The American Craft Brewery boom has expanded south of the border…
Earlier this year, we took a two-week vacation in Mexico. Our goal was to check out two areas, Mazatlán and Puerto Vallarta, to determine if either was a destination we could see ourselves moving to. Without going into any detail, we both said a definite “No” to Mazatlán. Puerto Vallarta, on the other hand, I thought was a “Maybe”. Debbie was somewhat less enthusiastic about the idea.
But, that is not what this is about.
Think of a beer you might find in Mexico…Corona, Modelo, Pacifico, Bohemia, Sol are a few that might come to mind. There are others, they all are very similar and none of them could be considered “craft beers”. With very few exceptions, all are a variation on the Vienna Lager or Pilsner style.
Thankfully, there is something new. The micro-brew, craft-brew explosion in the US is spreading out across our southern border. There are small independent breweries popping up across Mexico. An article from May, 2018 on elrestaurante.com quotes Jordan Gardenhire, owner of Baja Brewing Co. in Los Cabos, “I think there are over 600 craft breweries in Mexico now”. Now while that sounds like a large number, compared to over 6000 in the US, it is just a real good start.
Monzón Brewing Co.
From Seattle to Puerto Vallarta… via Mumbai
Reid and Miranda first visited Puerto Vallarta in 2012 on vacation from their native Seattle. The seed was planted for the fantasy of one day living in this tropical paradise.
In 2014, life presented the opportunity to live abroad in Mumbai, India. This sunny, humid, bustling city is where Reid’s already intense love of craft beer grew to even greater levels when he began working at Mumbai’s first craft brewery.
From this exotic home base, they took the opportunity to travel to dozens of cities around India, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. No matter where they visited, they noticed one common social phenomenon – beer has the power to unite people. Although, most cities did not have craft beer and people were drinking mass produced, cheap, insipid lagers, much like what is generally found in Mexico.
When their time in India came to an end, they were not ready to return to Seattle and the corporate nine-to-five jobs. It was time to follow their fantasy and bring the dream to life in Puerto Vallarta… and to start making really interesting, unique beers with fresh ingredients.
This was the beginning of Monzón Brewing Co. The name was inspired by their time in India and being confined indoors for days during a monsoon, enjoying beers with friends. The monsoons sometimes last for up to three months. Monzón is Spanish for monsoon.
The Brewing Philosophy at Monzón:
“To create beer and experiences that make the world feel like a smaller place. To inspire others with a genuine flavor derived from local and innovative ingredients that culminate in curious beers. The environment and local non-profit organizations. Why do we brew beer? To save yourself from boring beer.”
We visited Monzón on a weekday morning before the brewery opened for the day. Reid was busy with the continual process of sanitation in the brewery. With the humidity levels in Puerto Vallarta it is a challenge to keep mold under control. Even so, Reid graciously took the time to talk with us.
Sanitation is not the only challenge to opening a brewery in Mexico. The first thing that would come to mind is the water quality. Fortunately, Puerto Vallarta has the best quality water in Mexico. When they tried to get a water quality report, the city initially fought them thinking they were trying to find a sanitation problem. It took some convincing that they simply needed to learn the mineral and ion content for beer making. It turns out the water is a bit on the soft side, not ideal for pilsners or stouts but, for most beers, all that is needed is to remove the chlorine.
The biggest problem is in getting quality ingredients, primarily the hops and yeast. Reid works with an importer to get the best ingredients from around the world. Availability is limited, and shipping is at a premium. Some hops simply cannot be imported to Mexico. The hops he can get are shipped unrefrigerated and sometimes in unsealed packages with no identification as to the variety. These often are received beginning to develop some off flavors or aromas. His primary yeast is a dried brewer’s yeast of unspecified variety. Even with these limitations, he brews an impressive variety of beers.
The demand for craft beers in Mexico is centered in cities with larger immigrant populations and manufacturing centers. Although cruise ships bring thousands of visitors to town each week; tourists traveling to Puerto Vallarta are mostly content to put their toes in the sand and drink a Corona. There are relative few hard-core craft beer fanatics (like me) that seek out Monzón Brewing. There is a tour operator that stops at a silver and tequila shop across the street. This brings in a few curious visitors, happy with their discovery. They had an opportunity to add Monzón to a tour route but declined. Being over-run by 40-50 tourists for a 15-minute lunch stop did not seem like a good way to promote the brewery.
Especially in the off-season, the hot summer months, it is imperative for Reid and Miranda to build a rapport with the locals.
No Coke or Pepsi Here
Coke and Pepsi products have no home at Monzón. Craftsmanship is at the heart of everything they serve. Partnering with a local Vallarta soft drink manufacturer that cares as much for their craft as Monzón. Bebrika Natural Sodas produces high quality soft drinks that are totally natural and super tasty.
A Gathering Place
Monzón is a gathering center. A place for customers to just come and talk and enjoy a good beer. There are no TV’s. They serve hand-crafted beers and locally inspired, homestyle cooking. Locals seem to only have one complaint, the cost of the beers. Beer in Mexico is generally cheap and made from cheap ingredients. That is not craft beer and that is not Monzón. With the average wage being the equivalent of about $4 a day, it is understandable that $3 for a beer can be a stretch.
Drops in a Bucket
Reid and Miranda give back to the community with their “Drops in a Bucket” monthly fundraiser. Each month, two different local non-profit charitable organizations are represented by a pair of buckets. With each beer purchased comes a “drop” or bottle cap. Patrons drop their bottle cap in the bucket of their choice. At the end of the month, the drops are counted, and one peso is donated to the charities for each drop in their bucket. It costs the patrons nothing. They just enjoy a good beer and get to feel like they are giving as well. At last count, over $21,000 has been raised.
Protecting the Environment
Monzón Brewing is environmentally friendly. Everything is reusable: cloth napkins, coasters, plates and utensils, even electric hand dryers – no paper towels! They pay their employees a living wage. All this, along with the ingredients, costs more. Reid believes, “Other brewers are not helping the growth of craft beer by being cheap. It only tells their customers they do not like their beer.”
Reid strives to be consistent, making the same beers so his customers get what they enjoyed previously. He brews how he feels in the moment. Monzón opened with a Pale Ale but soon discovered the IPA did better. The flavor was unique as very few breweries in Mexico produce an American style IPA.
The current lineup includes the Pale Ale, three different IPAs, Kolsch, a Belgian Trappist Style Trippel, a Spicy Porter, and a Scottish Wee Heavy.
Pet and Family Friendly
Monzón is pet friendly! The resident brew-dogs Lupa and Gabi are rescue dogs from the streets of Vallarta and are the official mascots and hosts for Monzón. Please, feel free to bring your favorite family members. They just ask that they be on a leash. Well behaved children are also welcome before 9 PM. Leash not required!
Daily Happy Hours offer discounted tapas and shandys. Weekly Trivia contests in both English and Spanish with specials on pitchers of beer for trivia teams and beer prizes. There is beer pong once a month.
For those who feel drinking beer is more than just a hobby, they offer the Storm Chasers Pint Club. Members get 20 oz pours for the price of 16 oz and discounts on merchandise and growler fills as well as a free pitcher of beer on their birthdays.
The mural on the wall was painted by a local artist in just four days using only spray paint. Reid and Miranda asked for a storm scene featuring a beer barrel and a sea creature. The artist came up with the fantastic octopus grappling with a beer barrel in a tumultuous sea.
Monzón is the second of only two craft breweries in Puerto Vallarta. Los Muertos was the first to be established. Monzón and Los Muertos are not really in competition, they work together to promote craft beer. We also visited Los Muertos but, there was no one available to talk with us. There is a third, El Terrible, a nano-brewery which brews and distributes out of the proprietor’s home. There are two more in the planning stages which may be open sometime next year.
Its a Full-Time Job
Monzón Brewing is a full time, hands-on project for Reid and Miranda without much time for a break. There are many small businesses in town and this is the only way many of them can make it work. Later that day, while on a bus heading back to our time-share, we saw them out walking Lupa and Gabi near the park. Or, perhaps, the dogs were walking them.
If you are planning a vacation to Puerto Vallarta, you can find Monzón Brewing Co. in the Romantica District, just half a block from Lazaro Cardenas Park.
Address: Venustiano Carranza # 239, Col. Emiliano Zapata, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco 48380