Yearning for Craft’s Days of Yore

Mexican craft brands at Beer for Us

Mexican craft brands at the San Pedro Beer for Us

Today, when you can find southern good old boys, Montana cowboys and LA homeboys all savoring their craft beers, I fully and romantically admit to missing the days of yore, those days when a craft beer was harder to find than the post-Nobel Bob Dylan, those days when nary a gray hair could be detected in Charlie Papazian’s or Ken Grossman’s beards.

Alas, those days are as gone from the scene as visionary pioneers like Jack McAuliffe, Fred Eckhardt and Michael Jackson, who, knowing beer could be so much more than fizzy yellow water, started brewing the stuff they dreamed of on cobbled-together systems and writing about it in obscure publications.

Here’s a tip for anybody who shares such nostalgia: head south. Mexico’s nascent craft scene looks a lot like the U.S. circa the early 1990s. There are pockets where craft is catching hold and out-of-the-way places where passionate brewers eke out small batches against daunting odds, including expensive imported ingredients, high taxes and small numbers of enlightened drinkers.

Baja California, with its proximity to San Diego, got a head start. It’s not just the gazillion or so breweries in San Diego County that have helped educate Baja’s brewers and consumers. For some years, Mexican beer makers, both home and professional, have been flocking to brewing classes and programs like those offered at San Diego State University and the University of California, San Diego. And sophisticated Mexico City, with its 20 some-odd million residents, can provide an instant market for almost anything trending internationally.

Monterrey-brewed craft beers

Monterrey-brewed craft beers

Then, there’s Monterrey, the industrial hub of the north, with jobs and 5 million people. Only 140 miles from U.S, American influence is everywhere from H-E-B, the Texas grocery store chain, to the English words that pepper conversations. And yet, while craft beer sales are growing, they remain a tiny fraction of total beer sales in Mexico’s third largest city.

I’ve written on the topic before, including in an online May, 2016 article for All About Beer. When I talk or correspond with Monterrey’s craft pioneers—men like brewers José Luis Calderoni and Daniel Cigarroa and distributor/seller Abraham Cohen—I can’t help but get excited by their successes.

Naturally, when I was in Monterrey last week, I checked out the new San Pedro Beer for Us, the well-stocked bottle shop that Cohen and associates opened July 2. When I put a photo of my purchases on social media, within an hour, I had an invite from Cohen to the inauguration of their San Nicolás “kitchen depot and beer shop” this Wednesday, November 2. (Unfortunately, I left Monterrey on Monday.) Cigarroa also saw the photo and soon sent a note, to which I replied that I’d purchased a couple of his brews from Cervecería Bracino.

In the shop, I found all the familiar American, European and Mexican craft and macro brands. There were so many Mexican craft brands that I could have brought home a different one for every member of the homebrew club and then some. (Sorry guys, that didn’t happen.)

Beer geek and Beer for Us employee Néstor Sánchez

Beer geek and Beer for Us employee, Néstor Sánchez

While cashier Néstor Sánchez rang up the purchases, my husband casually asked about the home beer tastings advertised on a flyer. Néstor’s detailed answer quickly revealed his serious beer geek status. From there, we were off on one of those nerd-out conversations that, in another setting, could easily have stretched out over a couple of beers. Unfortunately, it ended when another customer came in.

But I need those trips to Mexico to remind me that the good old days weren’t (or in Mexico, aren’t) always a bed of fresh rose-on-the-nose hops. The days before the Beer for Us outing, I’d gone to the giant Soriana grocery store, where a months-long remodel was in progress, and eagerly sought out the new beer section. Sadly, craft products had no more shelf space than before. (Note: kudos to María Mireles Martínez, the vendor from macro Cuauhtémoc-Moctezuma who knew her brands and pushed them well.)

With Cuauhtémoc-Moctezuma vendor, María Mireles Martínez

With Cuauhtémoc-Moctezuma vendor, María Mireles Martínez

Then, on Sunday, while we waited for a to-go order of cabrito (a classic Monterrey delicacy) at an upscale restaurant, I noticed “cerveza artesanal” on the menu and asked a waiter what brands of craft beer they carried. Unsure, he went to check and came back bearing two bottles of Belgian-brewed Affligem, to which I could only sigh. Back at my mother-in-law’s house, I enjoyed a pleasantly hoppy Hipster Joe (American Wheat Ale, Propaganda Brewing) with lunch, while the other three beer drinkers all navegated around my craft stash in the fridge to pull out Indios (Amber Lager, Cuauhtémoc-Moctezuma.)

The one small bright spot and the reason I’d bought that Indio 6-pack I’d bought from friendly María? The gorgeous labels. I’d initally thought I was seeing my first Mexican variety pack. No, María corrected, it was all the same beer, but with different labels showing the varied history and culture of Mexico.

6 bottles, 3 labels, 1 beer style

6 bottles, 3 labels, 1 beer style

I’ll choose to interpret those labels as a sign that one more macro is watching craft and picking up their ideas. And that’s some pretty amazing clout for the little guys.

On your next Mexican vacation, look beyond the Coronas and explore the vibrant craft beer nation growing to the south.

 

Comments

  1. Hi Leslie, it’s great you are writing about Monterrey Craft Beer Scene. We are a local brewery too and would be great to give you a tour in our facilities if you feel like to next time you are in town. Feel free to contact us, cheers!

    Cervecería Obelisco

    • Leslie Patino says:

      Hi Juan, we don’t yet have plans for the next trip to Mty., but you can bet we’ll take you up on the offer to visit Obelisco. Thanks for reading “Not My Father’s Beer”!

  2. Great blog Leslie, I enjoyed this article and earlier posts. You obviously have found a calling to spread the news about this most exciting development in brewing since the repeal of Prohibition. I started my journey in the early days of craft brewing when there were only about 25. The Wall Street Journal reported recently that there are now more than 4000 craft breweries. Stick around, there will be 8000 one day.

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