Wednesday, January 22, 2014

beer column

my notes from yesterday's beer column
on cbc radio one's on the coast

I am winging my way to Mexico tomorrow which I can guarantee you means that I have Mexican beer on my mind!

But, why would a self-identified beer geek go to Mexico?  Is there such a thing as Mexican craft beer?

Poor Mexico!  It does have craft beer, but the fact that very few people have heard of it is testament to how much further behind Mexico is in the craft beer revolution than a country like Canada.  

Mexico would be pretty far down the list of world craft beer destinations.  But it's not their fault!  First of all, most of the great beer brewing countries in the world have colder climates, which are more conducive to brewing beer in the first place, and to being able to easily store and ship it after the fact.

Also creating a roadblock in Mexico is the fact that the government has not traditionally legislated against monopolies.  So two companies (FEMSA Cerveza/Heineken and Grupo Modelo, a subsidiary of AB-InBev) own most of the breweries and liquor licenses - nearly 99% of the beer market.  I understand that if you want a liquor licence from them, you have to agree to sell only their products, and 95% of beer serving establishments have such exclusivity agreements.  However the government is stepping in to even the playing field a little bit – they have legislated that the big two have to reduce the number of exclusivity agreements to 25% of their total accounts.
 
Mexican taxes are also a factor for beer sellers. I understand that 40 percent of the purchase price of beer goes straight to the government, which to a small business is a large amount of potential profit.

There is craft beer in Mexico though!  All is not lost!  There are valiant types who have taken on the challenge and are micro-brewing in Mexico.  I have noticed a marked increase in the availability of Mexican craft beer, both local brews being available in Mexico and those beers being available internationally, over the past five years.  It is also getting a little bit easier to find international beers imported into Mexico as well.  Not everything is macro lagers.

Tijuana in particular has had a vibrant craft beer scene for years, probably in large part due to cross-pollination from San Diego just across the border.  Breweries like Cerveceria Tijuana (11 years old), Cervecería Insurgente (whose motto is “We are a group of rebels dedicated to liberating you from the tyranny of flavorless beer.”, a nano-brewery who have an IPA and a black IPA in their repertoire), Cervecería Zesde (now 4 years old and brewing a smoked saison and a winter stout with raw sugar), Border Psycho and Tres B (second largest brewery in Tijuana, brewing a strong ale and a traditional Bavarian Hefeweizen.  They are looking to expand to Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey) are some of the players in the Tijuana area.  
 
Tijuana also hosts the touring Baja Beer Festival every year.  Tijuana beers were not widely available across Mexico though. For example Cerveceria deBaja California, which brews Cucapa beers, has been around since 2002 and bottling since 2006.  They brew styles from a kolsch to a barleywine.  You may have heard of them as their beers are available in Canada and the United States, but finding one in other Mexican States is difficult.
Baja California state has approximately 80 breweries, but only two of those export to the US.  Good news for Baja though is that municipally the local authorities are writing the cervecerias into the revitalization plan for the historical district – including the stipulation that to get an alcohol permit new bars and restaurants have to agree to sell at least five Baja beer brands. Mexico City boasts a few microbreweries, including Cervecería Primus, celebrated for its double malt and Cervecería Calavera, based west of the city and producing a selection including a witbier, a Mexican imperial stout, and a Belgian Abbey triple-style ale.  There is also the Guadalajara-based Cerveceria Minerva, whose offerings include an imperial stout and pale ale.

Baja has also embraced craft beer tasting rooms and bottle shops.  The Tijuana based distributor Baja Craft Beers operates a tasting room with dozens of local Tijuana and San Diego-area beers on tap, as well as bottles from craft brewers across the U.S.  The Beer Box promises the true craft experience at their tiny “beer boutique,” with bottled selections available from brewers all over Mexico.


In Mexico City there is beer store-cum-tap room El Deposito, which is a joint venture between two craft breweries (Minerva and Primus) that, besides providing taps for their own beers, acts as a tasting room for others. There’s a whole shop’s worth of interesting bottles on offer from other breweries, both domestic and imported, making it especially a favourite for expats seeking their old familiar brew.   El Black, with walls lined with beer bottles and a back refrigerator filled with brews from Cucapá, Minerva and Calavera, is a small restaurant, but it has a beer fridge.

About three years ago, in Playa del Carmen, Club dela Cerveza opened.  It is a small bar at the quiet end of La Quinta that imports beer from Germany, Belgium and England, and from across Mexico.  It was there that I first tried craft brewed Mexican beer, most of it from Tijuana.  I hope that when revisit Club de la Cerveza in Playa del Carmen this week that there will be an even bigger list of imports. I would love to be introduced to a European beer that isn’t available in Canada and a hop-forward Mexican craft beer from a brewery that doesn’t export outside of Mexico.

And let’s not forget the brewpub!  Mexico has those too.  Los Muertos Brewing in Puerto Vallarta just celebrated its one year anniversary.  It is a brewpub that is brewing stouts and pale ales and fruit beers as well as lagers.  I am looking forward to trying Los Muertos’ hoppy pale ale.  I want to see what is passing for a hoppy beer in Puerto Vallarta.  So many tourists flock through P.V. I am hopeful that they are brewing some hop-forward beers to woo the craft beer geeks from the usual lagers.
And Ensenada’s Old Mission Brewery is a pizza and beer brewpub with nine year round beers, and has just begun to sell bottles in the US under the name Ensenada Brewing Company.
I am happy that my entire vacation will not be spent with only macro lagers to keep me going between margaritas!

Beer Picks:
CUCAPA CHUPACABRAS PALE ALE
CUCAPA IPA
– available at Legacy Liquor Store
 

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