Ilegal Mezcal started as a journey full of banditos, river rafts, bribes, disguises, and late night drop points. Desperate for a good mezcal to stock at his bar, Cafe No Se, John Rexer began smuggling artisanal mezcal from Oaxaca, Mexico to Antigua, Guatemala in 2004. This story has more weird characters and crazy (mis)adventures than a really good Soderbergh film.
It didn't take long for word to get out about this smooth and smokey spirit with the handwritten labels available from the backroom at Café No Se. Soon, this mezcal was being carried one, two, three, bottles at a time, in the luggage of travelers, writers and photographers passing from Guatemala to New York, London, LA, Amsterdam, Berlin, Sydney. In late 2009, Ilegal Mezcal became legal and started appearing at select restaurants and bars in New York, Texas and California. Bartenders and mixologists were all over it. Many of them flying back with John to Oaxaca and Antigua to better understand this ancient elixir, and have a little adventure of their own. Today in New York it is carried in over 200 bars and restaurants and on the shelves everywhere, from neighborhood bars like Puffy's Tavern to haute cuisine spots like Daniel's. Foodies and roadies, burlesque dancers and bond traders alike are in love with the stuff.
Until now, Ilegal Mezcal has been a small operation consisting mostly of John's family, former girlfriends and former bartenders getting the word out, armed only with stickers, flasks and a penchant for staying out late. Nonetheless, the press caught wind of it and stories about John and Ilegal ran unprompted in the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, The Miami Herald, Details, Maxim, Playboy, Wine & Spirits, Wine Spectator, Bon Appétit, and Edible Manhattan, and countless blogs. Each reporter more excited and intrigued than the next.