Mexican craft beer booming while big chains go corporate

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, August 1, 2012 15:21 EDT
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Beer bottling process takes place in the Calavera craft brewery on July 20 in Tlanepantla, Mexico. Producers of handcrafted beer make their way in Mexico following the emergence of new breweries in crowded neighborhoods of the capital and as large emporiums producing traditional brands such as Corona stopped being Mexican. (AFP Photo/Ronaldo Schemidt)
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Mexico is teaming with new craft beer companies, catering to adventurous but traditional palates, while the brewing industry’s big brands like Corona are bought out by foreign enterprises.

“We are seeing the tremendous growth of craft beer produced by small businesses, like Minerva Imperial Tequila Ale, very good, with a touch of tequila,” said Rene Cruz, a 29-year-old engineer enjoying a bottle with her friends at El Deposito, a new bar in Mexico City serving up the Latin American nation’s craft beers.

“We like (the beer) firstly, because it is Mexican. It is produced with greater care, and has a better taste. Industrial beers are losing their traditional flavor,” said Cruz’s friend Victor Olivo, 28, also an engineer.

The world’s foremost international brewer, Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev), bought the Mexican company behind Corona, Modelo, in June. Modelo was the leading brewery in the country, recording sales of $3.5 billion dollars in 2011.

In 2010, Dutch conglomerate Heineken acquired Femsa, which produces Sol, Mexico’s second most popular beer.

Mexican youth who have adventurous palates and are not afraid to spend a bit more to savor new flavors and textures of beer visit new boutique bars opening in Mexico City’s posh neighborhoods, where they can find some thirty domestic craft beers and numerous imports.

Some of Mexico’s best restaurants — including Pujol, one of San Pellegrino’s “50 Best Restaurants” in the world — serve these beers, paired with contemporary Mexican cuisine.

The “artisan beers” are brewed with barley, wheat, oats, rye or even corn. They get their aroma from the Mexican herb known as “yerba santa” as well as from amaranth, cinnamon, citrus and other ingredients of traditional Mexican cuisine.

A Danish national living in Mexico, Gilbert Bjorn Nielsen is a master brewer and a partner at a small brewery in Calavera, north of Mexico City. His brewery produced about 660 gallons (2,500 liters) a week in 2011.

“My wife, who is Mexican, and I were living in Denmark, where the same thing happened that’s happening here. At first, there were two large breweries, but over the years, craft beer companies cropped up, and now there are over 200,” Nielsen said.

The couple moved to Mexico in 2009, where they say “there is great potential.”

At the time, there were only five craft beer producers. Today, there are some 30 officially registered producers and another 50 involved in small-scale production, Nielsen said, watching his beer pour into bottles, labeled with an image of a skeleton.

Mexico’s oldest craft brewery, Mexicalli, opened in 1923 and is based in Tecate, Baja California, in the northwest of the country. For decades, the brewery’s entire production was shipped to the United States.

The brewery, which sells 24 million bottles a year, has been blocked from penetrating the Mexican market by the big brands’ monopoly in shops and restaurants.

“Now that (the big brand beers) are no longer Mexican, that practice should cease,” said the company’s head of sales, Adalberto Dominguez.

Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse
AFP journalists cover wars, conflicts, politics, science, health, the environment, technology, fashion, entertainment, the offbeat, sports and a whole lot more in text, photographs, video, graphics and online.
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