Artisanal Beers Coming To Mexico

Mexicans are developing a taste for craft beers
BY: JAMES BELL

La cerveza Mexicana es muy buena, and most of us know this. Now Mexican beer is getting even better, thanks to a sudden explosion of creative craft beer producers, the expansion of the craft beer industry, and important regulatory changes that are finally giving small producers a leg up.

La Paz is the scene of the latest introduction of artisanal brews in bars and restaurants in Baja Sur, and the popularity of the craft beers is growing in our state and around the country. A new cantina and restaurant, the Sabor a Malta, recently opened on the malecon and features cerveza artisanal, or craft beer, and the response has been positive. Various bars, cafés, and restaurants in the La Paz area now offer an interesting selection of styles and flavors of microbrews, and beer lovers are happy to see the expanded choices available.

According to experts, the craft beer industry shows a lot of promise. Mexico´s two beer monopolies, Grupo Modelo and Cuauhtemoc Moctezuma, share the wealth of a $20 billion dollar industry, but in 2013, the Federal Competition Commission ruled to limit exclusivity deals for the two Goliaths. In the past, these monopolistic, beer producers could and did demand that stores, bars and restaurants sell only their products, so any small time beer producer would be automatically denied entry into most of these places, so the new legal changes are encouraging to microbrewers and crafters who consider the ruling a major breakthrough. The new law now gives small brewers a chance to offer their products alongside the well known traditional beers.

Mexicans like their beer, and consume around 16 gallons per person (international rates vary among the tracking agencies). This is about the same amount of beer consumed by the Canadians, which is not a light amount of beer, by any means, but not as much as the 20 gallons annually consumed by Americans.

Mexican beer consumption is rising. The craft beer industry saw a solid, annual growth rate of 18% over the previous year. These important trends have the large, multinational beer makers not only taking notice, but action as well. In Mexico, AB In Bev, which bought Modelo for 20 billion dollars has got into the game. It recently purchased two breweries: The Cervecería Mexicana, of Mexicali, established in 1923 and said to be the oldest surviving craft beer brewery in Mexico, as well as the Cervezería Tijuana. The beer industry giants are well positioned to make continued acquisitions of emerging microbreweries.

Chefs are increasingly interested in pairing their special dishes with a fresh, locally made lager, ale, wheat beer, or a Belgian styled Lambic, for example, which uses a distinct method to ferment the brew from wild yeast, a brewing method not employed by the gargantuan beer monopolies.

Inventive small-scale brewers are producing a variety of fresh beer flavors using ingredients that reflect regional preferences. And Paceños, (people from La Paz), or Cabeños, (people from Los Cabos), or even foreigners may have different tastes than beer drinkers from Oaxaca, so craft beer recipes can reflect these regional differences.

The craft beer industry still only accounts for less than one percent of beer sales in the country, but the numbers are rising, although the price of a good craft beer can be two or three times that of a traditional beer, beer aficionados, including many young Mexicans, are increasingly seeking out original, craft beers, and are willing to pay the difference. As for the beer industry, their goal is to have more people drink beer, rather than to have the same drinkers consume more.

In 2007, the Baja Brewery Company, of San Jose became the first craft beer brewer in the state and opened its doors to a curious and thirsty public. The response for the hand-made beer has been strong and the company´s success has allowed the business to expand. I recently had dinner at the Mesquite Grill in El Centenario and was pleased to see they offer several of the Baja Brewery products. In 2013, the brewery began exporting to the United States and now has ample distribution in several states.

I was also surprised to find that the Sabor a Malta bar and restaurant in La Paz produces their own house beer on the premises, costing three bucks. The new establishment was busy when I visited on a Saturday evening and seems to sell as much food as beer.

In addition to the Mexican craft beers, a variety of international brands are listed on their three page print-out. Spanish, German, American, and even Czech beers are available. One Belgian beer uses a recipe that supposedly goes back to 1445, which reminds me that there is a rich history of brewing beer.  Of these, the Erdinger Weisebier (six dollars), from Bavaria, is their most popular. Food prices are reasonable here, too. A classic half-pound cheeseburger goes for $5 and there are plenty of a la carte items available. I like this place.

Several blocks away is another beer joint named El Buen Beer, close to the popular organic market. Not only do they sell Minerva beer, from the state of Jalisco, but also four styles from Mike´s Beer Company; cardemom, pumpkin, English IPA, and Foreign Extra Stout, all homemade brews produced right here in La Paz. There are other mom and pop producers around, too.

The future looks good for cerveza artesenal in Southern Baja, and around the world.