I was born in Milwaukee, once famous for its beers. When I moved to Mexico, I happily found beers just as good as those in my old home town and several much better.
A few powerful breweries, however, controlled the market and forbade the sale of competing beers in their territories. Dark beers I especially appreciated, such as Noche Buena and Negro Modelo, were often hard to find in Jalisco. The only place I could find Cerveza León was in the refrigerator of a meat packer who happened to be from the Yucatán, where León is made, and he would occasionally drive it 1,850 kilometers to his store in Zapopan.
In recent years a beer revolution has taken place. Microbreweries have popped up all over Mexico, offering competition where there was none before. Local brew Minerva was one of the first, and to my amazement, I found I could buy a Mexican stout that seemed to me every bit as good as Guinness ... and far cheaper.
This happy state of affairs just keeps getting better as more and more competition appears – also from abroad. A few days ago my friend Michael Boudey announced he would be holding the next session of his popular Jazz in the Woods event at “a beer garden on the Nogales Road, owned by the Fortuna Microbrewery.”
What’s this? A new maker of craft beer practically in my own back yard that I knew nothing about?
I remedied that situation by calling Karla Navarro, the public relations representative at Cerveza Fortuna and requested an interview.
“Come visit us on Monday,” she said, “and I’ll give you a tour as well as an interview.”
Fortuna is located 14 kilometers west of the Periférico, immediately after the entrance to the Puerto Vallarta toll road. I was met by Karla Navarro as well as Juan José Morales, director of the brewery, and one of the four founders of Fortuna. I asked him how they got started.
“It all began during a trip to California,” Morales explained. “We tried an ale there that was simply out of this world. We were familiar with beer made by Mexican microbreweries, but what we found in California was far superior and we wondered why.”
Morales and friends investigated and came to the conclusion that the secret of making perfect ale was to use nothing but the four classic ingredients of beer: malt, hops, water and yeast, adding no preservatives. “On top of that,” added Morales, “we don’t pasteurize our beer. Instead we follow a very strict regimen for keeping it refrigerated, from the moment it’s bottled here at our plant until it’s poured into your glass. We aim to be the very best in Mexico for quality.”
Reflecting on all this, I realized that normally, cases of beer are transported and stored at room temperature, perhaps for a long time, before they’re finally placed in the refrigerator prior to drinking. Would the lack of preservatives and pasteurization really make a significant difference in the flavor of beer? I was soon to find out.
First, I took a tour of the brewery which lasted just over an hour. The place is gleaming and the equipment is ultra-modern, with LED screens flashing left and right. The tour is very personalized, allowing you to smell, touch and taste the barley and hops and to get a good look at every step that transforms them into the products that are eventually stored in a huge cold locker whose temperature is maintained at exactly 11 degrees Centigrade. Along the way, I met Fortuna’s braumeister, Marcelo Oehninger, a “Swiss Chileno” and one of a few Mexican brewmasters fully trained and certified in Germany.
At last I reached Fortuna’s large Salón de Eventos and beer garden, which, combined, can accommodate up to 200 people.
“We are the first stop along the Ruta de Tequila (Tequila Route) and the only brewery,” Karla Navarro told me. “A visit to our garden is just the thing to get people in the right mood for visiting the distilleries.”
The garden is really special. Huge Indian Laurels provide shade for paths lined with aromatic plants such as rosemary and mint. At the bar I was introduced to five craft beers made by Fortuna. In addition, quite a few other brands are available. I sampled their California Ale and IPA, which stands for India Pale Ale, brewed with an unusually large amount of hops, a formula developed by the British to preserve their beer during the long hot voyage from England to India.
I was amazed. I found both of these ales delicious. I could taste different subtle flavors in each, which I might imagine came from spices, had I known nothing had been added. I must mention that I’m not a fan of ales, but these two totally captivated me. I guess I experienced just what Fortuna’s four founding fathers felt when they tried craft ale in California and decided to bring it to Mexico.
Fortuna offers tours in Spanish or English from Tuesday to Friday 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Call Navarro at least a day in advance to set up a tour (minimum six persons). Call (33) 3627-7132 for details. Likewise, call in advance to buy bottled beer or draft in a glass or metal growler.
How to get there
Ask Google Maps to take you to “Cerverceria Fortuna” in Zapopan. From the Periférico it’s only a 20-minute drive.