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.
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.
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.
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?
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!”
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.
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.
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. 😉