Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Search For the Ultimate Cerveza - Final Chapter

Last week I endured one of the worst hangovers I have had in years. On a scale of 1-10, 10 being paralytic in nature, it was a 12. My consumption rate the night before had been moderate, by my standards and did not warrant such cruel payback. It was a few cheeky pints catching up with friends at St Augustine's, where the beer is fresh and the lines are pristine.
So why did the drinking gods deal out such harsh punishment?
Despite being back in VanEast for two days before my hangover, I am blaming Mexico, where I had just spent the previous four weeks before my day of reckoning. Actually, to blame the country of  Mexico is not fair, so I will point the finger of blame more accurately at Mexican beer even though not a single Mexican beer was consumed on the night in question. It is the state of the Mexican beer scene that is to blame...let me explain.
One of the items on my agenda, while visiting my wife's family in Acapulco, was to check out the state of the Mexican beer scene. Researching for this blog, as I framed it to my very understanding wife, seemed like the perfect cover for me to sneak away from time to time for a quiet beer. I have been to Mexico several times in the past and have always found the majority of the beers almost undrinkable:  low alcohol, highly carbonated, mass-produced, light lagers, such as Corona and Sol. But, surely, in a country with a population of over 112 million, there must be someone producing some sort of craft beers. Mexico City alone has a population that rivals the population all of Canada! Every where you look in Mexico, beer is available and being consumed, so there must be a market for quality, local, craft beer.
If there is a beer scene in Acapulco, I certainly could not sniff it out. The state of things in Mexico related to beer reminds me of Canada, circa 1980, when the three big breweries, Carling, Molson and Labatt had a stranglehold on the Canadian beer market and offered nothing but bland lagers. Craft beer and microbrews were unheard of in BC at that time. It was a sad state of affairs compared to today's craft beer boom.
At least one brewery in
Mexico is making an effort
to provide a variety of different
tasting beers
The beer market in Mexico is controlled by two major beer conglomerates those being Grupo Modelo, and Cerveceria Cuautemoc Moctezuma who battle fiercely for the market. In fact, many of the convienence store chains are loyal to one or the other brewery only so that your choices of beers are even more limited. Of the two breweries, Cuauhtemoc Moctezuma, which is apart of Heineken International, is at least making an effort to produce some different varieties of beer, although none come close to craft beer standards. In addition to Dos Equis lager, Sol, Tecate they have managed to branch out and, in my opinion, produce Mexico's best beers. Their flagship beer and considered by most Mexicans to be the best beer in the country, is Bohemia. There are three different styles of Bohemia, all of which are very drinkable, especially when compared to the competition. Bohemia clara (clear), a "pilsner" style beer and is definitely the class of the clear beers in Mexico. Bohemia obscura (dark), is a rich, dark beer, described as a "Vienna style" beer and last year Bohemia came out with a weizen style beer with hints of coriander and orange peel! This beer is very refreshing in the Mexican heat and quite different from any other beer I have tasted in Mexico. Cuauhtemoc also produces a seasonal beer called Noche Buena, which means Good Night and refers to Christmas Eve. It is available yearly in November and December and is a described as a bock. All the Bohemia beers are considered strong beers in Mexico coming in at 5-5.2% ABV. Even though these beers are considered by many to be the cream of the crop, they are also the hardest to find. The Bohemia obscura is found in many restaurants but I could only find the clara and weizen versions in a "special edition Frida Kahlo" packs in Sam's Club (similar to Costco).        
Modelo, owned in part by Anheuser Busch, produces Mexico's best known beer, Corona, and several other similar beers. Only Negra Modelo and Victoria seem to offer any sort of variety. Negra Modelo, my favorite Modelo beer, is a dark beer described by Modelo as a "Munich dunkel" and is widely available here in BC liquor stores.Victoria, which is an amber colored "Vienna" style beer, offers some body and taste, but is just barely a step up from the Coronas of the world. Other than that, I was very  unimpressed with Modelo's beer line-up and tended towards their competition, much to the chagrin of my brother-in-law who used to be very high up in the Modelo organization and who is very loyal to his brand.
After these two breweries, there seems to be a great void in the Mexican beer market, with microbreweries, beer bars and brew pubs being rarities. I am told they do exist but I have yet to find one, or talk to anyone, Mexican or otherwise, who has drank Mexican craft beer. I have read on the internet that there are a few dotted around the country, specifically in Baja, Guadalajara, Mexico City and Tijuana. They certainly were not in the Acapulco area and from talking to the locals, it does not seem there is a desire or market for craft beer there. When I attempted to talk to my friends and relatives about the subject of craft beer they honestly had no concept of what I was talking about. Each and every one of them pointed out that there were numerous beers available in Mexico and did not seem to grasp that they were all virtually the same: mass-produced, light beers with little to no body or flavour, highly carbonated and 4-4.5% alcohol .
So what does all of this have to do with my hangover and how did it contribute.
A world class imperial stout that
carries a world class
Well, after returning from my vacation, I was itching to get down to my local watering hole to treat my taste buds to some big-hop, Pacific Northwest IPAs and see what else was new on tap. As it happens, I found North Coast's Old Rasputin Imperial Stout on tap at St Augustine's and as an added bonus, it was pouring from one of their recently installed nitro taps! For those of you who are not familiar with Old Rasputin, it is a world class imperial stout and a must for all stout lovers. And for those of you who are familiar with Old Rasputin but never tasted it poured from a nitro tap, do yourself a favour and search it out! It is well worth the effort. It is amazing how easily this 9% ABV monster beer goes down.
But it seems, after four weeks of drinking low-alcohol, bland beers, my tolerance level for the strong beers, widely available here in Vancouver, had been greatly reduced and I was not prepared for the full impact of this amazing black beauty. I quickly recognized this, and, during a momentary lapse of reason decided, despite the sublime quality of the beer, I needed to get home before more damage was done. But I could not bring myself to leave before ordering a Red Racer IPA to get my hop fix. Well, gearing down from 9% ABV to 7% ABV did not really help my cause, hence my predicament the next day. I was not planning to overindulge, but the great taste of these beers lured me into having one more than I should have and the strength hit me hard after a month of 4-5% beers of which I really could only tolerate a few before getting boated.
I truly hope that one day, someone in Mexico will see the need to produce different styles of craft beers. It is a market that is wide open and I believe, like here, in the 1980s and 1990s, if quality craft beers are introduced into the market, they will eventually catch on and take a chunk of the market away from the big, dominant breweries. So if anyone is looking for a warm climate to start a microbrewery, Mexico may be the place to certainly won't find a lot of competition, although selling the idea of craft beer to the locals may be a tougher sell than you think.
If anyone knows of any craft breweries in Mexico, I'd love to hear about it so I can further my research next year when I go down to visit my in-laws.


  1. Agree with you on Mexico.. its a very sad state for beer. I think its victim to few companies involved in the industry due to the duopoly forces.
    I dare say the 'hangover' was one of those well deserved ones with that crowd of hooligans you hang out with!! like my one in Scotland back in August when i got too excited over the scotch. I dare say you will get your tolerance back!

  2. Thanks Bierfesten. One of the main hooligans has been missing for a while though. Last rumoured to be drinking Southern Tier IPA in a small pub in Australia...

  3. Thanks for the comment Bierfesten
    The Mexican beer scene is a direct result of the money people controlling things instead of the artisans. We had a very similar, if not even worse, situation here in Canada up until the early 1980s and look at the scene now. No, we haven't caught up to California or Portland, but the scene here is thriving and growing in leaps and bounds. And this is all a result of people making beer for the sake of making quality, craft beer and not for the sake of pure profit. It started slow, but now, the craft beer sales are taking a small chunk of the market and are growing. In 20 years, we may rival Portland, San Diego, etc. And if someone can get the ball rolling in Mexico, even if it is just in one city, maybe in 20 years, they can be where we are now?!