The Bootleg Origins of Ilegal Mezcal

Photo: Ilegal Mezcal

There’s something about smuggled goods that makes me want smuggled goods. I think it mostly has to do with the fact that the goods were smuggled — that only by incredibly creative, bold and perhaps sweaty means could these things become available to ordinary (but not afraid to have a good time) blokes like myself.

Now, before you let your mind wander, I ought to make it clear that I wouldn’t be interested in black market weapons or silk road drugs. No, I’m thinking about something appropriate for the common folk, something that is smooth, rich in flavor and can be shared amongst friends as the sun sets and the night begins. I’m thinking of liquor; specifically mezcal.

If you’re not familiar with mezcal, let me freshen you up. Mezcal is a damn delicious spirit made from agave plants. Unlike tequila, which only comes from the blue agave plant, Mezcal can be derived from up to 28 varieties of agave and has its own unique form of production. Uniquely enough, its flavor is smokey and its taste is sweet.

In light of some upcoming events, I caught up with one of the most infamous mezcal bootleggers — now formally known as Ilegal Mezcal — and learned a bit about their product and its unlawful origins, although you’ll be happy to know that it is now legally served in the United States.

I can promise you that the excerpt below from their story alone will spark a desire to acquire and drink their mezcal, appreciative sip after appreciative sip, right down to the bottom of the glass.

A little birdy told me that you once dressed as a priest to bring mezcal across the border. Any truth to that?

Yes. I have a lot of bad ideas and when I’ve been drinking they seem like great ideas and I do them. Not always the wisest option. The sign outside the office door to my bar reads Bad Idea Factory. So yeah, one day, very early on, I was trying to bring 60 bottles [of mezcal] or so across the border under a bus with a friend of mine, Lavon, and I dressed up like a priest.

It happened like this: Lavon is a painter and a musician and a drinker. He’s a romantic mad man who looks like a cross between Salvador Dali, Pepe Le Pew and Zorro. He has a pencil mustache twisted at the ends and slicked back hair. He also has a predilection for porno, which I was unaware of until the day in question. Anyway, we had managed to get the mezcal as far as Tapachula, but now the trick was to get it out of Mexico.

El Jefe. Photo: Herminio Torres.

El Jefe. Photo: Herminio Torres.

It was early in the morning and we had just taken an 11-hour bus ride from Oaxaca. During that ride Lavon had imbibed a bit, say a bottle or so of good mezcal. He was a bit sloppy. So I had a drunken Zorro on my hands as my partner in crime transporting mezcal. I was kind of fucked, in other words. We also needed to buy some duffle bags to put the mezcal in and some cheap shirts and rags to wrap around the bottles. So at 7 a.m. we went to the market and bought bags.

While we were there, we came across a priest’s shirt hanging amidst the used clothing for sale. It’s a long story, but to cut to the chase Lavon encouraged me to buy the shirt and dress as priest when crossing the border. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed like a good idea.