Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Craft Beers At Drinks

The evenings in San Miguel this time of year are clear and warm and the streets are uncrowded. It feels perfect for stepping out for a few beers with friends.

I had heard of a recent addition to the San Miguel bar scene, a place called Drinks, that boasts a wide selection of specialty wines and hard to find Mexican and import beers. So, armed with an unquenchable thirst, I went to meet a couple beer loving friends to see if Drinks has what it takes to satisfy my desires for a good ale in Mexico.

This discrete establishment is just a niche in one of the historic colonial structures located close to the jardin but carries a wide variety of interesting beer. Owner, Jose Antonio opened for business just six months ago after being so impressed with the quality of a barley wine he sampled that was brewed by Cucapa Brewing. He launched Drinks on the premise that, like himself, the people of Mexico are ready to expand their beer interests beyond the traditional 'claro and obscura' lagers put out by the dominant brewers, Modelo and Moctezuma.

The entrance to this ancient spanish colonial building belies the modern interior design. A narrow stretch of table continues along both side walls and are underlit with blue neon. Spot lights brighten the ultra white walls and behind the back bar is a shelving system that displays the numerous choices of beers from all over Mexico. A kind of trance jazz plays on the stereo sytem.

Some of the breweries represented are Minerva Brewing of Guadalajara, Cucapa Brewing of Mexicali, Baja California and Tijuana Guera of Tijuana, Baja California.
Mario and Cameron soon arrived and we began our tasting by sharing a couple of import beers, Fullers IPA and Bombardier premium bitter. Of course we had to taste a few Mexican micro brews including a wheat beer called Templario from the Cerveceria Siglo Trece or Thirteenth Centurey Brewery.

Soon I noticed a bottle of La Chouffe "McChouffe" on display and asked Jose Antonio (pictured in this post) about it. He didn't have any stock at the time and he must have noted my dissapointment (see tear running down cheek) because he quickly put the display sample in the refrigerator to chill it for me. After some time of drinking and using my bad spanish with Mario about the homebrewing scene in Mexico, Jose Antonio returned with the Belgian Ale. He poured samples for us all and after a studied taste I declared it the best beer I've ever had in Mexico. It was a great end to a wonderful experience at Drinks!

Drinks can be found at Correo No. 17 Centro, San Miguel De Allende and if you're in San Miguel or visiting soon, Jose Antonio's also own a car rental business that I have used and recommend.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Beer And Food Pairing Event II

Wow, what a week! My brewing adventures in Mexico this year culminated in another successful beer event held at 'El Burrito Bistro' in San Miguel de Allende. Owner Noren, came up with a great food pairing for the beers again this year. The meal began with appetizers to match my IIPA, a main course selection of either lamb, salmon or eggplant that paired well with a honey ale and dessert burritos with vanilla ice cream for the weizenbock. Everyone gave great praise for the food and the beer.

Because we held this dinner late in the season here, the turn out was about half of what it was last year which led to a stress free evening compared to last year's frenzy. I got caught up in the moment, serving and talking about the beers with people, and didn't get the pictures I wanted. Fortunately, my friend Carlos sent me a few he had taken of the appetizer and dessert. Alas, no shots of the main course.

Double India Pale Ale

Weizenbock with dessert

We've been here in Mexico for close to five months this year and I've spent a lot of time and energy brewing and getting involved in the local beer scene. I'm exhausted from the constant focus on beer. I'm also worn out by this city's high altitude, thin, dry dusty air, stuggling with the language and non stop socializing. I'm looking forward to our return to Santa Cruz with it's sea level atmosphere and pristine beauty. Can't wait for that first walk on the beach and breath in the ocean air. Not to mention those nearly year old bottles of homebrewed Russian imperial stout I've got stashed in our storage unit that are calling my name. Those and a couple of kegs of weizenbock and schwarzbeir that have been in the kegerator this whole time, yum.
We'll continue our stay in San Miguel until the end of March at which point the plan is to visit Guadalajara for several day. I've heard that there are a couple of micro breweries there and I'm looking forward to checking them out and if there's time maybe a Tequilla distillary.
In the mean time I've got serious plans to lay around and do nothing but soak up the sun and try my best to drink all of the homebrew that has accumulated around here.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Beer And Food Pairing Event

Guest writer and owner of 'El Burrito Bistro' Noren Caceres, writes about the upcoming event at her restaurant in San Miguel that matches homebrew with her specially designed menu.

Second Annual Artisan Ale and Food Pairing

Mark Taylor, Californian "Professor" of home-brew, is back with three San Miguel brewed ales to share with fellow beer lovers. His beer is not like what we pop open on a hot day or wash down with a spicy bite. His are flavors for thought, aromas that bear recollections, ales that develop and transform with each sip. This year Mark's brew is strong. Ales that taunt your palate between bitter and sweet, rich in hops, grains and spices, along with a high alcohol volume, creating a unique beer tasting experience.

Pairing these beers with food is a challenge. Each beer is so rich, complex and complete on its own. The Imperial IPA is a beer "all about the hops," describes Mark. And indeed it is. It reminded me of a store I worked at during college in Boston where they sold fresh hops. When you opened that refrigerator door filled with baggies of a wide variety of hops the smell surrounded you by damp, fresh moss of a deep, green forest, so lush that only flashes of sky and streaks of light could creep through. Sipping the Imperial takes you there.

But what about food? I'm looking for foods that allow you to play with the flavors. So you can ask yourself, for example "what does the Imperial taste like with the memory of mole on my tongue?" So, we will start with 3 mini sopes. One topped with chicken in a dark, sweet mole, one with creamy rajas and another with fresh cheese baked in smoky chipotle tomato sauce. We will follow with the Honey Red Ale, the lightest of the three, a traditional pale ale made with honey from the Tuesday market. Its mellow sweetness followed by a grapefruit bitter will be accompanied by a lamb, salmon or eggplant mixiote on a pillow of plantain tamal wrapped and steamed in a banana leaf and served with cilantro rice. And for dessert the Weizenbock. A German beer brewed equally with wheat and malted barley, spiced with clove, nutmeg and cinnamon with hints of vanilla and dried fruits. This beer will be served with a fried crepe filled with sweet citron requeson (a Mexican ricotta) topped with cajeta and a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

If you are interested in joining us for our second annual Mark Taylor/Burrito Bistro Beer Pairing event seating times will be at 2:00, 4:30 and 7:00 pm on Sunday March 21 at El Burrito Bistro, Correo #45. The cost will be $250 pesos per person, there is only enough beer for 60, so this event will be by reservation only. You can reserve at 1548956 or email at

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Easy Siphon Technique

Back in the day when I was fermenting in glass carboys and bottling my beer, I always came up against my feelings of intimidation when it was time to start a siphon, racking from one vessel to the next. My worries came from an exaggerated fear of contamination as I stumbled to get the flow started and fought with hoses as I lost it completely and attempted to start it over again. But after a short time I quickly became proficient at it and now it comes as second nature. These days, even though I use fermenters with valves for easy transfer, there is still the occasion when it's necessary for me to siphon and I also teach the technique in my brewing classes. The following steps illustrate what I have found to be the easiest and most effective way to siphon for the least cost in materials.

Granted, there are some brewing devices on the market like Morebeers'
sterile siphon starter and Northern Brewers' auto siphon, but this post is to show the beginner how easy and inexpensive it can be to start a siphon with the basics.

To begin with I am assuming that at the time you're ready to rack that there is a bucket or keg full of sanitizer for the purpose of transfers.

The key to this process is holding and moving the hose and cane with one hand to prevent the liquid from escaping.

  1. Submerge transfer hose into sanitizing solution insuring that the entire length of hose fills with the solution. It is important that the hose fills with the sanitizer, it is ineffective to coil or bunch up the hose and push the whole wad down at once. The way I make sure the hose fills is by starting one end of the hose down in the liquid and threading the hose down evenly coiling down into the bucket as I go.

  2. Place racking cane in the sanitizer.

  3. After a couple minutes of soaking it's time to remove the hose.

  4. While submerged, grab both ends of the filled hose and place evenly in one hand. Lift the hose out of the solution.
  5. Lift one end of the hose slightly higher then the other end to cause some liquid to come out, leaving a couple inches of empty space at each end of the hose. Again, place both ends of hose evenly in one hand.
  6. Take racking cane out of solution with free hand and shake off excess liquid. You will do this while still holding the hose evenly with the other hand.

  7. Stab the racking cane into one end of the hose. Now you should be holding both ends of hose along with the cane in one hand.

  8. Still with one hand, carefully lift and lower the cane into the vessel to be siphoned.

  9. Now simply drop the free end of hose to start the siphon.

  10. Pinch the hose where it connects to the cane to eliminate trapped air bubble.

  11. Run sanitizer from hose onto the ground or a bucket and then divert beer flow to receiving vessel.

It seems complicated reading all the above instructions but doing the procedure once and it will all make complete sense. Again, the secret to this success is having the assembled hose/cane in one hand.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

'Cabrito' Tequila Drink

I'm going a little off the path of beer here, with a short review of this interesting find. While scanning the limited selection of beers in the local supermercado recently, desperately hoping for a miracle, (like stumbling across a Belgian ale or some other unique beer that had mysteriously slipped across the border undetected, and landed here on my grocery isle), an unusual product caught my eye and prompted me to spend some of my rapidly evaporating pesos. Not beer, no, but a canned and carbonated alcoholic beverage non the less.

Cabrito, the tequila embued grapefruit drink. Not just plain old grapefruit juice but "El autentico de Toronja!" according to the label. Reading the can, I discovered that this modestly alcoholic beverage (5.8% abv) is made of carbonated water, tequila blanco, sugar and grapefruit concentrate. Tequila Cabrito or tequila kid (like the goat) in english, is a product made by the Tequila Centinela company in Jalisco, Mexico.
From the Centinela website :
"The Tequilana Weber blue agave grown in this region in the highlands of Jalisco, is the raw material only at maturity is selected to produce the Tequila Centinela, acknowledged to be 100% agave. The procurement process is conducted in modern facilities, designed to use the traditional method. Includes cooking in brick ovens and fermentation with "strains" obtained from the same agave juice. Rich also has a rigorous quality control that is based on the latest technology. After double distilled the rest period for the different Tequila Centinela, is made in oak casks or barrels under white light conditions, temperature and humidity traditional. "

The flavor is suprisingly good. Crisp, citrusy, and tangy. Very similar to a well made margarita but with the difference of the grapefruit flavor and a little on the sweet side but not so much that I couldn't finish the 12oz. can. But like the can suggests, it is best served very cold to retain the crispness and ward off the cloying sweetness that gathers speed as you finish a glass.

Not a bad find for a man in my desperate position here in San Miguel. Although, I do keep the dream alive every time I walk the length of the beer coolers full of light Mexican lagers. Someday a good ale will find it's way into the local grocery store. Maybe Pliney the Elder.

If you live in Mexico and know of a good place to find imported beer, leave a comment here for all us desperately deprived beer lover. Your efforts will be greatly appreciated.
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