Creating a Family-Driven Mezcal Industry with Yuan Ji of Erstwhile Mezcal

by Drew Hendricks
Last updated Sep 30, 2021

Legends Behind the Craft Podcast

Last Updated on September 30, 2021 by rise25

Yuan Ji

Yuan Ji is the Founder and CEO of Erstwhile Mezcal, a company focused on building family values. Yuan had built a successful career practicing law as an Antitrust Attorney for Wilson Sonsini Goodrich and Rosati before her passion for Mezcal alcohol and her drive to leave the world a better place shifted her career goals.

Yuan graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics and Economics from Washington University in St. Louis and shortly after earned her Master of Science degree. She attended Yale Law School to earn her Doctor of Law degree.

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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • Yuan Ji describes her shift from lawyer to the spirits industry 
  • How Yuan saw a problem and created a solution importing Mezcal alcohol
  • The elements Yuan is focused on when working with partners and producers 
  • Why authenticity matters when producing an alcohol brand
  • Yuan discusses one-of-a-kind techniques to produce Mezcal
  • The importance of a community-driven education in crafting Mezcal
  • Yuan’s digital marketing techniques to bring awareness to the industry
  • What are some proven recipes for Mezcal? 

In this episode with Yuan Ji

Are you looking to combine a passion for the alcohol industry with family values? How can a brand extend its platform and opportunities to as many families as possible?

Yuan Ji is digging beyond the surface of brand ownership and examining the intrinsic values of small family businesses. She has scaled her Mezcal brand to encompass 45 states and does not plan to stop there. Yuan utilizes the strengths and constraints of available environmental ingredients to produce limited and unique Mezcal to market.

On this episode of Legends Behind the Craft, Drew Thomas Hendricks talks with Yuan Ji about preserving the family-owned business tradition of brewing Mezcal. Yuan describes how they produce unique limited edition flavors, the value of continuing education of techniques, and how she incorporated her passion for writing to marketing her brand. Stay tuned.

Resources Mentioned in this episode

Sponsor for this episode…

This episode is brought to you by Barrels Ahead.

Barrels Ahead is a wine and craft marketing agency that propels organic growth by using a powerful combination of content development, Search Engine Optimization, and paid search.

At Barrels Ahead, we know that your business is unique. That’s why we work with you to create a one-of-a-kind marketing strategy that highlights your authenticity, tells your story, and makes your business stand out from your competitors.

Our team at Barrels Ahead helps you leverage your knowledge so you can enjoy the results and revenue your business deserves.

So, what are you waiting for? Unlock your results today!

To learn more, visit or email us at to schedule a strategy call.

Episode Transcript

Intro  0:03  

Welcome to the Legends Behind the Craft podcast where we feature top leaders in the wine and craft beverage industry, with your host Drew Thomas Hendricks. Now let’s get started with the show.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  0:19  

Drew Thomas Hendricks here on the host of the Legends Behind the Craft podcast where I talk with leaders in the wine craft beverage industry, from design companies like Transom that helps wineries tell their story through visual design. Today’s guests Yuan Ji, whose mission is to bring Mezcal from small family on producers and Oaxaca to an international market. Today’s episode is sponsored by Barrels Ahead. At Barrels Ahead we work with you to implement a one of a kind marketing strategy. When the highlights your authenticity, tells your story and connects you with your ideal customers. In short, if you’re a business looking to retain a winery, recap craft beverage producer as a client Barrels Ahead we’ll figure out a plan to make it happen. Go to today to learn more. Now before I introduce today’s guest, I want to give a big thank you to last week’s guest, Josh Jacobs of Speakeasy Co. on last week’s show, Josh and I discussed three key factors that he has seen that separates the successful craft distilleries from those that continue to struggle. Check out that show to learn how you can level up your operation and realize sustainable, scalable growth. Today, I am super excited to talk with you. Yuan Ji, Yuan Ji gave up a successful legal career to answer a higher calling. She started Erstwhile Mezcal with her co founder Kevin Brown. Now Erstwhile is a mission driven company dedicated to partnering with small, independent family on producers of Mezcal and Mexico to go global and reach consumers in international markets for the first time. Welcome to the show you on.

Yuan Ji  1:49  

Hey, Drew, thank you so much for having me. It’s great.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  1:52  

Thank you so much for being on. So before we jump into mezcal, I got to know how how did you make the shift? And why did you make the shift from law into mezcal

Yuan Ji  2:00  

was a long story. But when I first started learning about Oaxaca, in front of small independent producers, some of which are partners now I was practicing law full time in in New York. And unlike some people’s stereotypes about lawyers in big Bly, I was actually really passionate about my subject, subject area, I was an antitrust attorney, which involves a lot of economics, working with economists as our experts. And you know, I wasn’t mad that you can measure in undergrad. So an interest was always a just right up my alley, for as long as I remember. But just once I gradually made the shift from a clueless, clueless consumer, and then to netscout, enthusiast, and then to evangelist. And it just became increasingly compelling that this work, this vision for what Erstwhile is about is, is worth doing as much. So if not more, so then you know what I was doing private passes as an attorney. So that’s, that’s the long and short of it,

Drew Thomas Hendricks  3:05  

the long story short of it. Now, when he made the jump or decided to make the shift from being an attorney over into alcohol. Were you drawn to mezcal specifically? Or did you just kind of want to join the the spirits industry,

Yuan Ji  3:16  

it was specifically It was a very laser focused on this house, specifically, the small independent pendant producers that I would pour my portal to the world of mezcal, it was very much about my specific introduction. And then Alvin Starkman, who runs mezcal education tours here and Oaxaca is was my Sherpa. He led this tour, and he’s been on for many industries since then. So shout out to Alvin. But you know, kudos to him for introducing me and learning mezcal this way. But to answer your question, it wasn’t just a I had no interest in the spirits industry, prior to discovering mezcal so that it was very laser focused on doing something for small producers, specifically, mezcal producers, not the wider spirits industry, per se.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  4:05  

That’s so amazing. It’s so pure, because a lot of times these people just want to be part of the alcohol industry. And then they figure out that kind of niche that excites them. You kind of circumvented all of that and just got a passion for mezcal. And what about it? What about mezcal that drew you in?

Yuan Ji  4:21  

Many things, it’s very much a sensory experience. So the just thinking about to my first trip to Oaxaca the distillery distilleries a family this Thursday we visited were very rustic looking. Everything is still very traditional, very rustic. You really feel the you feel the fresh air the cut grass, right, the roast of the maguey you can taste the sweetness of the maguey and there’s the horse pulling the mill grinding down the maguey so that experience in totality is really it’s beautiful and compelling, especially in This industrialized age that we live in, and if you’re like me who’s lived and grown up in cities all my life are, by default, what we’re used to when it comes to food is super, super sterilized and industrialized. So it’s that shock, a very pleasant one. But it’s that shock and contrast between what we’re used to as consumers, what we put in our body. And also just being an environment where everything still feels natural and timeless. So that’s that’s part of what makes mezcal so compelling for me.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  5:35  

That’s it. That’s enough to ignite a lot of passion there. I can definitely see that. Now how to so as far Erstwhile. Well, how did that come about? Was there? So tell us about that?

Yuan Ji  5:46  

Yes. So Erstwhile, is a we’re a boutique importer of mezcal and a Gabi spirits in general, is really solution. It’s a natural solution to a problem that presented itself to me. So in other words, I didn’t set out wanting to start a to be a mezcal importer. That’s just crazy. I mean, I’m in New York, why would I want to start a importing company, but it’s just that it started with this idea that it wouldn’t be great if we do something to support small independent family owned producers. There’s so many of them. It’s not just one or two families. There’s so many of them. They make so many amazing different expressions,

Drew Thomas Hendricks  6:32  

like roughly how many how many family on producers? Are there mezcal?

Yuan Ji  6:36  

Oh, my gosh, I literally can just drive out in the country from Oaxaca drive into a village and poke your head out of the car. And And yell mazcal, how are you fine, quite a few families in that builds your love. So, you know, I don’t have a precise number for you. But I do know, just from from my travels, in my experience, largely limited Oaxaca right now, there is so many enough, too many small producers who should it’d be great for them to take advantage of this glowing global trend, this growing global trend of mezcal rising in popularity, not just in the US other international markets, too. So that the growth and the revenue isn’t just limited to you know, large known brands, what wouldn’t be great if it was small, independent producers can get on that bandwagon and, and grow their family business, too. So that going back to your question about how it was all started, that was a disconnect, in my mind that the sheer number of small producers who have no representation, not just in New York, for me, it’s they have no representation outside of their home village, I can’t find their mess by Washington City. In New York, the problem that presents itself is the disconnect between small producers and consumers like myself, who do want to, you know, support whoever my support go directly towards small producers. But there’s just no way there’s so many obstacles in between on both sides of the border. So that’s a long winded way of saying, I didn’t set out wanting to start a importing company in which is that this is the problem in my mind that I want to do something about. And I want to bridge this disconnect. Well, how do I go about it, you just start doing small minute actions. And the first one the most natural thing as well it started start importing company, how do you bring Mezcal in become an importer?

Drew Thomas Hendricks  8:38  

So you started the cut? So you got the idea. There’s an unmet need, this mezcalnot been distributed. So your first step was start the import company. And then you got to find somebody that’s willing. Exactly. Where there’s some challenges and starting that up or

Yuan Ji  8:53  

import getting the importer license in the US took time. It took a few months. But that’s really just the tip of the iceberg. When I think of the the challenges and the obstacles. Specifically in the US market getting getting the import licenses was a was a cakewalk. Not exactly. But it was you know, just a people application, you fill it out. You wait, you mentioned you get your license, it took time. But the real barrier to entry is pardon me, the real barrier to entry, in my opinion, is the legal system controlling all sales of alcohol in the United States, which is not just mezcal wine and spirits

Drew Thomas Hendricks  9:34  

who are sure. So Erstwhile back in the early days. So you’re going you’ve got your import license, how did you go about finding it this network of producers that you can partner with.

Yuan Ji  9:44  

So it’s a it’s very organic and word of mouth as we grow. I would love to make it less random and word of mouth and become like a digitized platform where small producers can just you know get on and put their mezcal up but for now It’s still very word of mouth. Our first two partner producers behind our fishermen, our flagship line, were those two families, Fernando’s family, the Garcia families, I actually met them on my very first trip to Oaxaca, in late 2015, through Alvin Starkman, at misclassifications. worse. So that was that connection element had known them for for much longer through, you know, his time in Oaxaca. So it was a very much you know, a friend of a friend, situation. But once as Erstwhile grows, our vision is, and mission is to not just limit ourselves to the families and the friends that we already know. But to extend the platform, extend the opportunities to as many families as possible. So now we have new that we have, which is awarded to new producer, partner producers, and now we have a total of four families. And that’s why I’m currently in Oaxaca, working with the family, we already know the new producer families, trying to get a lot of great video content of their production process so that we can share that sensory experience with with consumers and mezcal lovers all over the world. So you have to answer your question. It’s, it’s word of mouth, but I’m just going forward. It will be word of mouth, and hopefully a more formalized way to reach as many small producers as possible.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  11:31  

Sure, is you partner with these producers, we kind of talked in the pre show about some of the challenges that they just faced being, you know, in Oaxaca, and not being able to reach that international market. How what how do you facilitate this? And how does that partnership work?

Yuan Ji  11:46  

So the way we partner with our producers is that, you know, we have some core values as a company when it comes to how we work with producers. One is starting with autonomy and fair trade. By autonomy. I mean, we don’t impose on the producer in any way, we don’t say make it this, we don’t say bring down the alcohol level so that we can maybe it’s more palatable for people who are afraid of high alcohol content, we’ll just say make mezcal how your family has always made it how you prefer to make it if you want to experiment with other ways, we, you know, we’ll support that. But we don’t impose or limit or control the the producers production process in any way. Because ultimately, that’s their expertise. And the fair trade is we pay our producers, their asking prices, we don’t bargain. We don’t input we don’t ask for exclusivity contracts, right? something to that effect, oh, you can only work with us in XYZ capacity and not with others, because it’s just do what’s best for your family business. So that’s one way other kinds of support we provide for our producers is to there’s a lot of licensing, there’s quite a few licenses and permits that you need in order to export out of Mexico. So when it comes to support, we believe in setting up producers for export for success on their own terms, independent of their work with Earth law in the future. They’re not beholden to us. But for example, right now, one of our new partner producer families, you know, he has a he has he’s been there a generation producer, and they have, you know, a local brand. But guess what, they’re not listed in the registry of exporters. In Mexico. That’s one of the permits that you need. Right. So you know, we talked about this like what in my mind, you’re interested in export, you want interest in global markets, a necessary step is to become an exporter. You have that paperwork ready to go in your own name. So that’s, that’s an example. So when we find a legal application cost, the expenses of working with lawyers, notaries, accountants, whatever that legal support is necessary at a local level to get them set up. Those are some examples in which we we support and partner with our producers here. Wow, that’s

Drew Thomas Hendricks  14:13  

fantastic. Like really setting them up for success and exporting even beyond like, should they move on pastor’s wife passed on? You’ve given them you’ve given them those skills and that kind of a baseline to grow?

Yuan Ji  14:25  

Absolutely. That’s something we’re proud of. And we feel good about that.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  14:29  

You shed that that’s fantastic. As far as the production level, like some of these family on producers, what what are we talking about as far as the amount of bottles they produce a year or? And then the amount you’re importing?

Yuan Ji  14:41  

So it really it’s very, it depends on each each note producers are the same is the kind of our current partner producers, it’s very much in response to demand right. So if if I say to approve Okay, let’s let’s reserve 1000 liters a couple 1000 liters, then they’ll source the via Gabi and start the production process. And then let me know once readies won’t get bottled, but it’s the point I’m making is that currently the it’s not the they have enough steady work and demand for their mezcal that they are making mezcal nonstop full time I would like to see it that way I would like to see Miss cow being a bigger chunk of their revenue. The producers we work with are often they have farmers, right? They have crops. So they may be adding to their land to their crop when production is not in process. So it’s diversified in that way. But what I can do Erstwhile is to as we grow as a company, I hope to see mezcal as a bigger and bigger chunk of reliable, Predictable Revenue for our partner producer families.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  15:59  

Okay, so Mezcal, maybe just one of the things that they’re producing on the farm is actually in is it becomes a bigger revenue source than they may be eligible

Yuan Ji  16:06  

for attention and energy toward mezcal production. But at this point, you know, Erstwhile is a young company, I would like to think that some a few years down the road, that we’re big enough a company that we’ve you know, have enough fans and believers in what we’re doing our business model that the there’s enough organic consumer demand to just provide a steady non stop revenue in the form of mezcal orders for a partner, producer families, that’s my dream. We’re not quite there yet. But you know, I’m working on it,

Drew Thomas Hendricks  16:37  

but you’re helping them remain independent and remain like family owned producers. Like in the alcohol space, you see, there’s two two forces going on, you got consolidation of just you know, you see that a lot in that in tequila, where you’ve got just large, large corporations that are trying to mimic the family owned. And then you have the whole in the United States whole craft industry popping up, where the smaller, the better, the most more unique it is. And you’re preserving that kind of family owned, aside from Erstwhile How is the landscape of mezcal in Oaxaca? Is it? Do you see some consolidation taking place? Or do you see just this remaining family on?

Yuan Ji  17:16  

Oh, that’s a really good question. So you know, my, I don’t pretend that I have a bird’s eye view. I’m mission macroscopic view of the entire medical industry, I’m actually if anything, I’m very much on the ground, I’m super hands on and my energy is really laser focused on our partner producers. So I mess those up, is becoming more popular. And I definitely hear stories of consolidation, and, you know, companies and partnering with local producers, so it’s very, it’s almost too complicated, too wide of a topic for me to dive into. Because, you know, it’s, there’s, there’s pros and cons, right? So just there are discussions about you know, Mexico own and the Mexican own brands, for example, as as a kind of a litmus test for what brands you should support. And in my mind, for example, that misses the point, because Mexico and Ms. co own brands is not really, I think, the most useful question to ask because even if it’s, you know, for own celebrity owned, there’s definitely you have to think about it’s it’s bring jobs, it’s bringing reliable employment, but it doesn’t mean that they’re treating their producer partner producers badly or abusing them in some way. So I think there’s I think that conversation goes both ways. The onus is not just on the brand owner of Oh, you have to do more, you have to be more transparent and show more it’s like yes, I this is speaking from a consumer and as a brand owner now right in the industry. So I think the onus is also on on consumers to not jump to conclusions to be thoughtful to dig beyond the surface. So you know, I to answer your question, it’s almost too big of a topic for me to comment on but you know, I can speak about our partner producers and each family and what

Drew Thomas Hendricks  19:13  

I want to talk about I mean, you brought up a great point whether it’s Mexican or not is not really the topic of concern because it could be a Mexican owned conglomerate that really just takes away all the autonomy from from the small family on producers

Yuan Ji  19:26  

can be a there’s you know, certain constituents in our industry they like to hate on Celebrity on brands. Those embracing mezcal and Kendall Jenner is a one a tequila at the top two most recent examples I can think of, and then that in my obviously, you know, it’s just that the fact that it’s celebrity own or not Mexican. It kind of misses the point if you’re really care about supporting producers, livelihood and well being kind of have a dig deeper. Yeah. Because the things you’re concerned about can have Whether it’s Mexican or not Mexican or it could be mentioned celebrities to be Mexican conglomerates No. Absolutely.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  20:06  

So talking about the authenticity of your producers Tell me about him.

Yuan Ji  20:11  

Oh, so we have four producer families now I can start with are the earliest ones because I just because I’ve known them the longest one is the the Hernandez family. The late Juan Hernandez, Mendez, unfortunately passed away last September, during the pandemic. So this is a new stage for this family. They’re a fifth generation producer in San Diego matalon wahaca. But this is their local distillery. Palenque, a brand is called destiny like attorney dad’s since eternity. But this is a new chapter for the family because now it’s all women is all women owned with women. They’re very hands on so it’s it’s hortensia that’s one’s wife and then her two of her daughters, Lydia and I Elise that are at the head of the other family now. So it’s not you know, it’s very uncommon to have a not just women owned in name but truly women when operated, overseeing the production touching everything. Yeah, that’s a new chapter for this family. Our other inaugural flagship partner producer is Silverio Garcia and his wife, Epifania Gomez. They’re still facing the same municipality in San Diego, Milan, but you just have to drive another 2030 minutes on the highway. I just saw him this morning to just continuing taking video content of this production that’s in process. But he’s a third generation producer there. They’re both families actually are double tech heritage, which is one of the indigenous ethnic groups represented here in wahaca. So you know, so barrios parents don’t speak Spanish for the most part. They speak double tekle Oh, yeah. And so barely speak Spanish obviously, is you know, in his late 30s, and young family and we just had a baby girl, she was like growing and everyone’s fine. Every one family’s fine. Your during survive made us through the pandemic. Thank God. Um, but yeah, that’s those are just

Drew Thomas Hendricks  22:25  

how did this style is different between those two.

Yuan Ji  22:28  

So there’s similarities or differences. Ultimately, each family has its own you know, can have the maker unique styles. So I start what they have in common both producers use copper pot, that’s pretty that’s typical traditional for Sunday come online. When you go to other villages, other regions, the traditions are different. For example, while there are new, more recent partner producers, about key rules uses clay pots for distilling that’s a well known ancestral mess cow. But leaving us knew that aside for a moment, I’m gonna come back to these two families of Hernandez and what they have in common is that they use copper pots. And it’s double distillation and collaborating on a special portugu mezcal with the Hernandez when the mescaline is right now, that’s triple distillation, because that that trigger oftentimes even offers additional distillation. Now, what they have difference I there are many that the taste is very different. I would say the for the Hernandez family. They are the 10th their preferred alcohol level is a bit lower than then the Garcias, they mezcal are almost around 44 45% that’s just their that family’s personal preference. Which reminds me of you know, certain contingent in the medical industry that like to stop and mezcal you know, below below, I don’t know 40 to 45% ABV is not real mess cow. For this contingent. I was like, just just calm down, just relax. You know, the family is right on the border, but it’s legit. So anyway, I digress. For the Garcias, they, I their prefer their Mezcal. I think by default, their preference is around 49% even 50% even more. So the earth well as studying is from the Garcia family. And what’s really exciting though, is that they are experiencing experimenting with more ancestral styles now so they’re using a there’s some you know, videos, our social media Instagram, trying to capture what’s going on. So is it a copper pot, they’re using a they’re replacing the copper with a clay pot, the top part This still the part where it’s captures the steam well and the robot Bay, the long tube that’s transferring the the mezcal vapor steam to the cooling process. Typically that’s copper. And that’s, that’s, as you know, the earth was spinning is all copper. But our new releases coming. I guess fall 2021 is silverio Garcia going rogue going out. And instead of copper tube, he is using a keel day, which is the stock of the Gabi plant. When it flowers, there’s a stock that shoots and it’s hollow inside. And it’s hard like a small tree trunk. Yeah. So he took this long keota which is 2030 feet and he’s using that as the pipe now instead of copper.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  25:55  

To me, what how does the flavor profile differ? Once you go to ancestral I

Yuan Ji  25:59  

think was actually my experience just thinking about silver burials and sexual versus artisanal copper this laying both are super flavorful. There’s a lot of mineral earthy notes and layers kind of resonating. Earth smoke. The nela is copper, the original copper mezcal, but now that I have samples of him doing ancestral mask out, obviously those notes are amplified like extra or the extra just I have some right here are the mineral notes are amplified even even more.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  26:37  

Sounds fantastic. So so we got so you’ve got your producers, you’ve got these, these new and stressful run sound fantastic. Are these going to be in tandem with the regular copper to still like you’ve got the copper distilled version, then you’ve got the clay distiller, is this just their new the new version of their Mexico?

Yuan Ji  26:54  

So I so I guess that I should speak about just Erst what what you can expect from Erstwhile question wise and you know, release mezcal release timing wise, so are ours, the Erstwhile model is to bring is the focus on Limited Edition. Everything was by default, a limited edition, there’s very small batches for our first shipment, a typical batch is a few 100 liters. So a few 100 bottles are expression. Right? So the idea is that this is delicious. We want to share this with as many consumers enthusiasts as possible, enjoy it while you can because there’s no guarantee that it’ll come back. And that a lot of our most of our mezcal expressions are also wild, Gabi varietals that take much longer than anybody to to mature to be available on the market. So it’s not a widget a commodity in the sense that I can we can bring any of this back at a moment’s notice. They don’t grow on trees, so to speak. If that if this type of stock pay, which takes typically what 2530 years ballpark to mature, if there’s no type of Sati available on the market, we can’t make mezcal from type of Saturday, there’s just there’s no GAVI available, right. So for basically for everything else, besides as being there restraints, including constraints, including the availability of a gobby. And obviously, sustainability concerns that you don’t want to proactively drive any wild economies to extinction. But, you know, going back to your question about how do these releases roll out? Well, spring is a farm the Gabi there’s no sustainability concerns. Specifically, we’ll probably always have Silvio Garcia’s copper pod as being available it’s just because it’s delicious. Yeah, people love it. There’s proven consumer demand for it Why get rid of a good thing? Because I do the other everything else we bring us by default tiny batches and a few 100 bottles, limited editions. Enjoy what you can and our next shipment will be something completely different so if you like our pallet you don’t have a love everything. You feel like at least one mezcal that we took all this trouble to to bring to you, your end user consumer you know hope you keep an eye out and give our new mezcal reduces the chance that’s kind of the earth llama. Oh,

Drew Thomas Hendricks  29:23  

yeah, you can also just see all the diversity in the product and absolutely just speaks to the land in the in the agriculture down there.

Yuan Ji  29:30  

Right in this part of thing, one of our core values, medical education, as a company, right, independent of sales, independent, you know, you buy a bottle or 100 bottles or no bottles at all is that if we can share something new about mezcal and with a new person and have them walk away understanding a little better was all this rage about. mezcal was so popular that we’ve done something we’ve added some value for society at large, independent sales and part of education. to showcase the diversity of mass cow. So that that is that affects our business model, right? It will always bring in the same mezcal every single time. It’s delicious, but it does not go to this showcasing diversity point. It does not go to this education core value, not that we’re, you know,

Drew Thomas Hendricks  30:20  

that’s fantastic. No, yeah, I’ve actually I’m my mezcal knowledge is just kind of minimal. And you’ve been like me, I had no idea that some of these native gabions took 20 to 25 years to come to fruition. In my head, I had it stuck at step seven years from plant to harvest.

Yuan Ji  30:36  

Yeah, seven, eight years, that’s, you know, that’s for us. But even for sure, that’s enough time you get us because even then, it’s a long time, right? Like every other spirit I can think of is is grapes, corn, right? Those are all annual harvest is a crop. But, you know, seven to eight years for a gobby, that’s already a long time for that plan to mature to be ready. But for a while, the database oftentimes takes longer. So for example, we have auto cranial now that’s about 20 2025 years roughly type of stock at the same thing. So yeah, that’s all part of what’s special about this

Drew Thomas Hendricks  31:13  

cow. So continuing the education and setting up when you so you’ve got the you had all that you’ve got your family, um, producers, you’ve imported it. Now, how did you set up your distribution system in the US? And is it being distributed to other countries as

Yuan Ji  31:24  

well? Yes, so we have distribution, where we have distribution on sales in the US in about 13 states right now, and actively working on expanding to other states. So that would cover the whole country, with the idea that, you know, anyone who wants to get mezcal should have access. And Miscavige is messing over the people like the meat of the legal system, the bureaucracy, and should not stand in the way between end user consumers and small producers. But to answer your question, so we’re just in the US for now, and, and also in conversation with other states in the US and in conversation with international markets. As far as Go ahead,

Drew Thomas Hendricks  32:09  

okay. I was just gonna say so how do you how what is your current education initiatives in the US to kind of bring out mezcal and help kind of popularize it and really educate consumers on it?

Yuan Ji  32:21  

So the question is what we’re doing for education,

Drew Thomas Hendricks  32:25  

you’ve got your distribution set up, how are you actually spreading spreading the word?

Yuan Ji  32:29  

several ways. We live in a digital world increasingly digital, that is no longer an option is a necessity in my mind, if in terms of medical education, as a company, if you want to maximize your impact. So basically, my we just our first hire as a company is a digital content and marketing manager. Aaron Newcomb, who is great, and Aaron just joined as well, about a month ago. And so he’s, so we are basically covering all the the digital venues that we can think of, obviously, starting with our website, I love writing, researching. So I read blogs, blog posts, they’re interesting from my perspective as an end user consumer, things that I wish I had known as a more clueless consumer a few years ago that I know now that I want to share with others. So blog posts, it’s hard when you’re running a company and doing wearing all hats. I don’t write as much as I would like to. But for example, we have a series of three part blog series that I’ve written on why is mezcal so damn expensive?

Drew Thomas Hendricks  33:44  

Why is it

Yuan Ji  33:47  

so here’s the spoiler is not actually right, talking about the lack of education as a consumer if you truly understand and not just in theory, but this really understand the amount of work that for the physical labor, the sheer amount of time for the a guy to mature, got labor in itself, the the gravitas of the labor intensive grandpa’s should already convince you that no, this is not too expensive. I’m willing to pay $100 bottle for all the work that went into it. But the question the kind of the punchline of this blog series that I wrote is actually that’s actually what everyone is talking about. They and rightfully so when they talk about the cost of nest cows, the labor intensiveness but they’re missing. That’s not the tip of the iceberg. But as less than about 25 30% of retail price we pay as a as an user consumers. What people don’t ever talk about in my experience, including people in industry, is the real costs add up once the message arrives in the US. We’re not talking about the labor intensive nature of it. anymore as inspiring As it is, it’s the less inspiring, less glamorous, less, you know, poetic steps of what happens when mezcal lands and the US is having to clear the three tier legal system. It’s not sexy, no one talks about it. But you have to understand you should understand as an end user consumer, if you want to be if you want to make educated decisions and be a thoughtful consumer, for my mind, and obviously, I have a legal background. So these are things I find interesting that maybe other not all others do. But I just, it’s worth, you know, putting the content out there. So anyone who has an interest?

Drew Thomas Hendricks  35:42  

reason, I think it’s a phenomenal value. And anybody that’s ever wrestled with a full grown agave plant will understand the labor attentiveness. I’ve got a hillside on the side of my house, and there’s about 1010 full days, and just getting back there and keeping them squared away. It is, it is tough.

Yuan Ji  35:59  

It’s physically imposing.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  36:02  

Yeah, I can testify to that. And then then the distillation and then they and then it is it is all your mezcal aged or none of them aged? Or is a very for the producer. Oh,

Yuan Ji  36:12  

yeah. So I’m all of them are not age blonko Hogan are some words to describe it. There’s no report, we don’t have any reposado is where new homes have meaning having stayed in touch the barrel status and merrowed or X amount of time. I don’t have anything against mezcal. It’s just that the kind of mezcal that we love and the producers that we represent, there’s already so much flavor inherent in the in the mezcal from the spirit and the personality of that plan that took 1020 years to grow and handle the maker, there’s already so much flavor. I would just I for me as a consumer, I was like, I don’t need to put an up arrow. It almost just hides, clouds overshadows the essence of the mezcal. So it’s not you know, there. There’s just this idea of this the more mature more flavorful ness cow because it’s been aged. That might be true for I don’t know, tequila or dependent like, whatever your locka. So we kind of, but not for the kind of traditional mezcal kind of

Drew Thomas Hendricks  37:19  

takes out that wild farm nature of it. Yeah, I would I 100% agree. Maybe a little, maybe a little one year, but nothing more because it really detracts from it. So what is your favorite way of aside from straight drinking mezcal? How would you recommend wasn’t

Yuan Ji  37:36  

drinking mezcal?

Drew Thomas Hendricks  37:38  


Yuan Ji  37:41  

Kiss it, don’t shoot it. I find a rules person telling people what to do. I think that’s arrogant. I think everyone should have the right to enjoy. Wait mask out. However, they want to enjoy mezcal for my personal if I may make suggestions one is to don’t shoot it. Sorry, not for as long mezcal. It makes me cringe when people do it. And I politely suggest that slow down and savor the mezcal. And depends, I mean, some people I always drink at room temperature. But you know, I don’t follow anyone or think less of them. If they want to have it on the rocks. It could just be too intense. And for their palate, it’s better on the rock. So why not go for it? You know, in Oaxaca, the traditional compliments it’s common to find slices of orange and Sal de gusano. It’s it’s salt, season salt laced with cusano. The warm Oh, yes, my God. But you know, that’s just Oaxaca in other regions. It there’s different traditions, different accomplishments in Durango, which I haven’t been to in person. My understanding is that it’s more common to start with cheese.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  38:59  

Oh, that would be good. For sure. What about in cocktails? I see you got some cocktails on there as well. So

Yuan Ji  39:06  

yes, we love my co founder and I are we’re both cocktail enthusiasts. So before we knew anything about mezcal we loved cocktails. So we brought that to erstwhile with us that the recipes on Verizon’s website are just some of our favorite all time favorite mezcal recipes everyone we’ve it’s been tested and ourselves in person, not just some random recipe we found is like yeah, this is good. If you make it at least proportions is a good cocktail. So everything is very, we’re very hands on people. But you know that’s just a limited collection. I would say general themes for pairings when it comes to cocktails. mezco pairs really beautiful day with citrus. It has to be the key being fresh citrus, so fresh grapefruit, fresh, orange, fresh lemons, fresh limes. All great time. Apple is a great combination. So our signature cocktail there is all cocktail right now. It’s called a velociraptor that involves studying mezcal and fresh pineapple juice. What else is it though? Well, ginger. Oh, that would be good. But it’s very versatile and it’s super versatile and cocktail. Pretty much you can take any standard classic, good cocktail. and sell out the liquor, be it whiskey, right rum gin, just substitute it with with mezcal, chances are it’s a more interesting cocktail,

Drew Thomas Hendricks  40:40  

right? Yeah, no, I would agree. Especially like some of the kind of the smoke here scotches. mezcal will just slip right in perfectly there. Absolutely. So as we kind of wrap down, who would you like to give a shout out to I always like to, you know, express gratitude and really help provide a venue for people to show give a shout out.

Yuan Ji  40:58  

Yeah, absolutely. There are many people that I’m grateful to in this industry. So one would be Mezcalistas it’s the co founder Susan cos nice are friends of mine and their religious life like minded. You know, a lot of the their writers, journalists, they do a lot of great informative articles on the medical industry. They’re also connectors. So Mezcalistas organizers. Mexico in a bottle is the largest mezcal tasting extravaganza in I daresay North America, because definitely in the US, but in North America, because I haven’t attended an event like this. And we’ll hop over to Mexico of that caliber. So you know, I’m super excited that in person, Mexico and a bottle events are back Finally, after the pandemic, as we march on a pandemic is coming up in October, in San Diego, and November in San Francisco this year 2021. And I hope to see you and as many of your followers,

Drew Thomas Hendricks  42:02  

I’m located in San Diego, I think I’ve gotten older now.

Yuan Ji  42:06  

Oh, I see it, Julian in October come as my guest.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  42:09  

Oh, fantastic. Thank you. So you want where can people learn more about you and Erstwhile?

Yuan Ji  42:15 is a good resource. Yeah. And there’s, you know about us page and press media mentions for people who are interested in our business model, and mascot have been featured in Forbes, wire enthusiast radio heritage network. So you can don’t take our word for it, see what other people are saying about it as well. And we have online shop too. So anyone who wants or as well delivered straight to their door can do so on as well, slash shop, I believe. And we have e-commerce coverage for 42 out of 50 states in the US right now. So not the entire country but not bad given our restrictive legal system that we have. No,

Drew Thomas Hendricks  43:03  

that’s fantastic. Even in wine. I think there’s there’s still four states you can’t directly ship to. That’s That’s pretty good. That’s a very good. So Yuan want to thank you so much for joining us today.

Yuan Ji  43:14  

Thank you so much. Drew, thank you so much. I really appreciate it. opportunity’s been a pleasure speaking

Drew Thomas Hendricks  43:18  

with you. been a pleasure talking to you. Thank you so much. I’m going to see you in October. Okay.

Yuan Ji  43:22  

See you October. All right. Bye.

Outro  43:30  

Thanks for listening to the Legends Behind the Craft podcast. We’ll see you again next time and be sure to click subscribe to get future episodes.