I Don’t Always Attend Beer Festivals, But When I Do….

At the first mention of “Mexico,” ones thoughts instantly turn to “cerveza!” Mexico has recently overtaken Germany in beer production to become the fourth largest brewer in the world. Beer production was up 8% last year. Of course, much of this is attributed to the duopoly of the two well-known Mexican brands, Modelo (partially owned by Annheiser Busch) who brews Corona, Pacifico, Leon, Modelo Especial, Negro Modelo, and Victoria, and their competitor Cuauhtemoc (owned by Heineken) who makes Dos Equis, Tecate, Carta Blanca, Bohemia, and Sol. In 2013, these two companies controlled 98% of the market, due in part to exclusivity contracts prohibiting the sale of rival brands in stores, restaurants and bars. Some of those prohibitions were abolished after 2013, but still today, OXXO, Mexico’s version of a 7-11 is prohibited from selling anything but the brands under Heineken’s’ conglomerate. Little by little, that’s changing.

Huge billboards around town advise of the upcoming 3 day festival.

Huge billboards around town advise of the upcoming 3 day festival.

One of the local Food Trucks.

One of the local Food Trucks.

Many food vendors selling BBQ, fish tacos, sausages, etc.

Many food vendors selling BBQ, fish tacos, sausages, etc.

This one ended up being my dinner of choice...

This one ended up being my dinner of choice…the perfect accompaniment to my boozy tasting stout.

It’s only recently in my visits to Mexico that I have begun to observe the artesanal beer scene expanding. I noticed it first in San Miguel de Allende a couple of years back. Now, the craft beer revolution seems to have exploded on the scene with Imperial Stouts, smokey Porters, and IPAs (in Mexico pronounced “EEE-pee-ah”) in every shade from blonde to black.

Scorecard ratings to evaluate color, bitterness, sweetness, etc.

Scorecard ratings to evaluate color, bitterness, sweetness, etc.

This one appears to be customized for my brother Don.

This one appears to be customized for my brother Don.

I think Libertad was my favorite stout...(at least from what I can remember!)

I think Libertad was my favorite stout…(at least from what I can remember!)

Still, the craft beer market faces challenges. Hops don’t grow well in Mexico’s climate, and malt production is controlled by the duopoly. These ingredients must be imported from the US or Canada. Craft brewers are taxed at three times the rate of the conglomerates, making the pricing of craft beer practically cost-prohibitive, particularly on Mexican salaries. But the market is growing. Having only started 10 years ago, Mexico now has over 300 craft brewers.

This is the award that will be given out to "Best of Festival."

This is the award that will be given out to “Best of Festival.”

Excellent Led Zeppelin Cover Band, not exactly what I expected to hear in Mexico, but I'm not complaining!

Excellent Led Zeppelin Cover Band, not exactly what I expected to hear in Mexico, but I’m not complaining!

These little hats are replicas of the costumes of the Dancing Old Men of Michoacan.

These little hats are replicas of the costumes of the Dancing Old Men of Michoacan.

It comes as a surprise to me to see the giant billboard in the main square, or Jardin de Union advertising the upcoming three day artesanal beer festival. I wouldn’t think Guanajuato was large enough to support a craft beer festival for one day, let alone three. But then I discount the University crowd.

The ad touts over 30 producers offering 200 styles of beer. There will be food trucks and live music. How could I possibly pass that up?

IMG_5552 IMG_5550

Not being one to wander around a beer festival alone for long, because, well, it just feels a bit awkward, I decide to go later in the afternoon. I will make the circuit, taste a couple of beers, have an early dinner from the food trucks, and be back home long before dark.

Shortly after arrival, I run into Escuela Falcon fellow classmate Marcus, who is stopped in Guanajuato to study Spanish while traveling through Mexico on down to Nicaragua for the next 18 months. After a couple of beers, we both agree that surprisingly, the live entertainment is the best Led Zeppelin cover band we’ve ever heard. Then, we meet an interesting local couple, an unlikely acquaintance born out of necessity to share a table. After a couple more beers, we learn her brother owns the Empanada restaurant in downtown, so we feast on free empanadas. After a couple more beers, I am amazed at how good my Spanish is! Hours pass to the rhythm of “Another round? I will if you will!” Six hours later and I have lost count. So much for the slogan, “stay thirsty, my friend!”

New friends Susana (Guanajuato) Jonathan (Celaya,) and Marcus (Portland.)

New friends Susana (Guanajuato) Jonathan (Celaya,) and Marcus (Portland.)

Someone switched my drink while I wasn't looking. No wonder I was hung over!

Someone switched my drink while I wasn’t looking. No wonder I was hung over!

"Hops are plants, therefore beer is salad!" In English, no less!

“Hops are plants, therefore beer is salad!” In English, no less!

Quatro Dia in Classe de Cocina

On Day Four of my cooking class in Escuela Falcon, we make the mother of all Mexican dishes, Mole Poblano. I am skeptical that such a complex dish can be made in such a short time span. It typically takes all day just to roast and grind the mix of chilies, spices, nuts, seeds, so I am eager to see how any shortcuts will impact the flavor.

Initial ingredients, chilies and spices.

Initial ingredients, chilies and spices.

Almonds, more spices. The chocolate is in the yellow wrapper.

Almonds, more spices. The chocolate is in the yellow wrapper.

Some moles can contain over 30 ingredients, most of them ground to a paste by hand in the mocajete. We will be roasting the peppers over the open flame of the stove, and grinding the ingredients in the blender. We have used the blender for just about every dish so far. It seems to be a Mexican kitchen staple used for everything from emulsifying marinades to grinding nuts to making fruit-flavored aqua frescas.

Chilies get roasted on open flame, bread and tortillas get toasted in lard.

Chilies get roasted on open flame, bread and tortillas get toasted in lard.

This is what it looks like before chocolate is added, which will make it much darker.

This is what it looks like before chocolate is added, which will make it much darker.

We will be using three different kinds of chilies. Onion, garlic, tomatoes (boiled,) raisins. Roasted tortillas and bolillo (large oval-shaped roll) as filler. Squash and sesame seeds and almonds for the nuts and seeds. Clove, cinnamon, sugar, salt and pepper as spices. Lard, the ubiquitous pig fat, a staple in all Mexican cooking. And of course, the final touch added at the end….a big chunk o’ chocolate! Served over a chicken breast and sprinkled with sesame seeds, served up in only one hour! It was remarkably delectable, if I may say so myself. 😉

The finished product -- Muy rico!

The finished product — Muy rico!

18 thoughts on “I Don’t Always Attend Beer Festivals, But When I Do….

  1. Hi. I enjoy your posts. I am thinking of checking out Guanajuato to live. I was wondering if you know of any streets or places that are bike and people friendly, That is to say, that are not dominated by buses and cars. Thanks, Stan

    • Hi, Stan — Thanks for the question, and for following the blog. My knowledge of Guanajuato is limited to the Centro Historico section. I wouldn’t want to push a bike in that area, let alone ride one. People friendly, yes, but they are callejones, or alleyways, all of cobblestone, straight up, and mostly stairs. Otherwise, you have traffic. Most of the roads in Centro are subterranean, through a tunnel system. Again, not some place I would ride. I am sure there are places that are safe for biking, but I think it is mostly up in the hills near Santa Rosa. If you are looking for a colonial town that is more bike-friendly, you might check out San Miguel de Allende. They have a regular weekly hiking club…my guess is they have something similar for biking. Hope that helps.

  2. Well, many of us blog readers already knew that you were the most interesting woman in the world. Now the craft brewers of Quanajuato are making new beers in your honor (e.g., Take to the Trail Pale Ale). And now you know that after a couple six beers you become fluent in Spanish. Time to skip those classes and travel with a six pack.

    • J Dawg — Glad to see my knock off on the beer commercial was not lost on you. You made me laugh out loud!

  3. I would love that festival! So fun and so colorful. I’m vicariously enjoying your cooking adventures, too. Mole, yum — one of my favorites. I’ve been trying to figure out my own quick recipe for mole — one that I can make in our trailer kitchen. :-)

  4. You had me at “boozy tasting stout” and grilled wienies! What fun it must be to partake in all those festivals…especially the beer spree! Looked like another fav of mine, mojitos, was snuck in on ya during the tasting…man, what a life you lead! I so enjoyed the step by step (photo) process of making Mole Poblano…though I wouldn’t dare attempt in my own kitchen. And I appreciate the tutoring of the beer companies duopoly…interesting stuff. I love living vicariously through your wonderful stay in Guanajuato! Thank you for the education and visual cornucopia! :-)

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