The Little Mexican Brewery That Could

Peeled limes for Bracino's first gose-style beer

Peeled limes for Bracino’s first gose-style beer

When the Uber driver pulled up in front of Bracino Cervecería in Santa Catarina, a suburb of Monterrey, Mexico last month, my brewer husband Hugo and I immediately noticed some changes since our first visit in April 2014. That day, we had arrived to find a dusty gravel parking area, a closed roll-up door and a note instructing visitors to report to Bracino’s office around the corner and up a flight of stairs. Now, three years later, men, all occupied with the business of brewing beer and getting it out the tall, opened door to expanding market accounts came and went across the paver patio areas.

With a 2016 production of 250 barrels, Bracino is still a small craft brewery by U.S. standards, but it’s been quite a ride for founder Daniel Cigarroa and his five associates. Mexico’s craft breweries deal with challenges that include high tax rates, difficulty getting raw materials at reasonable prices and in a timely fashion, a public long accustomed to macro beers like Tecate, Modelo and Corona and retailers who frequently have little interest in craft beer. In the U.S. in 2016, craft beer accounted for about 13% of total beer sales. In Mexico, that number hovered around 2%.

Daniel Cigarroa takes a wort sample from Bracino's brew kettle

Daniel Cigarroa takes a wort sample from Bracino’s brew kettle

A civil engineer by training, 35-year-old Cigarroa began homebrewing nine years ago. Eventually, he and the friends pooled some meager savings, and Bracino was born in September 2012. When we met a year and a half later, Cigarroa was the only full-time employee in a nanobrewery that had worked up to producing 400 liters (102 gallons or 3.3 barrels) a month. Empty space abounded in the brewery.

On my second visit in January 2016, Bracino had ended the previous year producing 187 barrels, and Cigarroa had hired Elsem Torres to help brew. They and the associates were serving Bracino products at beer festivals nearly every weekend. Meanwhile Cigarroa was working hard to promote collaboration among Monterrey’s fledgling craft community.

In the prosperous city known for its industry for nearly a century and a half, competition has long been the name of the game. Notions like collaboration brews and pulling together to order raw materials in cheaper quantities weren’t easy sales. Slowly, the ideas have gained traction as local breweries come together for events like beer pairing dinners and consumer education.

Unloading spent grains from Bracino's mash tun

Unloading spent grains from Bracino’s mash tun

On that third visit last month, two younger brewers shoveled spent grains from the mash tun while Torres enthusiastically showed off the first wine barrels that would begin Bracino’s barrel-aging program. Cigarroa and Torres grew animated talking about the first gose they were about to brew. We posed for a photo in front of the Bracino mural before sitting at a table near a small, attractive bar that opens to the public on Fridays and weekends. Cigarroa served up samples of a flavorful session blond ale about to go to market, a kick-ass brew straight from the fermenter and a couple of other solid brews.

With Eslem Torres (right) and Daniel Cigarroa (left)

With Eslem Torres (right) and Daniel Cigarroa (left)

Among the topics of discussion was Portland (Oregon) State University’s five-month online Business of Craft Brewing program that Cigarroa was starting in order to learn more about the business side of owning a craft brewery.

From Bracino, Hugo and I were headed to visit José Luis Calderoni at his new digs for Propaganda Brewing, which we understood was nearby. “A two-minute walk,” Cigarroa said. “I’ll take you over,” Torres added. As we walked around to the back of Bracino and through a parking area between industrial buildings, Torres told us about early talk among brewers for eventual brew bus tours like those in many U.S. cities. Watching the fist bump greeting between Torres and Calderoni, I couldn’t help but marvel at how far Monterrey’s craft brewing community and culture have come in a relatively short few years.

Partial pallet of Bracino, Propaganda and Albur products

Partial pallet of Bracino, Propaganda and Albur products

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