April 12, 2017–While the world bubbles over with international conflict, one Hill Country enterprise is quietly working diplomacy using currency that is truly bubbly–beer.
“We’re celebrating our fifth anniversary with a new beer–Pedernales/Albur Chico Temido–the first true TexMex collaboration,” said John West, Head Brewer at Pedernales Brewing Company (PBC).
In 2015, PBC’s Mexican distributors came up with the idea for a cross border collaboration. West and Peter McFarland, PBC Brewmaster, had already had success with their line of Lobo beers, seasonal brews, and “hop bombs.” They also worked with Robert Earl Keene to create the popular Honey Pils. But teaming with Mexican brewers would be a first.
They contacted Victor Soto, Brewer, and Fernando Garza, Brewer and co-founder of Cerveceria Albur in Monterrey, Mexico, and began tossing ideas back and forth.
“Before we went down there, we Skyped several times a week and texted every day for months, figuring out recipes and working out logistics,” West said. “We were also able to get ingredients and supplies they can’t.”
McFarland and West decided to bring the hops and yeast from the States. They sealed it in kegs, and admitted to a little nervousness crossing the border.
“You don’t want any contamination in the yeast,” West said. “So it needed to stay sterile, and we were terrified the border guards would open it.”
That didn’t happen. But there was culture shock. Apparently Texans and Mexicans have different palates. Or, as brewing insiders like to describe them, “taste profiles.”
“Mexico likes its beer to be sweeter and have lower alcohol,” said Albur’s Soto. “We are not used to bitter beers. We try to be respectful with the beer styles and give our customers what they want, and still have IBUs, but not in the bitter range.”
For the non-alcohol acolyte, IBU is insider shorthand for the International Bittering Units scale, used to quantify the bitterness of beer. As a gauge, most American mass market beers hover at the low end between 5 and 10 IBUs. Guinness sits at 40 IBUs. Imperial IPAs–Indian Pale Ales–top out at 100 IBUs.
But part of the mission for craft brewers is to educate the consumers. Mexican drinkers are in the transition period from mass beer to craft beer.
“In Monterrey and in Mexico, people are starting to get into craft beer,” Garza said. “We have to slowly ease them into it.”
This past March, Soto and Garza restored the trade balance by shuttling to Fredericksburg to help brew up the American batch of Chico Temido. PBC brewers are using the exact same recipe as in Mexico’s release, but bumped up the alcohol content and the IBUs.
“Where theirs was 4.8% alcohol and 19 IBUs, ours is closer to 6% and 42,” West said. “Our market wants a stronger beer.”
The other chemistry important to the exchange is the personal kind.
“We had a lot of doubts at first,” Soto admitted, explaining that it was the first lager for Albur. “They are larger, and we had to learn a lot working with other equipment. But in the end, we made a friendship.”
They also made some good beer. Albur’s Chico Temido was released in the fall, and in November won best German Pilsner at Copa Cerveza. It performed so well they are brewing it year round.
North of the border, the Texas version will debut April 29. If you want to taste it, get in line. The Texas batch of Chico Temido will be limited to 100 slim kegs (a slim keg holds just over five gallons). And some of that will go back to Mexico for “side by side” taste tests with their version.
If you miss out on this round, don’t fret–continued beer diplomacy is likely. Both breweries are keen to try more of these “one off” beers.
“In the brewing community, brewers really help each other out,” McFarland said. “Some people think everything’s a big secret, but it’s not. It is the sharing of information that keeps the industry growing.”
In a nod to the political situation, West assures beer drinkers that even a wall won’t interfere with future Mexican/Texan brewing partnerships.
“You can’t ever stop the cervéza from flowing!”
Pedernales Brewing Company will celebrate their fifth year in production on April 29 from noon until 6 p.m. In addition to debuting Chico Temido, they will pour all of their core and seasonal beers, including selections from their “library”–refrigerated samples from all past creations. There will be a food truck and live music. They are located on Hwy 87 just south of Fredericksburg. More details are at www.pedernalesbrewing.com.