The Rise of Craft Beer in Mexico

craft beer Mexico

Last weekend I tasted a few wonderfully aromatic pale ales, German style Heifweizens, a Belgian-style whit beer, a couple red ales, and one of the best stouts I’ve had in years. All made within a few hours’ drive from where I was standing. There was only one unusual aspect of this tasting session: it was in Mexico.

In the not-too-distant past, finding a craft beer, brewpub, or micro-brewery anywhere in Latin America was next to impossible. If you were to drive south from Texas or Arizona, you wouldn’t be able to find something with an abundance of hops until you got to Santiago or Buenos Aires, down in the Southern Cone of South America.

microwbrew mexicoThe situation is still pretty bleak most of that stretch, a non-stop stream of monopoly producers’ yellow fizzy lagers, but a few cracks are starting to appear. In Mexico though, long the Latin American country with the best mass-market beers, there’s a full-fledged craft beer revolution going on. Last weekend there was an event in the medium-sized city where I live that would have been unthinkable just three years ago: a Mexican craft beer festival. For real!

After spending the past eight months choosing between what the giant Mexican beer producers put out, I was in heaven. Goodbye 4.5% Corona and Indio, hello full-bodied Gambusino and BrĂ¼. Gambusino is actually the home town hero where I live in Guanajuato, the first craft brewer to make a real dent in the marketplace, so I have had a few of their beers in between the usual suspects since I moved back. Microbrews are still a novel concept with bars and restaurants though. When I first moved here there was exactly one place I could order something different—then “imported” by an owner with a car who would load up on Minerva or Cucapa cases in Guadalajra or Mexico City. Now there are a smattering more serving good beer where I live, plus a full-fledged store (called “The Beer Store”) with a great selection from all over.

Guaajuato beer festival

Pent-up demand for craft brews.

Fortunately for us in Guanajuato, Gambusino has one of the best pale ales you’ll find in the country right now. (If you order one, be advised it’s pronounced “pah-lay ah-lay” here. And while we’re at it, If you need to go online while you’re drinking it, Wi-Fi often ends up as “Wee-Fee.”)

beer festI was extremely impressed with the quality of what I drank at this festival. I tasted more than a dozen different beers and there was only one dud in the bunch. That’s a better percentage than I’ve managed at similar festivals in Nashville and Tampa. Even the Las Mulas guys who were so new they didn’t have business cards, a website or a Facebook page were making surprisingly good beer. Nearly everyone had great packaging too: these beers may be expensive compared to their mass-market counterparts, but they sure look good sitting on a table in front of you.

My top choice was, surprisingly to me, a blonde ale made by 7 Barrios of San Luis Potosi. It was pretty much a perfect beer and appeal beyond the hop-heads. I bought a glass of their strong red ale too (7.5% alcohol) and it was also delicious.

clandestina beerThe stout from Embajador, a Guanajuato company I’d never heard of previously, was complex, robust, and just plain yummy. My other favorites were from Genuine Black (Zacatecas) Clandestina (Leon) and Puro Veneno (Mexico State), but I would gladly stock my fridge with what’s coming out from any of the companies that were attending.

This won’t likely be an everyday thing though: labor is cheaper in Mexico, but the ingredients, transportation, and equipment are not. So ordering a microbrew in a bar or restaurant in Mexico will usually cost you 35 to 45 pesos ($3-$4). Figure on $2 or so per bottle in a store. This is double what you’ll pay for a Pacifico, almost double what it costs for the best mass market brands: Bohemia and Negra Modela. But what you’re getting for the price is at a whole different level than the norm.

This is a point in time much like you saw in the USA 25 years ago, when Sierra Nevada, Sam Adams, Anchor Steam, and others were just getting off the ground. Support these guys and someday the Mexico selection will follow the same path. And hey kids—you only need to be 18 to order a beer here. (Or really just look like you are…)

Comments
  1. Ryan from Jets Like Taxis

    Yes! Nice to see a post about the beer and the festival we sadly missed. :(

    I highly recommend a visit to one of the breweries as well. Gambusino is extremely tiny, but they’re happy to give tours, tastings, and preach their passion for the good stuff.

    Great post, Tim!

  2. Tim

    Thanks Ryan. Yes, you would have enjoyed it. I need to go visit the brewery—it’s on my to-do list. I was surprised though that there were three others from GTO pouring samples. They’ve been hiding. The Embajador one was very professional too, with great packaging to match the quality beer.

  3. MACH

    Great info! “Pah-lay ah-lay” is much easier to say when you’re drunk than Pale Ale. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Great post. I would love to taste that beer. It looks delicious.

  5. Glenn Dixon

    Funny but true – just after reading (ok, skimming) this article yesterday I found myself on my own for dinner. So I grabbed a burger at a local cafe I had been meaning to try out. While I was waiting on the food, I noticed lots of crafty-type beer posters on the wall. I inquired, and yes — of course — I could buy a beer to go. (I love Mexico!)

    So I picked up one of these and it was tasty!

    http://www.bajabrewingcompany.com/beers/oatmeal-stout

  6. Glenn Dixon

    Tim, FYI your FB Like/Share button isn’t allowing me to share this on FB (see screensnap)

    http://www.evernote.com/shard/s3/sh/19bdd028-a8b9-44f0-9149-e5dcdbdc76c0/cc76406112314848a8ce4b5935c6ce82

    • Tim Leffel

      Glenn, I can’t tell from the screenshot what’s wrong and can’t duplicate the error. I just posted it to my timeline fine from there. And it’s gotten some FB shares already. It’s just the basic AddThis plug-in, which everybody and their brother uses, no modifications.

      • Glenn Dixon

        Tim,

        The bottom of the window is cut off, so you can’t complete the sharing process. I’m on the latest versions of Chrome and Windows. I can duplicate this in Firefox and Internet Explorer.

        FYI, if you aren’t logged in to FB you’ll get a separate pop-up window.

  7. Tim Leffel

    Hmm, I’ll check into it. Like I said though, it’s the basic AddThis plug-in, latest version, used by millions. I just tried multiple browsers, logged in and not logged in, working fine. Anyone else?

  8. Glenn Dixon

    ok, did you change the icons? Because now they’re square, and now I’m getting a pop-up window instead of a slide-out. So it works now…

  9. Selma

    This is excellent news, as I am Mexico bound later this year … my beer-loving palate will have something satisfying to drink after all!

  10. Rodrigo

    I feel really good when I read blogs like this, where you can see the passion for that great drink called CERVEZA. It’s great that you had a good time at the first craft beer festival at Guanajuato, I think that almost everyone had a great time, and I am pretty sure the festival will repeat next year.

    Btw, next saturday there is the opening of a beer shop in Irapuato, Gambusino, Barroca, Embajador and Pipila will be there promoting their beer, so we’ll be glad if all of you pass by, i leave here the event’s page: https://www.facebook.com/thebeerco.gto

    Cheers and thanks for the mention of our “The Beer Company” store in Guanajuato :D

  11. Steve

    hola! Wish you had given more info about the location of the micro-breweries. I’m heading to Guanajuato City in a few weeks.
    Gracias!

    • Tim Leffel

      The only one you can really visit without knowing the brewer is Gambusino I believe. And you’ll need a car as it’s on the Panoramica pretty far from the center. I still haven’t been there. Many of the others featured were from other cities.

      We could do a bar sampling after this though! http://www.mexicostreetfood.com/

  12. Charlie D

    For those of us that travel based on the whims of our stomachs, there is no greater place than a country that takes it seriously. I’m surprised to see so many places getting into the craft beer game. We did a festival with craft tequila in Mexico, but I guess that is to be expected.

  13. Matt

    Hello,

    I’m heading to Leon in a couple weeks. I really appreciate this post and I’ll make sure to look out for the breweries mentioned. I was wondering if you had any other suggestions from the last year or so.

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