by Stephen Beaumont
As I sit in a hotel room at the Chateau Lake Louise, about to complete the book launch tour for my and Tim Webb’s new book, Best Beers, Mexico City and Cerveza Mexico seems like a lifetime ago. But in fact it was but three weeks earlier that I was, in turn, judging the Copa Cerveza MX, speaking at the Congresso Cerveza Mexico and tasting beers at the Cerveza Mexico Expo beer festival.
Which means it was only a few weeks ago that I had my eyes opened – again! – by the impressive strides forward made by Mexico’s 200 or so craft breweries.
My entrée into the world of Mexican craft beer began in 2012, gathering information for the first edition of The World Atlas of Beer and composing reviews for what was then still known as The Pocket Beer Guide, now Best Beers. The quality of the ales and lagers sampled back then was sketchy at times, but my sense was that this was a market with great promise. And two years ago, when I attended my first Cerveza Mexico, that promise was beginning to be realized.
Today, Mexico is in full craft beer flight. And although there are still bumps showing up along the way, the rate of overall improvement is nothing if not astounding.
While breweries are now scattered all across Mexico, even in my beloved Riviera Maya on the Yucatan peninsula, the highest concentrations remain in the northwest around Baja California and around the capital region. (The former area, incidentally, is where Anheuser-Busch InBev has focused its brewery buying efforts, snapping up four including the generally well-regarded Cerveza Cucapá.) Those are also the districts with the oldest and most mature breweries, as well as some of the most promising young operations.
For an overview of the whole country’s beer scene, however, the November Cerveza Mexico Expo cannot be beat. Of course, not all of the nation’s craft breweries are on display there, but enough make the trip that it offers a very good ‘broad stroke” perspective.
On the negative side, there seems to be a general packaging problem in Mexico, as I regularly encountered too many oxidized beers in both draught and bottled form. And in the northwest in particular, there remains a rather slavish tendency to follow the lead of the U.S. brewers to the north, creating a great many ales big and brash in both strength and hop content.
But the oxidization issue will solve itself as equipment improves overall – I spoke to a few breweries that were either in the process of or soon to begin installing new bottling and canning lines – and the style focus is thankfully not coming at the expense of innovation in local and regional beer styles.
Among that latter group, the most exciting to me is the Mexican Imperial stout, almost always made with chillies, and usually also with cocoa and/or spices. (If you’ve had any of this style of beer brewed in the United States, trust me, the Mexicans are already doing it better.) Also coming into play are unique ingredients, as with the wild vanilla-flavoured Winter Ale from La Bru, or unusual barrels, as in the Mezcal IPA from Mexico City’s Chaneque.
These trends echo those occurring around the world these days, as country after country, from Brazil to Japan to Italy, seeks to find a way to make its own distinctive imprint on beer style.
A few others to watch include: Calavera’s new Morning Star, billed a “breakfast IPA” and not really fitting the bill, but damn tasty nonetheless; nomadic brewer Malteza’s lone offering, a terrific Scottish style wee heavy called Morrigan; Urbana’s wonderfully balanced Crossover IPA; Huérfana’s Maguey Beer, which combines seven grains and toasted maguey piñas in a 4.8% quaffer; and almost anything from Wendlandt, Colina and Large Brewery of the Year for 2017 – “large” being a very relative term in Mexico – Cerveza Fauna.
In more general terms, however, keep your eye on Mexican craft beer. I have a feeling great things will be coming from lower North America very soon.
A corner dedicated to bringing you insight from industry author and beer connoisseur, Stephen Beaumont.