Sun, May 08, 2011 - Page 11 News List

Mexican microbrewers fight for space at the bar

In some dark corners of Mexico you’ll find a revolution taking place, a bitter battle of the palate, as artisanal beer brewers battle against market giants Corona and Dos Equis

By Cristian Salazar  /  AP, MEXICO CITY

The craft brewers plotted their revolution in a bar evoking the era of Prohibition speakeasies.

Their goal felt equally subversive: nothing less than the transformation of Mexico’s beer-loving culture into one that thirsts not for the mild flavors of Corona or Dos Equis, but for the richness of stouts, the dark body of double malts and the bitterness of India pale ales.

The brewers said they were fighting for choice: “Por la Cerveza Libre,” or “For the Liberated Beer.”

“To choose what we consume based on our tastes translates as free choice, a fundamental right of every person,” they wrote in a manifesto.

Even though Mexico is known worldwide for its beer, only two companies hold nearly 100 percent of the domestic market and determine what millions of people swig.

Mexican craft brewers in the “Por la Cerveza Libre” movement hope to change that — one bar, one beer, one drink at a time.

More than 1,000 beer enthusiasts have signed their manifesto online and in bars and restaurants, organizers say. First step in the revolution? Use social media to promote the establishments and stores that buck the trend by serving lesser known brews. Eventually, the group will award such places “For the Liberated Beer” certificates.

The craft brewery movement in Mexico has been growing for only a few years now, inspired by microbreweries in the US. However, in that short time, Mexican brewers have launched one of Latin America’s largest beer-tasting festivals in the country’s second-biggest city, Guadalajara, and opened a series of bars under the name El Deposito there as well as in Mexico City and Puerto Vallarta that double as stores to sell their creations.

The “Por la Cerveza Libre” movement was hatched last year in one such El Deposito in a swank Mexico City neighborhood.

The bar is designed to look like a clandestine liquor depot during the Prohibition era in the US and is decorated with pictures of Al Capone and other gangsters of the period. The centerpiece is a piece of equipment made to look like an old distillery.

El Deposito’s exposed-brick walls could come straight out of Portland, Oregon, except for the Mexican twist in the brews: One alcohol-rich barley wine by Cerveceria Cucapa is aged in tequila barrels. And Cerveceria Minerva’s Malverde, an American-style pilsner, is named for Jesus Malverde, “patron saint” to the country’s drug traffickers.

Drinkers pack the bar on Thursday and Friday nights, young professionals who arrive straight from work in nine-to-five wardrobe to sample over 100 imported and Mexican brews.

Jesus Briseno, 33, one of Mexico’s craft-brewing pioneers, had a hand in opening the country’s El Depositos and founded Cerveceria Minerva seven years ago in Guadalajara.

He opened the brewery, he said, after he took a semester off from college to study at the Siebel Institute of Technology and World Brewing Academy in Chicago. Inspired by the explosion of beer culture around US microbreweries, he returned to Mexico with the dream of starting his own craft beer business.

“I thought exactly the same thing was going to happen in Mexico,” he said. “I thought there was going to be more culture growing around the beer.”

Such hopes turned out to be premature. Mexican craft brewing is now at the point their US counterparts were in the early 1980s: basically zero. The country’s microbreweries, numbering more than a dozen, account for less than 1 percent of Mexico’s beer market.

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