When evangelizing craft beer to the masses – especially in Mexico, where the inchoate industry faces a vertiginous uphill battle – proffering a deftly executed IPA to a man drinking Tecate is often like tossing pearls before swine, as the saying goes. But, to use another precious idiom, there are diamonds in the rough. As the Mexican beer duopoly’s grip is gradually loosened, the younger generation is flocking to locally sourced and artisanally made products, giving rise to places like Pig’s Pearls in Guadalajara, serving upscale burgers and exclusively craft beer.
Located on a small side street in the Americana neighborhood off Avenida Miguel Hidalgo, even your taxi might miss it if you’re not looking carefully. Low slung awnings shelter diners within, while a lone tree obscures the restaurant’s signage. Guadalajara’s elevation leaves its climate rather temperate, with cool mornings and crisp evenings until the rainy season. The patio out front allows patrons to sip their beers al aire libre while the industrial-chic dining room affords views of the open kitchen. The clipboarded paper menu features an array of classic to creative burgers, a few salads and sides, and a lengthy list of Mexican craft brews, broken out by region. Foremost is the establishment’s native state of Jalisco, its neighbors Colima and Michoacán, followed by the thriving craft regions of Tijuana and Baja California south of San Diego.
It’s hot in Mexico. A light, crisp lager is probably among the more refreshing options to wet your whistle. If visions of Corona just danced through your head, you’re not alone. But perhaps owing to the very ubiquity of Pacifico and their ilk, the first aim of new breweries seems to be richer, maltier, fuller-flavored beers to set themselves apart while, given today’s craft climate, IPA’s are popular no matter the Köppen classification. Thus IPA’s become a sort of barometer down south: everybody’s making them, but they’re usually too malty, so while they’re miles away from the typical lagers, they’re more like slightly hoppy amber ales, or English in style at best. If you find a dank West Coast-style American IPA, it’s probably a safe bet the rest of that brewery’s offerings are dialed in. I started with the IIPA from nearby Morelia’s La Brü, still a bit malty but much improved over some of the other IPA’s I’ve tried elsewhere in Mexico. The Barracuda from the local Tapatía 7 Mares Cervecería was rather disappointing with buttery off-flavors, but man, how quickly my flight abruptly changed course. The Hop Hop Hurra from (also local) Santa Sabina was probably the best IPA I’ve yet had from a Mexican brewery. Citrus and pine resin aromas wafted from the glass, a crisp hop bite followed without any biscuity heavy-handed malt. Truly American in style, the Hop Hop Hurra lives up to its name with 5 hops and an additional dry hopping, according to the brewery.
When eating in Mexico, I stick to the típicos of the region I’m in, mariscos in Veracruz, cabrito in Monterrey, birria in Guadalajara. If you’re looking for hamburgers, you’re probably going to be stuck with international chains or a perfunctory American section on menus for timid eaters. But the burgers at Pig’s Pearls might just lure you away from your tacos and tortas. Artisanal ingredients and locally sourced accoutrements are the order of the day, from classic beef to pork and portobello, specialty pesto and chimichurri burgers, or the savory-sweet maple burger, to which I was inexorably drawn. A 1/3 lb sirloin burger wrapped in bacon and lacquered with maple syrup came out on a wheat and rye bun with grated cheddar cheese and a crown of caramelized onions. The pink juicy mound of a patty ran the full taste spectrum, aided and abetted by the delicately bitter, excellent La Lupulosa from Tijuana’s Cervecería Insurgente.
On my fourth IPA and a sated belly, it was time to cruise back to the hotel. My taxi had dutifully returned at the appointed time – having opined upon drop-off that there wouldn’t be many passing by when I was ready to leave – but I couldn’t help lamenting my inability to linger awhile longer. From street vendors to swanky business dinners I’ve eaten my way through Mexico, but a wistfulness swept over me, a wave of familiarity as if I were still back in Houston, sitting on the patio having a burger at the Hubcap Grill or the Hay Merchant, washed down with craft beer. Mustachioed servers and tattoed chefs and skinny-jeaned patrons – I could have been in Portland. No matter what we read in the news, there’s something universal about a juicy burger and a cold beer. We may act like swine, but every now and again a pearl gets tossed our way.