socially-conscious liquor cabinet. Rexer and Marquez answered a few questions for us.
Describe how you became interested in mezcal and what Ilegal uniquely offers drinkers.
Kaylan: As a teenager, I traveled to Guatemala to visit my uncle, John Rexer, who is the owner Ilegal Mezcal and Café No Sé, the first mezcal bar outside of Mexico. I played music there, drank a little mezcal for the first time, and met people I’m still friends with today. One of them, Ivy Mix, owns the beautiful bar/restaurant Leyenda in Brooklyn. They have a great collection of agave spirits, by the way.
That is when I fell in love with the people that were drawn to Ilegal, a group fueling their creativity, music, and madness with mezcal. Ilegal is kind of a headspace and a way of seeing the world. I think what we offer is a delicious mezcal tied to a growing group of people who are stirring things up.
Gilbert: I discovered mezcal during my time as an Aztec dancer. I became intrigued by the story of Mayahuel, the goddess of agave. I fell in love with this ” Liquor of the Gods” in all its forms seven years ago and never looked back.
As far as flavor, Ilegal is well rounded, sweet, and peppery, with a little heat. I often describe Ilegal as a mouthful of agave with a hint of smoke. It’s a mezcal you can drink all night long. As a brand and company, Ilegal is a pretty wild mix. I keep us tied to the younger chefs, bar owners, and artists in Oaxaca and Mexico City. There’s a whole lot of creativity there that I love being a part of, sharing my ideas with them and bringing some of what they are doing up north. Most of us in the company are also musicians—I played in punk bad for a number of years and Kaylan is a singer/songwriter who has produced concerts. So, it’s natural for us to have The Ilegal Music Series. Oaxaca and political street art go hand in hand, so there is definitely that element to our crew and what we do up here in the states.
Because I’m back and forth to Mexico, I’ve gotten to watch our production process evolve. Ilegal is made with artisanal methods, but over the years improvements have been made such as recycling water, sourcing only certified farmed wood, and using biodigesters to have as little a carbon footprint as possible. It’s something we are constantly working on.
You’re hosting a three-part concert series to benefit Planned Parenthood, and part two will occur on May 11. What can you tell us about the performance and how to secure tickets?
Kaylan: I can’t tell you who is playing yet for the May 11th and June 8th shows but I will tell you it will be a unique experience to see these artists in the intimate setting of Ilegal’s Headquarters. You can buy tickets at www.ilegalmezcal.com/music and also see photos of the space and photos of our last show with Savoir Adore.
There can be a fine line between advertising and advocacy, genuine political stances and jumping on a bandwagon. How can brands responsibly and effectively promote causes while driving profit? How have you done this?
Kaylan: I think there are brands that want to be part of something and then there are brands that are part of something. You have to believe it and care. If you are just latching onto a movement or cause then you are fake and opportunistic. Ilegal has been political since its founding. The product is made in Oaxaca, Mexico, which is very political and has a long tradition of protest street art. Our “Donald Eres Un Pendejo” campaign is very much in with that tradition. Not to mention the current political climate directly effects our partners in Oaxaca and the families of many who work with us. This was our chance to create something positive from something that was such a vile piece of history to watch.
Gilbert: Our brand is built of men and women with strong beliefs. The campaign was not calculated or intended to be jumping on a bandwagon for profit. This is who we are in our roots as a brand. I think we may have been one of the first to put anti-Donald street art out after his announcement. This was our team feeling like we needed to use the position we had to shed light on an issue that directly affects many of us.
Give us a great summer cocktail recipe that includes Ilegal Mezcal.
Kaylan: I would say a cold beer and a shot of Ilegal Joven…sip, shoot, drink it however you like. I will leave the cocktail making to the expert, Gilbert.
Gilbert: We are approaching the sweaty NYC summer, so here is something refreshing and easy to make at home. Also as Kaylan said, nothing better than a shot of Ilegal and a cold beer.
No Sé Cocktail:
2oz Ilegal Mezcal (Joven)
1oz Fresh Watermelon Juice
1oz Simple Syrup
1oz Lime Juice
Paprika / Chile Salt Rim
Add ingredients to shaker. Shake and strain into wine glass with chile salt rim