As I soon discovered when I first moved to Mexico City in 2016, beer – or cerveza here – has an important place in Mexican culture.
No fiesta – if not lunch or dinner every day – would be complete without a few caguamas (literally, "turtle" - one litre bottles shaped like said retile) on rotation at the table. Otherwise, along with mezcal and tequila, chelas (Mexico City slang for beers) are the centrepiece of bar and cantina culture.
So it’s perhaps no wonder that the craft beer scene is taking off, with brews bottled and sold across the capital and in many of the country’s 31 states. In 2017, sales increased by 59 percent, while the scene has been covered by Food & Wine too. And, at a cute little shop in the hip ‘hood of Condesa, one Mexican business owner has made it her mission to select and sell the very best.
Aliana González is a chilanga – resident of Mexico City – who has been running Vivienne, a boutique store and social club (pictured above) that sells “booze and bling in the heart of the city”, for there years. I headed there on the advice of fellow Aussie expat Minni Louis, and invited some booze-loving British and Mexican friends along for the ride.
Gathered around a table laden with botanas (snacks, essential to your beer-drinking experience in this town), we made our choices from the beers that line the shop walls; their attractive craft-brand logos enticing us with mention of ingredients like bacon, juniper and xocoati, the favoured chocolate drink of the Aztecs.
Aliana says she tries to stock craft brews "from as wide a range of places in Mexico as possible". She says that, while there have been many breweries making craft beer for some years in places like Mexico City and Tijuana, in the state of Baja California the scope has widened to include brews from Colima and Monterrey.
She says the care taken in the relationship between the brewer and the retailer is something she appreciates most about the Mexican craft beer scene.
"I know all these people," she says, gesturing to all the beers in the fridge and on the shelves. "This means I know it's not some fake 'craft' beer that is actually owned by Budweiser or something.
"I'm glad I know these people's numbers and know their process."
This makes sense to me – as a newbie in this culture I’ve been learning all about the importance of confianza – good faith and trustworthiness between people; it’s not just for the notorious drug trade, it’s also a positive feature of everyday life.
Aliana says she expects this “intimacy and authenticity”, performed and prized by the various brewers, to continue drive the craft beer market in Mexico forward.
Rubén Fernández, another Mexico City native who has lived in Adelaide and Melbourne, joined me in testing the darker brews, opting for an imperial stout, brewed with chile and cacao.
When in Australia, he became hooked on stouts and ales.
“We’re not so used to the bold flavours of stouts and IPAs in Mexico," he says. "So this would be a good introduction for someone trying a stout for the first time – it’s almost sparkling.”
(As an Australian of Irish ancestry, I have no such needs when it comes to stouts, and found the 4 Jinetes Robust Porter smoked with chipotle chile to be very much to my liking.)
British expat Ben Chaplin is pleased to see more beer drinking options entering the market, and anticipates the price point of craft brews catching up with commercial brands; in the early days of the craft beer's rise, there can be a difference of up to 100 pesos (around AUD$10) between the two.
As a former Melbournian, Minni Louis says she's used to being surrounded by artisan products. Furthermore, when in Australia she was more likely to get a glass of champagne at the bar than a beer. But, in Mexico City, she’s found herself appreciating the diverse flavours of Mexican craft brews, with her favourite the German-style Colomita, a pilsner made in the state of Colima by Cerveceria Colima.
Colomita might have German overtones, but its flavour base is pure Mexico, says Alejandro Cortés, the Colima's chief brewer.
“Our mission is to bring the simplicity of Colima to every corner of Mexico and to parts of the world through our beers,” he says.
Given the craft beer market is still in its early days in Mexico, Alejandro says Cerveceria Colima aims to cater to a wide range of drinkers – creating beers with “balanced and friendly taste profiles" for both beer geeks and those who drink craft beer for the first time.
“They’re unique, high quality and made with love," says Minni of the local beers, "and I’ve noticed how much some brands are expanding, like craft beers in Australia have.”
Guillermo Ysusi from distributor Cebada Malteada says Cervecería de Colima's beers are among several brands that “work very well in restaurants due to their high quality”, but adds that production capacity and logistics would likely be the main obstacles to exporting Mexican craft beer across the world.
However, Alejandro points out that his brewery has already started exporting to the West Coast of the US and France. "Traditional Mexican beer has a good reputation around the world," he says.
As well as hitting up bars and social clubs like Vivienne, Aliana recommends visitors to Mexico City keen on craft beer should take a tour of cervecerias and visit taprooms like Principia, El Depósito, and Tasting Room. The Dank is the official bar/taproom of La Chingoneria, who have also collaborated with a rock band to create a lager, Cerveza Kinky. Rating apps are also becoming popular so worth checking out for travellers looking for local taste tips.
She says there's also some interest in sampling craft beers imported from outside of Mexico, but high taxes on import – and the relatively small market for high-priced beers – make it difficult to pursue in earnest.
I guess this means I won’t be drinking artisanal dark beers from home on the reg here any time soon. But, with a growing, diverse market for local offerings in Mexico City, I just might not miss them.
You can find other Beer Travel articles here.
About the author: Ann Deslandes is an Australian freelance writer living in Mexico City with a particular interest in dark ales and stouts.