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No Mezcal is Ilegal

Portlanders who came across protesters chanting and carrying signs of green vaguely star-shaped leaves probably thought it was a “Yes on 74” march. Until that is, they read the text: “Keep Your Laws Off My Liquor” and “Free Agave.”

The march was put on as part of Portland Cocktail Week and the Great American Distillers Festival by Ilegal Mezcal, a Guadamala-based distiller whose spirits the OLCC is refusing passage to Oregon liquor store shelves.

What is mezcal? It’s liquor distilled from the agave plant. All tequila is mezcal – tequila being distilled from the leaves of the blue variety of the agave, in particular – but not all mezcal is tequila. Over the years, stories of a vile-tasting and possible hallucinogenic worm in the bottom of the bottle has given it kind of a bad rap, but some enthusiasts are working to change this perception.

But it’s not that the OLCC is anti-mezcal. They wanted to clear this up for everyone, so they Tweeted and re-Tweeted a notice to people writing about the event that: “OLCC is not blocking Mezcal. You can get several kinds at liquor stores. Go to”

Restaurant and bar owners aren’t arguing that there aren’t some 13 varieties of mezcal available on the Oregon market, though. Ilegal is a small-batch distilled in Oaxaca, regarded as one of the most sought-after brands to jump the border, and they’re upset that they can’t get the artisan liquor without a convoluted and costly special order process.

What’s the process consist of? Well, according to the OLCC blog, it’s quite simple, really:

“You can go to any liquor store to place your special order. The store will write up your request, and submit it to the OLCC for processing. Your order is then placed to the distillery. The distiller will ship your order to OLCC’s warehouse, where it will be transferred to the liquor store. The liquor store will notify you when your items arrive. Special orders generally take about six to eight weeks.”

See? Only seven steps in as many weeks. Brought to you by bureaucracy, and the letter “O.”

“We’ve been really frustrated because these artisanal spirits that we’re very excited about have had a hard time getting into the state through the OLCC,” said David Shenaut, President of the Oregon Bartender’s Guild, said to the San Francisco Chronicle. “They go on ‘special order’ at exorbitant prices-they’re very over-priced.”

John Rexer, owner of Ilegal Mezcal, made a statement of support for the march. “This is all in fun, and it is great to see the support for “real” mezcal in Oregon and elsewhere. I can’t thank the bartenders in Portland enough for getting behind Ilegal and the other brands of artisanal Mezcal. It’s a long road from the tiny factories in Oaxaca to Portland, but these lunatics make it all worth the while. They are the guardians of quality over quantity. One way or another, Ilegal and other artisanal brands, will become available.”

Lunatics? Considering this is a city that flaunts its “Keep Portland Weird” stickers, we’ll take it as a compliment.

  1. Michael G. says:

    I hate to break it to you, OLCC, but not only are you Prohibition’s vestigial organ, you are overpriced on damned-near everything.

    It costs about $100 round-trip to drive to Reno, NV, where there are more than a few large liquor outlets that have just about anything you could possibly want, no special ordering needed.

    Since you apparently frown on people who publish liquor price comparisons (at least, back when I was a Commentator staffer we had a prominently displayed nastygram from you admonishing us for that very thing), I won’t name products or prices. But, suffice to say, purchasing ten bottles of more expensive liquor would easily make up for the cost of the trip. For a really big buying trip, one might even take some of the savings and play some poker.

    It’s time for you to go the way of the 18th amendment.

  2. OLCC says:

    OLCC supports making new products available to our customers. In fact, OLCC has purchased nine cases of Ilegal Mezcal since this summer and all the bottles were sent to Oregon liquor stores.

    If restaurants and bars are interested in purchasing this product, the amount of product we purchase from the manufacturer will increase as sales increase. However, prior to September 30, not one bottle from the nine cases we acquired from the manufacturer had been bought by the public.

    A quote in your story implies that the OLCC is over priced for special orders. We do charge a fee per case for special orders. This is in line with additional costs for special handling that any distributor would charge due to the very low demand for the product. The special handling price we charged (per case) is less than 3% the price of a case of Ilegal Mezcal. Most people would agree it is unfair to classify that as

  3. Stacy says:

    I have the hardest time getting my favorites, tesoro and casa noble, wish wish OLCC would understand we want good spirits not just the commercial BS.

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