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).
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.
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.
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.
For some people, drinking tequila, a type of mezcal made from the blue agave plant in specific regions of Mexico — as well as other kinds of mezcal — is even a way to signal dissent from the presidency of Donald Trump, who has made a border wall between the United States and Mexico a priority.
When Mr. Trump announced his intention to run for office, John Rexer, the founder of Ilegal Mezcal, a company based in Oaxaca, Mexico, started a line of merchandise denigrating Mr. Trump’s character. The company hosts concerts with Planned Parenthood at an unmarked theater in Manhattan’s West Village and only makes mezcal “with espadin agave because it’s sustainable,” said Kaylan Rexer, 29, Ilegal’s brand director.
“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.”
Mezcal in Guatemala
Even in daylight, candles are necessary at Café No Se. The bar is a bit of a vortex: a dingy-yet-charming cave with no natural light in Antigua, Guatemala. Following the path of Café No Se’s several windowless rooms and through a crawlspace door will eventually deposit the adventurer at yet another bar, where they serve only mezcal. In this room, I met with John Rexer, head honcho of not just the bar, but his own mezcal brand.
Yes, mezcal is still made in Oaxaca, Mexico, and not in Guatemala. And no, John Rexer is from neither. He’s originally from New York and migrated to Antigua around 2003, penniless and disillusioned with America and its politics after 9/11. Soon after arriving, he ducked into a closed-up doorway with a “for rent” sign during a rainstorm and subsequently found himself the new proprietor of an agave spirits bar. The only problem was that there were no agave spirits to be had in Guatemala and mezcal, Rexer’s elixir of choice, wasn’t yet legal for exportation out of Mexico.