The small but passionate craft beer community in Mexico has always had an uphill battle. But despite the many barriers to entry confronting them, the market has grown steadily over the years. It used to be nigh impossible to find craft beer on business trips down south, with most hotel and bar taps dominated by the big duopoly of Mexican beer. Eventually a few breweries like Cucapá managed to nudge their way into distribution, and chains like the Beer Box popped up where you can find local brews. Now you can even find the young trendsetters eating artisanal burgers at restaurants serving exclusively craft beer.
Fitting perhaps that I found Beer for Us, one of Mexico’s best pub-cum-bottleshops, in Monterrey – basically the Milwaukee of Mexico, since Cervecería Cuauhtémoc¹ became the first large-scale industrial brewer when they launched Carta Blanca there in 1890. Taking up that mantle today are craft brewers like Sierra Madre, Propaganda, and Albur.
Heading west from the bustling Garza Sada thoroughfare, Alfonso Reyes transitions from a commercial avenue into a lovely tree-lined boulevard wending its way through the Contry El Tesoro neighborhood at the feet of Monterrey’s iconic Cerro de la Silla. The first level of Beer for Us is the bottle shop, where the staff will proudly show off their wares. And while the Mexican selection is broad, international distribution is still a crapshoot, so you’ll still see Stella in the Belgian section, or Blue Moon in the American, but it also means you’ll find the odd Cuban brew too². Buy downstairs first, since the shop closes earlier, but order from the waiters if you go upstairs.
I happened to be in town during the Copa America, so patrons streamed into the bar area upstairs as the games got under way. The beer list is about as extensive as the selection downstairs, with numerous local (i.e. Mexican) options on tap. The food was elevated pub fare, like bourbon glazed short ribs, with many of the spicier dishes complemented by some refreshingly hoppy IPA’s. The stereotypical Mexican beer has always been a straw-colored lager like Corona, or malt-heavy like a Negra Modelo, even early attempts at IPA tasted malty, more English at best than American in style. But today, many Mexican craft breweries have hit upon classically US west coast-style IPAs, especially Monterrey’s own Propaganda Brewing, making some of the best pales anywhere. Their Bagha Super IPA I’d put up against some of the best I’ve found stateside, along with Baja California’s Cervecería Wendlandt and their Vaquita Marina pale. Wolf iconography on labels makes a useful shorthand for hoppy beers in Mexico, like rams on German bocks, such as Cerveza Fauna’s Lycan Lupus IPA³.
So good was the food and beverage that I had to go back a second night for more of the Copa America and spinning the flavor wheel of Mexico’s craft offerings, like the Belgian-style saison Belga Sicótica from Tijuana’s Border Psycho Brewery. The industry still has a ways to go south of the border, but there are more and more diamonds to be found in the rough. Look for any of the three Beer for Us locations in the Monterrey area.
¹Cuauhtemoc is now part of the FEMSA conglomerate which produces Tecate, Dos Equis, Sol, and many other familiar brands.
²Mmm, tastes like treason.
³Lúpulos (“hops” in Spanish, cf. “lupulin”) > little wolf (lupus in Latin, lobo in Spanish)