Border Crossings: Ilegal Mezcal, Now Presented by the Cooper Spirits Co

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John Rexer

Ilegal Mezcal, the finest artisanal mezcal, is now imported and sold in the US by The Cooper Spirits Co., the creators of St-Germain elderflower liqueur and a small portfolio of curated products.

In an age when digital speed defines human interaction, Ilegal Mezcal and its cult-like following are embracing a world where refinement and raw go hand-in-hand, where experience is more visceral than virtual. For nearly a decade, a small group of artists, musicians, writers and travelers has been drinking Ilegal Mezcal, a handcrafted brand of Mexican artisanal liquor with a notorious history that includes smuggling and weeklong parties in a clandestine bar in Guatemala. Thanks to a new U.S. importation agreement between Ilegal Mezcal and The Cooper Spirits Co., the party is about to get a lot bigger.

Cooper Spirits is known for its astute eye for the hidden gem, notably the famed St-Germain elderflower liqueur. Cooper’s past success bodes well for this versatile and balanced mezcal that already has a strong foothold in both the cocktail culture and the corner bar. In New York, for example, Ilegal Mezcal is served in elite venues such as Daniel, Minetta Tavern and Employees Only and is also a staple for many iconic dive bars.

Ilegal was born out of John Rexer's bar, Café No Sé, an international watering hole in colonial Antigua, Guatemala. "Ilegal has texture and is not diluted and polluted by an industrial process," says Rexer. "It's like old hand-tooled leather versus cheap pleather. It's seductive. People from all walks of life long for the difference. Ilegal is a way of thinking and wanting to live as much as it is fine liquor."

A longtime traveler with a love of Mexico, Rexer began transporting mezcal from Oaxaca, Mexico, to Antigua in 2004 to stock his bar. "I would never use the word 'smuggle,'" he says, "let's just say there were river rafts, bribes, disguises and late night drop points. I'd prefer to say I was a bar owner with a supply problem who became a bit creative."

Ilegal is made in Oaxaca by a fourth-generation mezcalero passionate for keeping a 500-year-old tradition alive. Espadín agave is baked in earthen pits, stone ground, naturally fermented and distilled twice in small batches. The process is an art, resulting in a beautifully balanced spirit with just a kiss of smoke, making Ilegal ideal for cocktails or as a sipping spirit.

Ilegal can be savored in three styles. The unaged Joven has notes of anise, red pepper and light fruit with a smooth, heated finish. The Reposado, aged 4 months in American Oak barrels, has a more caramelized flavor with notes of chocolate, butterscotch, subtle heat and a longer finish. The Añejo, aged 13 months in American Oak, French Oak and bourbon casks, offers bitter-orange notes with hints of maple and clove.

Robert Cooper, founder and President of The Cooper Spirits Co., notes, "We thoroughly believe that mezcal is the next big category and that Ilegal Mezcal is the brand that will lead the way without sacrificing the artisanal nature of the spirit. We are thrilled to bring aboard a product that so perfectly complements our growing stable of integrity-driven products, as well as an incredibly passionate team behind their brand. Our commitment to elevating cocktail culture and our fervent advocacy of the bar trade will mean more people can share in the passion and culture that is Ilegal Mezcal." Ilegal is available in major markets and will continue to roll out nationally via Cooper Spirits.

About The Cooper Spirits Co.:
The Cooper Spirits Co. is an independent producer of innovative, integrity-driven spirits, established in 2006. The company was founded with the introduction of St-Germain, an artisanal French liqueur made from fresh elderflower blossoms, heralded as one of the most influential cocktail components of the last decade by the New York Times. The Cooper Spirits Co. produces a portfolio of artisanal products: Crème Yvette, a rich berry liqueur handcrafted in France and called for by name in vintage cocktail books dating back to 1890; Slow & Low, a straight rye Old Fashioned in a bottle based on America's original bottled cocktail, rock and rye; and Lock Stock & Barrel, one of the world's finest expressions of 13-year straight rye whiskey. The Cooper Spirits Co. is based in Palm Beach and has offices in New York and Philadelphia.

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