Interviews, Spirit

Interview: Stephen Myers from Ilegal Mezcal

Stephen Myers, like many liquor entrepreneurs, is wearing a branded tee when I run into him in Sydney. The shirt has a cluster of three rabbits screen printed on the left breast.

I’ve been brushing up on my religious history of the Postclassic era of pre-Columbian Mesoamerican chronology, and in particular of the Aztec cultures, so I ask if the rabbits are an obtuse reference to the the Goddess Mayahuel, the Aztec personification of the Maguey, or agave plant (Yes, this plant was important enough to have a goddess.) Legends have it that she was mother to many children, the Centzon Totochtin, essentially 400 rabbits that liked to get drunk and party.

I get a wry smile from Myers and a lightning fast answer. “Yeah, or it could just be three rabbits fucking.”

This type of humour is one of the real joys of spending time with Stephen, who started the Ilegal brand with John Rexer about 7 years ago.

Myers doesn’t really tell the story of the brands inception and growth in a linear fashion. It’s a fascinating foible, one that allows people like me to join stories together, uncover snippets that others may have found online, invent the odd hazed remembrance and cobble them all together into more personal, perhaps a more meaningful whole. It has resulted in me being in possession of a story, that while certainly began being his, feels as much like mine as I sit down to write it. If there are glaring untruths or pansy fictions, they are most certainly mine but to paraphrase Steve Coogan playing Tony Wilson quoting John Ford – “when you have to choose between truth and legend, choose the legend.” So it goes.

Like all great liquor stories, this one starts in a bar.

Myers and Rexer established themselves as proprietors of a small bar in Antigua, Guatemala. The idea in print seems born of a desire to remain clothed, watered and fed. The reality probably was closer to keeping liquor in a glass and banter to pass the time. The photos of the place look rustic, and the roof needs to be physically held up in a rainstorm. Big authenticity tick there, this is surely a brand not brainstormed in a boardroom.

Café No Sé attracts a motley crew of artists, expats and characters, people who have made a decision to get as far away from what seems like civilisation in order to discover some supreme truth about themselves and the world in which we live. I reckon Stephen probably fit into this category, once upon a time. Now though, with suitcases full of branded t-shirts and and stickers and an obvious passion for this, the latest turn this life has taken,  I’m willing to go out on a limb and say Stephen Myers has found his secret, and you can by it three varieties, in bottles of 700mls.

The Ilegal brand was born out of trips into Oaxaca State, across the border in Mexico. Rexer and Myers were unhappy with the tequila and Mezcal they had available in Guatemala, so undertook the clandestine importation; yes, smuggling, of the fine smoky liquor from their immediate North. So popular was the fruits of their labour, a decision was made to move up the chain from supply to manufacture, and they haven’t looked back.

It seems like exicting times ahead for the brand. Stephen is relocating to Europe as the push for world domination continues. Mezcal seems to be enjoying a wonderful golden age, as increased interest and consumption of tequila creates an educated pool of drinkers looking for something new and interesting. Helping too is the shift around the world to rid the bar of cigarette smoking, the peaty malts of the West Scots coast and the even more visceral mezcals of the Oaxacan state now offer then illusion of a soothing drag, where legalities, or health concerns do not.

Ilegal is made from only three ingredients; Agave Espadin, Oaxacan Sun and Time. It can take 12 years for the agave to ripen, before the spines are cut by a jimador and the hearts taken from the fields to the distillery. The hearts are then baked in an earth oven, acquiring the iconic smoky notes of mezcal and accentuating the earthiness shared by every spirit made from the agave. The cooked hearts are smashed under a stone wheel, fermented in an open oak vat and batch distilled in a small copper still. It is then either bottled for the Joven style, rested for the Reposado or aged for the Anejo. All three are worth indulging your senses in.

Contact Sapere Drinks for information on how to stock Ilegal in your bar, and if all you want is a taste, try Eau de Vie, Victoria Room or Cafe Pacifico.

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