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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Cervecería Minerva and the Promise of Mexican Craft Brewing

Let's try a game.  I say "Mexican beer" and you say ...?

"Minerva," right?  No?

There is a tiny craft beer movement in Mexico--even "micro" makes it sound bigger than the statistical error it appears to be.  Collectively--collectively!--all the craft brewers in Mexico account for just .008% of all beers sold.  So the fact that I have been able to try three beers from Jalisco's Minerva brewery makes me one of the very special few.  (Follow that link if you want a backgrounder on Mexican beer).

All of which makes my comments on those three beers pretty much useless to you.  You have a better chance of getting your hands on Westvleteren.  Nevertheless, if you're still reading, the idle thought may have crossed your mind: is Mexican craft beer any good?

Minerva is.  It's not amazing, but it's solid.  I've tried Blanca, Rila, and Imperial Tequila Ale, and they all clock in at quite respectable.  The Blanca is apparently a collaboration beer with homebrewers (or other small craft brewers?) and not a part of their regular line-up.  As the name would suggest, it's a witbier, made with coriander, tangerine peel, and star anise.  A pretty nice example, with delicate spicing and a soft, bready base.  Very light at 4.5%, but I imagine that would be just about right under the Jalisco sun.

Rila is a red ale, more in the mode of an Irish beer or, perhaps, an ale-y evocation of Vienna lager.  It has a curious provenance (translation courtesy of the Goog):
Guadalajara's Minerva Brewery, along with the group Collective Bikla Make Beer, launched the first special beer for the cycling community in the country.  RILA is a seasonal product developed jointly by independent brewers and local cycling groups with the aim of promoting beer culture.
The bottle we had was a touch old, so the flavors had gotten slightly oxidized.  Seemed otherwise like a fine if prosaic beer. 

The last one was the most interesting--Imperial Tequila Ale.  It was aged in barrels formerly containing anejo tequila.  Minerva isn't the only brewery to attempt this--Cucapa Brewery was the first to try it with their barley wine.  Unfortunately, it seems tequila offers only subtle character, and I had to really work to detect anything at all (and it may have been my imagination doing the detecting).  An otherwise quite tasty, malt-forward strong ale that stood easily on its own, un-tequiled legs.  It does make me think: might this experiment not work better with a much lighter beer?

The upshot is not so much a review of beers as a review of one brewery's attempt at craft brewing.  If Minerva is at all representative, Mexican craft brewing shows a lot of promise.


  1. From what I understand, the beer market in Mexico is extremely difficult to break into. Cervecería Modelo/Grupo Modelo might go into an area and tell all the stores "you are only going to sell our beer" and they comply (with some palms amply greased no doubt).

    In Guadalajara, Cervecería Modelo/Grupo Modelo and Cervecería Cuauhtémoc-Moctezuma/FEMSA are in a war of sorts - seizing stores across entire sections of the city as their own beer monopolies.

    That might explain why microbrews are so difficult to come by. I only saw Minerva in a store that was a bit like the Belmont Station of Guadalajara, not in any grocery stores. Unlike Portland where you can find local microbrew in pretty much every store in town.

    It would be interesting if anyone else can collaborate this...being a gringo, I'm not sure I got the whole story right.

  2. That's absolutely correct. If you follow that link in the preamble, you'll find this quote:

    "Still, as more beer makers have joined in, they have run up against the realities of the Mexican economy, where numerous sectors are ruled top to bottom by one or two huge companies.

    "Makers of craft beer say only a few hundred Mexican establishments are willing to sell their products. And some say they buy malt abroad because they can't count on Mexican processers, which are controlled by the two beer giants."

  3. I actually just cracked open two Mexican micros(appropriately enough on the 4th of July) that I got from a somewhat recent trip to Puerto Vallarta. All week long we saw nothing but the usual suspects until on a lark we decided to walk through a mall to get out of the heat.

    In the mall was a classic department store (can't remember the name) which had a local and international food section. In this section contained a rather impressive (for Mexico) selection of craft beer - including a number from Calavara:

    I ended up grabbing the wit, dubbel, and american pale ale. Not knowing how long those guys were sitting on the shelf, I was actually impressed with how they tasted. The wit was not great when you compare it to any number of classic examples, but it was still better then anything I had all week down there. The APA was actually pretty darn good, and I'd be happy to drink another if offered. The dubbel is still sitting in my fridge awaiting an appropriate Mexican feast (or Belgian feast?)

  4. We took a week long trip to Sayulita in February. As I am trying not to drink the same beer twice in 2012 (on Twitter: @NoBeerTwice2012 - end gratuitous plug), I was a bit nervous. Luckily, I found one small market that had 3 of Minervas offerings and sold them in singles. I had the stout, pale ale, and the kolsch (Colonial Clara was the name). As you noted, all were solid but not amazing beers. However, in a week full of macro Mexican lagers (which I have no problem drinking in the correct setting), they were a nice change of pace.

  5. Not sure if my first comment made it through or not. So, here it is again in brief form. I tried three of the Minerva offerings in February during a stay in Sayulita, Mex. The stout, pale ale, and kolsch were all as you said, solid but not amazing. A good break from the mexican lagers and limes.