In 2020, it’s surprisingly easy to drink sustainably. Bartenders across the country are redirecting their bar programs to embrace conscious cocktailing, and booze brands are following the trend. There are vodkas made from cheesemaker’s leftovers, and distilleries fueled by pedaling bikes. There are rums helping to rebuild the rainforest, and mezcals funding human rights campaigns.
Most big brands tend to sidestep politics, but Ilegal mezcal is vocal about its support for human rights causes. The brand was famously behind a guerrilla street art campaign advocating for immigration reform (“The Only Thing That Should Ilegal is Mezcal”).
Over the years, Ilegal has also raised money for education, undocumented youth, wildlife animal protection, and LGTBTQ+ advocacy. Keep an eye out for the raucous brand-hosted concerts, most that sponsor emerging Latin American musicians or raising money for Planned Parenthood. Did we mention they also make some seriously smooth Mezcal? $49.99
Ilegal has announced that they have hired and promoted women as the COO, CMO, VP of trade marketing and trade marketing manager, all working hard to maintain the brand’s position as one of the leading small-batch artisanal mezcals on the market. Members Michelle Ivey, Kaylan Rexer, Trish Mannion and Kelsey Grandi, respectively, now make up over half of the executive leadership board.
Ilegal is one of the leading, small batch artisanal mezcals on the US market. It is made from 100 percent espadin agave and comes in three representations: Joven, Reposado Anejo. Ilegal was created in 2004 out of founder John Rexer’s bar, Café No Sé in Antigua. While its roots are in Guatemala, Ilegal is produced in Oaxaca, Mexico with headquarters in Brooklyn, New York.
As the brand director behind the politically active and socially conscious Mezcal brand, Ilegal Mezcal, Kaylan Rexer is responsible for starting movements. From creating the “Donald Eres Un Pendejo” campaign in protest of U.S. president Donald Trump to throwing benefit concerts for Planned Parenthood, Rexer has proven that she’s a force to be reckoned with not only in the alcohol business, but also in her community.
So, it makes sense that her favorite food would also have a reputation for supplying a kick. The one food Rexer could never live without? Chilis (and Mezcal, of course).
Responsible drinking has always meant the same for me as it does for everyone else: not over-consuming and never driving (and, of course, any other socially unacceptable behavior). But it was only after a trip to Oaxaca with a mezcal brand (don’t call it the new tequila, but its cooler, smoky cousin best served straight up), Ilegal Mezcal, that I realized responsible drinking was more than just about consumption—the source matters, too.
“First on my list, mostly because of their amazing political sticker game and the fact that they always stay true to their beliefs and their vision,” Hawkins says. “I have often dreamt of venturing to Café No Sé in Guatemala (an all-Ilegal bar) because it looks like a bar ripe with culture and beauty. It also looks like one hell of a good time. Handcrafted by a bunch of artists and musicians in Antigua, the mezcal is a beautiful smoky, vegetal, delicious piece of agave.”
Our favorite spirit for the money has a clean, vegetal nose and bright, fruity palate. The finish is smoky and long, “but in an enjoyable way,” a taster said. Smooth and elegant, this is an excellent sipper, and it plays well in cocktails as well. We would happily serve it with a splash of citrus on ice at a party, mix it into a Paloma, or sip it neat on the sofa with a good book (or, say, Twitter on a slow news day).
Among the emerging masses of trailblazing power women defying odds in their respective male-dominated industries is Kaylan Rexer, bad ass brand director of Ilegal Mezcal. Ilegal is a liquor company that vends not only the secret, smoky spirit that is mezcal, but also a refreshing new mindset on consumer industries. They are fostering a new conversation between alcohol and politics, one that is finally clear of objectifying ad campaigns and controversial lawsuits. Rexer, as mastermind behind Ilegal’s voice is ironically soft spoken in her words, but loud and clear in her actions.
Ilegal’s history is rich in authenticity and transparent in intentions, cut from the same cloth as Rexer’s. Sitting in the den of a cozy Deer Mountain Inn by the Catskills, where Ilegal hosted an installment of their summer music series, Rexer disclosed to me their humble journey which accidentally started when her uncle began smuggling the mezcal from Oaxaca to his bar in Guatemala. Accommodating the flooding inquiries by his international patrons about taking the underground hooch home, John Rexer had unknowingly founded what would eventually become Ilegal Mezcal–proving that its name is an honest confession to its past, while Kaylan shows also that it is a provocation to our future.
This delectable dram is dry and robust, with wafts of smoke on the finish that coat your throat. Another unaged offering, this bottling is best enjoyed neat. While it works in cocktails—and was technically designed to be used in them—we find that its peppery, wet stone complexities are best represented when there’s nothing else to distract from them.
No one knows the bonding power of booze better than brand director of Ilegal Mezcal, Kaylan Rexer.
Her speciality is bringing people together, united under the great causes of advocacy and alcohol. Ilegal is markedly political—you’ve probably seen their street art campaigns—and strives to support everything from LGBTQ+ rights to economic stability in the lives of Oaxacan mezcal artisans. Read on to find out more about this boundary-pushing brand and how Kaylan uses her platform to speak up on issues that really matter.
No image may ever be able to capture the complete sensations of NYC Pride—the ferociousness, liberated joy and unbounded togetherness—but photographer Michael Hoerner certainly comes close. In a series of vibrant images, punctuated by a large-scale, black and white piece, Hoerner taps into the raw energy of it all and documents some of the characters populating the scene. In a way, Hoerner’s work is a time capsule.
The images were taken during Pride in 2008 and yet they feel as if they were taken yesterday. Hoerner’s exhibiting the photos just blocks from where they were taken, in the old Perry Street Theater, which Ilegal Mezcal now calls home. Here, they’ve hosted a series of concerts with proceeds to benefit Planned Parenthood. And now the show “Ilegal Pride,” curated by Gramercy Park Hotel’s Rose Bar Creative Director Matthew Green and Ilegal Mezcal’s brand team leader Kaylan Rexer, stakes claim to the walls with a portion of proceeds benefitting select LGBTQ youth charities.