It happened in Monterrey
In a visit to a brewery in Mexico the secret of eternal youth is discovered
The producers of Corona, the brewing company Modelo, of Mexico City, once arranged a visit by leading writers on beer. They did not invite me, perhaps understandably. While I accept the right of brewers to make beers that taste more of corn than barley malt, with scarcely a hint of hops, I am scarcely likely to write anything that supports the premium price or fashionability of such products, and have often made this clear. I am glad that Corona earns much-needed income for Mexico, but I would prefer that a beer of more character did the job -- the chocolatey Negra Modelo, for example.
That product no longer exists, but they still have the darker, stronger, Nochebuena, a Christmas brew that was without question my favorite Mexican beer until recently.
The producers of Corona's similar rival Sol, the brewing company Moctezuma, of Guadalajara, Mexico, did once extend an invitation. The attraction for me was to see the brewing of their slightly more characterful beer Dos Equis, in its amber form. I was interested because its color and hint of maltiness makes it a vestigial reminder of a Vienna-style lager. At the time, they also had a fuller-colored version under the label Tres Equis, which was more obviously malty. That product no longer exists, but they still have the darker, stronger, Nochebuena, a Christmas brew that was without question my favorite Mexican beer until recently. Nochebuena is broadly similar in style to a Munich Bock beer.
Moctezuma, which still brews in Guadalajara, later linked with Cuauhtémoc, of Monterrey. (This seems appropriate. Moctezuma was a Mexican king; Cuauhtémoc his son). Each company maintains its own range, brewed with its own yeast, and each has several breweries.
Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey are the country's three great cities. Monterrey is in the foothills of the Sierra Madre, on the river Santa Catarina. That river is today largely dry. Where it does flow, it heads for the Rio Grande, which forms the border between Mexico and Texas. The city of Monterrey was originally a settlement close to the route between Mexico City and San Antonio, Texas. In those days, Mexico ruled Texas.
Monterrey grew as a textile city, using cotton cultivated in the valley of the Rio Grande. It later became an important industrial center, with local minerals (notably limestone), steel, ceramics, glass and brewing. A family from Spain who had settled in Mexico in the 1700s founded the Cuauhtémoc brewery there in 1890.
While Modelo is partly owned by Anheuser-Busch, its rival Moctezuma/Cuauhtémoc is partly held by Interbrew, but the original family remains very much involved.
Among the very light Mexican beers popular in the United States and elsewhere, Corona is the most timid, Sol fractionally less so, and Tecate has a hint of flavor. Tecate is made in a brewery owned by Cuauhtémoc. The company also has a beer called Indio Oscura that is broadly in the Vienna style. The group's mainstream beers are pale and dark lagers under the label Carta Blanca. Draft-only beers very similar in character are marketed as Kloster.
Cuauhtémoc's pride and joy is a beer named for the Czech state of Bohemia. The city of Pilsen is in this state, and both geographical names are familiar to any beer-lover.
The Mexican beer Bohemia was obviously created as a Pilsner-style brew. It was launched some time before 1900, and in the 1960s was given a very stylish bottle and label created by the well-known San Francisco design consultancy Landor.
I was surprised to learn that Bohemia has 30-35 per cent corn starch, but Arnulfo Canales is clearly proud of its clean, firm, smooth, character and gradually-emerging flavors of Styrian hops (23 units of bitterness).
The beer has been re-formulated several times. It has, I suspect, gradually become lighter in body and flavor, as have many beers, not only in Mexico but throughout the world. It was last reformulated 15 years ago, by a very distinguished brewer, Arnulfo Canales, now aged 76. I was surprised to learn that Bohemia has 30-35 per cent corn starch, but Arnulfo Canales is clearly proud of its clean, firm, smooth, character and gradually-emerging flavors of Styrian hops (23 units of bitterness). The beer has a substantial starting gravity of 13 Plato, producing 5.0 per cent alcohol by volume (this is fractionally reduced in some export markets).
I was amused to learn that the brewery once had a beer called Salvator. This won a competition in 1907-8, and the award is still proclaimed in a corridor of the brewery. Presumably the brew was a Double Bock in the style of Paulaner Salvator. In those days, trademarks were a relative novelty, by no means universal. The engaging Arnulfo observed that he was too young to know about the Mexican Salvator.
As if to demonstrate his youthfulness, he took me by the arm and led me at a gallop around the sizable brewery, which straddles a main road. On one side of the road are the imposing original structures, handsome in their imposing red-brick, overgrown with ivy, and topped wth two cupolas. Inside are marble corridors, lined with vitrines containing a collection of glassware; chandeliered stairwells; and pillared brewhouse with copper kettles (still used). The buildings are set around a public beer-garden, and the paths between them are lined with trees and ornamental street lights. Across the road is a modern, stainless-steel, brewhouse, with two kettles and a huge, 850-hecto, lauter tun. This is housed in buildings with a plexiglass tower echoing the cupolas of the original.
Such an impressive brewery should make at least one really big beer, but its relatively light brews nonetheless seem to work for Arnulfo. As we tackled the final staircase, I asked him the secret of his vigor. "Seven beers a day," he replied. I said that I had already wondered what was the correct number, and was grateful for his precision. "Well, it does not have to be exactly seven," he elaborated, "but no more than ten, and no fewer than four."
Published: MAY 3, 2001
In: Beer Hunter Online
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