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The sunny, dry Oaxacan climate creates the perfect setting for enjoying cold drinks. While Oaxaca is known worldwide for its mezcal production, it’s beer that’s easily the most popular drink across the state. Whether served in ice-cold glasses with a plate of salty peanuts, alongside juicy tacos or guacamole, beer – affordable and easier to handle than other spirits – is very likely to be the local drink of choice.
One of the oldest alcoholic drinks in history, beer entails a universe of styles, flavors and textures continually explored by brewers all around the world, and Oaxaca doesn’t want to be left behind.

The first samples of local craft beer started around 2012 as the backroom experiment of a group of friends who enjoyed food and drinks and foresaw Oaxaca’s impending culinary boom. Among them was José María “Chema” Álvarez (now 39), who had started the first online restaurant guide in town, Pruébalo (“Taste it”). Álvarez’s constant explorations in restaurants led him to the world of craft beer. In 2014, after a two-year journey to learn from producers in other parts of Mexico, Álvarez started the Consejo Cervecero Oaxaqueño, the brand that opened the world of true beer to a whole generation of Oaxacans. To this day, CCO’s signature beers, the “Rey Oh Baby,” a bitter, velvety pale ale; and the bold, strong “Boy Stout” are a symbol of consistency and maintain the flavors that first captivated local beer drinkers a few years ago.

In 2016, after consolidating as a local brand and with the goal of expanding CCO’s bottled and beer-on-tap styles, as well as collaborations with other brewers, Chema opened the CCO Tasting Room in a then “unexplored” area of town, Colonia Reforma. “I had the sort of biergarten idea in mind, where people could engage in the experience of tasting artisanal beer and not just simply going to a bar,” explains Álvarez. In CCO’s Tasting Room, we can find other seasonal bottled and tap beers, like the St. Patrick’s day Punta Colorada red ale, Berliners, and sour beers, as well as hearty dishes that match with the drinks, such as burgers, sausages, salads, and non-alcoholic drinks, like artisanal sodas and the house’s sparkling water.

As a gourmand himself, Álvarez understands well the importance of a good pairing of Oaxacan food and quality beer. “Cooks design dishes around wines, but sometimes they overlook the quality of the beer for pairing with food. As local brewers, we need to keep working for better beer-food pairings where beer is also elevated,” he explains. Besides paving the way for other brands, to this day, the CCO keeps promoting a craft beer drinking culture with affordable prices for all, “At the end of the day, yes, it is craft beer and supplies are more expensive, but it is still beer and the most democratic drink of all,” Álvarez adds.

With a similar idea of democracy in mind, Valeria Rivas, 37, and Rubén González, 39, decided in 2016 to bring a taste of the Mexican West Coast to the Oaxacan crowd through the Oaxaca Brewing Company. Rivas, Oaxaca born and contagiously energetic, spent her school years between here and Ensenada, Baja California. Soon enough, she realized that Oaxaca could be a good place for beer lovers. “I could picture the ladies that traditionally enjoy beers in vibrant Oaxacan celebrations experimenting with an intense IPA. Unlike years ago, now you can see older ladies playing cards while enjoying the ‘good strong beer’ they were craving,” she explains. Rivas decided to dedicate herself to her beer crafting mission, and invited González, old time friend, beer lover and brewer-in-crime, to join her, leaving everything behind in Ensenada except for their recipes and never-ending curiosity.

“We used to spend a lot of money on beer, so at some point it became a natural transition to start making our own,” explains González. “Then we realized that in Oaxaca, we could draw inspiration from the blooming food and drink scene.” OBC signature beers are expressive and strong West Coast IPAs, but they also have a selection to satisfy the locals’ requests for lagers, dark beers and fruity ales. Although their operations as a brand started officially in 2018, OBC opened their cozy tap room Punta Cabras in 2020 where, in addition to beer, they also have great gin tonics, artisanal sodas, and Baja-style tacos and sea food dishes. OBC’s love for the Pacific has grown to the point that they opened a second tap room in Puerto Escondido a few months ago.

Fearlessness and improvement are a constant in Oaxaca’s craft beer scene, and a undoubtedly crucial element for David Jimenez Quiroz (37), founder of the hip Don Guanabana, a brand that just like the tropical fruit in its name, guanabana (soursop), refreshes palates with their tasty session IPAs, IPAs and American stouts, as well as with other seasonal creations, like CBD infused IPAs and a summer pale ale with a touch of lemongrass. After a brief start in 2017 and a pause to work abroad and immerse himself in the beer world, in 2019, Quiroz was able to return and create recipes that fit his interpretation of good beer, ideal for Oaxaca weather and the local demand.

“DG beers are easily enjoyed with our climate and are honest with our customers,” he explains. “A lot of people coming here might not be experts on Oaxaca, but many do know about good beer. My goal is to be up to that challenge: delight experts and introduce beginners.” A mezcal expert as well as a brewer, Quiroz understands the importance of offering a balanced drink that improves the dining experience: “A good IPA can be paired with a green mole, but also with spicy dishes,” he explains. The annual Oaxaca Mezcal Fair now has a local craft beer area where people can get acquainted with noncommercial beers, and Quiroz has also taken a step in that direction. DG’s tasting room, which opened earlier this year and is located inside a food market, includes a space for small producers to showcase their brews. Here, people can try these new beers and all of DG’s selection while enjoying any of the dishes available in the market. “Traditionally [in Oaxaca], there has always been a deep understanding of local ingredients and cooking times, and we brewers must take advantage of that when it comes to beer. We should not be afraid of exploring the new possibilities of Oaxaca as a world-class food and drink destination,” he says. “We must stay fresh and creative.”

María ÍtakaJalil Olmedo

Published on March 22, 2023

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