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Guadalajara starts to take beer seriously

If your interest in Mexican beer runs no further than nestling a bottle of chilled Corona with a lime wedge stuffed in the nozzle as you hang out with friends, then you should probably stop reading now.

pg5bFor those with more adventurous tastes looking to expand their knowledge about Mexico’s burgeoning craft beer scene, read on. Conversing with the Reporter recently was beer expert Erik Jibran Casanova Diaz, who rules the roost at Craft Beer Bottle Shop & Taproom, a compact cerveza artesenal emporium in Guadalajara’s leafy Colonia Chapalita.

Boxes of beers stacked up to the ceiling with cute names – Belching Beaver, Booming Roller, Mallow Mafia – are the first sign that this is no run-of-the-mill Guadalajara drinking hole or craft beer venue. Although some might describe him as a “beer nerd,” Casanova can become almost poetic when he starts talking about cerveza and how the craft beer industry in Mexico has exploded in recent years. Beers that push the envelope are what really turn him on – especially flavors that marry to Mexican cuisine.

“The Mexican palate is so varied. Microbrewers are getting their inspiration from our coffee, cocoa, mole, pilloncillo, cinnamon,  spices, herbs, fruits – evoking the flavors which have special resonance for us,” he says.

pg5cCasanova is among the first generation of beer sommeliers in Guadalajara to graduate from a course run by the Academia Mexicana de Eno-Gastronomía (Ameg). The year-long program not only covers production processes and techniques but also the history of beer making around the world.   

This means when a new beer arrives at his bar, Casanova is fully qualified to discern its quality and assess its characteristics. Unlike at many rival craft beer venues in Guadalajara – and they’re popping up like daises these days, especially in the Avenida Chapultepec zone – he is able to talk tasters through their experience with consummate authority.   

While most similar venues in the city offer between 60 to 70 beers, Craft Beer has a selection of around 140. He sells at least 30 brands produced by Guadalajara microbreweries, many of which only opened within the past five years. Casanova says he also stocks rare brands that patrons are unlikely to find at any other craft beer venue in the city.

pg6bWhile the majority of Mexican craft beers sell for less than 70 pesos a bottle, imbibers with deeper pockets and bolder urgings can splurge on higher-priced imported brews, such as a one-pint bottle of Mexico-inspired Bad Baptista (Epic Brewing Co., Salt Lake City) for 600 pesos, or even a Westvleteren XII, produced at the Trappist Abbey of Saint Sixtus in Vleteren, Belgium, which will set you back a cool 900 pesos for a 335-milliliter bottle. Some knowledgable beer experts have designated this beer as the best in the world.

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Casanova has been working in the city’s beer sector for almost a decade and says he is now ready to concoct his own brew. Along with two fellow sommelier graduates he is developing a beer based on a little-known Jalisco cocktail known as “nite,” which is made from raicilla (a distilled spirit made from the agave plant) and fresh fruits.

He’s in no hurry, he says with a smile, adding that like the “slow food” movement, getting his beer to the stage when it’s ready to present to the world will take just the time it requires.

Craft Beer Bottle Shop & Taproom, Avenida Tepeyac 497, Local 4. Open Tuesday to Thursday, 4 p.m. to midnight; Friday and Saturday, 4 p.m. to 1 a.m.; Sunday, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Closed Mondays. Telephone: 333-201-2238.

Five of the best Guadalajara-made craft beers

1. Horchata Ale (Cervecera Lola). A white stout inspired by horchata, Mexico’s popular sweet rice milk beverage. Aromas of cinnamon and other spices. 8-percent proof. 65 pesos a bottle.

2. Canalla (Cervecera Ambulante). An American strong ale, brewed with U.S. hops, with aromas of passion fruit and mango. “Engañoso (deceptive),” says Casanova. “Goes down easily but two bottles and you’ll be feeling quite happy.” Ambulante’s beer master Abraham Espadas is one of the most innovative in Mexico, he says. 7.5-percent proof. 60 pesos a bottle.

3. Maleficio (Cervecera Barrio Chico). Award-winning Porter, with aromas of toasted malt, chocolate and coffee. 5.5-percent proof. 45 pesos a bottle.   

4. Stout de Olla (Cervecera Santa Sabina). An Aro Rojo 2019 award winner with aromas of cafe de olla and chocolate. “Good example of the alchemy of beer making,” Casanova says. “Brewer tricks you into thinking you are drinking cafe de olla.” 6.8-percent proof. 50 pesos a bottle.

5. Zorra Berry Summer Ale (Cervecera Zorra). A lighter beer with the aroma of fresh raspberry. “Refreshing and totally unique. One of my favorites,” Casanova says.  4.8-percent proof. 55 pesos a bottle.  Zorra also produces a Red India Pale Ale, Wheat Summer Ale, Imperial Peanut Stout and Rye Golden Ale.

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