Exploring the craft beer scene in Oaxaca
Beer is one of the world’s oldest fermented beverages–a hymn to the goddess of brewing was even discovered on a Sumerian clay tablet dated to 1800 BC. While the tradition of beer-making in Mexico doesn’t go back quite that far, it does date to 1542 when Emperor Carlos V of Spain granted Alfonso de Herrera permission to open a cerveceria in the Americas. Mexico quickly established a reputation as a nation of beer lovers and big brands such as Corona, Sol and Victoria became synonymous with good times. Recently, there’s been a surge of interest in small-batch, artisanal beer. One of the newest and most exciting destinations for craft beer aficionados is the state of Oaxaca.
I had the opportunity to explore this developing scene as part of the launch of the inaugural Spirit of Oaxaca Mexico: Mezcal & Beer Lovers’ Cultural Tour in November 2013. Led by Oliver Dawson a beer expert who established his career at The Upper Canada Brewing Co., Toronto’s original micro-brewery and Alvin Starkman, co-owner of Oaxaca Culinary Tours, the seven-day tour introduced us to mezcal, pulque (a popular fermented beverage made from agave) and artisanal beer.
One of the pleasures of craft beer is the diversity of taste. In between stops at iconic landmarks such as Monte Alban and Hierve el Agua frozen waterfalls, tour participants were tutored on the distinctive flavors of fresh, natural ingredients such as barley, wheat and hops during a special event at La Olla restaurant in Oaxaca City where Chef Pilar Cabrera created a four-course menu paired with Tempus beer, Mexico’s first altbier, a traditional style German ale, brewed by Primus Brewery.
We also explored special cuisine during Day of the Dead festivities.
Another of the first stops along the beer-tasting route was at Oaxaca’s first micro-brewery, Teufel Cervezas Artesanales, perched above a lush valley in San Andres Huayapam. Brewmaster Fernando Bolaños and his wife Fernanda Suelto spent six years in Germany honing their brewing skills and their ever-evolving line of award-winning beer includes Babalao a medium-bodied ancient ale featuring malted blue corn and Chica Mala, an Imperial Red Ale with the lovely aroma of rosita de cacao, an ingredient more typically seen in the chocolate-maize drink known as tejate. Although demand for their beer is high, Teufel is committed to small-batch quality and produces only 150 cases per month.
Some of this fine-quality artisanal beer is making its way to Puerto Escondido on the coast. Currently, the most extensive selection of Mexican craft beer is available at Beer O’Clock on the Rinconada where owner Virginie (from France) and Brewmaster Patrick (from Quebec, Canada) offer a nicely-curated selection of more than 80 craft beer from around the world including Eel River, America’s first certified Organic Brewery as well as Mexican craft beer such as Minerva, Cucapa, Tempus and Teufel.
Other spots serving artisanal beer in Puerto Escondido include Almoraduz Restaurant near Playa Principal on the Adoquin where chef Quetzalcoatl Zurita Bustamente, who is a firm proponent of locally-sourced cuisine, offers Bendito, a nano-cerveceria beer (claro and oscuro) brewed in Santa Catarina Juiquila, located between Oaxaca City and Puerto Escondido, and an important pilgrimage site for the revered Virgin of Juiquila.
So, the next time you’re thinking of having a beer, think small (and big taste) and reach for one of the new artisanal craft beers from Oaxaca, Mexico.
Oaxaca Culinary Tours: Custom tours with beer and culinary pairings are available. www.oaxacaculinarytours.com
Beer Lovers Tours: Learn more about beer and take a beer-themed tour with the pros.
Beer O’Clock: Located on Calle del Morro on the Zicatela Strip. Open 1:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. daily
Almoraduz located on the Rincondada in Puerto Escondido offers a selection of Mexican craft beer Open 8:00 am-11:00 pm daily
Learn more about what to drink in Oaxaca in A Beginner’s Guide to Mezcal.