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PODCAST GUESTS

Rodrigo Plancarte

Rodrigo Plancarte is the Regional Sales Manager for Mexico and Central America at Yakima Chief Hops functioning as the link between breweries and distributors from the region with the Hop Farms from the PNW as well as being key to bringing hop knowledge to the Spanish speaking market.

Marko Guevara

Marko Guevara is a Certified Beer Sommelier by Doemens (Germany), AMEG (México, and Unionbirrai Beer Tasters (Italy), with experience in the brewing industry since 2011 and as a brewer on his own Experimental brand “Miskatonic Brewery” since 2013, nowadays he is Chief Sales Officer in BeerMex, and Head Brewer in “Del Duende Cervecería.”

MORE EPISODES

SEASON 2, EPISODE 21: THE CRAFT MOVEMENT
IN MEXICO + CENTRAL AMERICA

PODCAST HOSTS:

TOBY TUCKER – DIRECTOR OF SALES, COUNTRY MALT GROUP

GRANT LAWRENCE – TERRITORY MANAGER, COUNTRY MALT GROUP 

GUESTS:

RODRIGO PLANCARTE – REGIONAL SALES MANAGER (MEXICO, CENTRAL AMERICA), YAKIMA CHIEF HOPS

MARKO GUEVARA – CHIEF SALES OFFICER,BEERMEX

Key Points From This Episode:

  • Corona culture: Where beer is beer, to being more open to new styles. 

  • How slow growth turned into a geyser of brands and breweries.  

  • Craft Beer Styles: Regions focus on IPAs, stouts, chocolate, coffees, and citrus fruits. 

  • Hot spots for craft beer include Baja, Mexico City, and Costa Rica. 

  • How Michelada and Clamato were instrumental in craft beer shift. 

  • Biggest Challenges: Mexico breweries’ access to equipment and quality ingredients.  

Transcript - The Craft Movement in Mexico + Central America

EPISODE S.2, E.21

[THE CRAFT MOVEMENT IN MEXICO + CENTRAL AMERICA]

[00:00:00] TT: Welcome to another episode of The BrewDeck podcast. I am your host, Toby Tucker. As always, joining me—well, most of the time—is my buddy Grant Lawrence, our South Central territory manager based in beautiful Houston, Texas. Grant, how are you doing, buddy?
[00:00:14] GL: I’m doing well. I am stoked to hear about craft brewing in Mexico. It’s a topic that’s interesting to me. I got to hang out with some craft brewer in Mexico up in Idaho two years ago. It’s just growing fast. I’d like to hear about it. I’m excited to talk to these folks today.
[00:00:32] TT: Been looking forward to it all day. Well, Grant, a lot of people that aren’t from Texas make the assumption that Dallas and Houston are really close together. They’re pretty far ways away, right? But typically, if it’s hot in Dallas, it’s going to be hot or hotter in Houston.
[00:00:47] GL: Yeah, it’s sticky here at least.
[00:00:49] TT: It’s toasty today.
[00:00:51] GL: It is.
[00:00:52] TT: I’ve got an office down, it’s like a half-basement, and when we record these things, I have to turn off the air conditioner because it’s too loud. Then we got a wine fridge that makes a lot of noise too. During these podcasts, I usually don’t wear any clothes because I’m sweating profusely, but it’s well worth it.
Let’s go right into it. Again, Grant mentioned, we’ve been very excited to have this podcast, and we’ve been working for about a month and a half trying to get these guys on. So happy to have. Let’s start with Rodrigo Plancarte. He’s the Regional Sales Manager at YCH covering Mexico and Central America. Rodrigo, how are you doing?
[00:01:32] RP: Hey, Toby. Hey, Grant. It’s so good to be here. Thank you for the invite. I was really looking forward to it for the last couple of weeks. I know I was pretty busy during crop harvest, but finally, I’m here and really stoked to have this conversation with you guys.
[00:01:44] TT: We will talk some hops. I’m curious to get your feedback on how the trip to Yakima worked out for both of you guys, so all good. We also have Marko Guevara, who’s the Commercial Director at BeerMex. Marko, how are you?
[00:01:59] MG: Hello, guys. Thank you for the invite. I’m glad you finally got this done because we are very excited to talk with you. For letting you know, I was born in the scene in Mexico City, the brewing scene mostly. Thank you for the invite. We are ready to go.
[00:02:21] TT: Absolutely. We’ll get to Rodrigo and not put you in second place here, Rodrigo, but I think most of the North American brewing community knows more about YCH than you guys are. Marko, let’s start with you.
At least in the US, there’s a lot of folks, especially our listeners, who don’t know BeerMex. There is obviously a strategic partnership along with Country Malt Group in what BeerMex, the company you’re with, does there in Mexico. Can you tell us a little bit about what you do and the partnership between BeerMex and Country Malt Group?
[00:02:52] MG: Of course, yeah. Thank you. BeerMex, as you said, it’s a partner from Country Malt Group. We started in 2018 in far southern Mexico, very close to Cancún and the city called Mérida. This is in Yucatán, the famous Yucatán. This city is pretty small, and there are only a few brewers there. The owner of BeerMex, which is my boss Eduardo, his brother, is a brewer in a brewery there.
They started talking about the lack of malt and how hard it was to get fresh hops, or at least high-quality hops and other stuff for the brewing industry. Eduardo started BeerMex to import some malt and buy for local distributors in Mexico City in Querétaro, where he can find.
The main idea was to only sell this malt and hops to the local breweries, but suddenly, we started to make bigger sales and started to sell to Querétaro brewers in Mexico City and all the way up to the North of the country. We start to grow. That is when Country Malt and BeerMex came together, and we opened a new warehouse in Guadalajara, which is in Jalisco. Maybe you have […] to Puerto Vallarta or something like this famous spot in Jalisco. But Guadalajara is more on the side of not quite on the coast.
Guadalajara is a very important sport for the brewing industry in Mexico because we have a lot of big breweries like Minerva, one of the oldest like Fortuna, like Loba. There are several big breweries. It’s on a strategic point to open a warehouse, and finally today, we opened our new warehouse in Tijuana, covering all the breweries in Baja.
My job in BeerMex is to make a connection with brewers and get to know their issues and their troubles in the brewery and start to help them, and with the products we have in Country Malt and in BeerMex, basically.
[00:05:26] TT: That’s great. I heard the news from Kelly Kuehl this morning that Tijuana was opening today, so that’s awesome to hear. Basically, Marko, you’re very similar in the model of Country Malt Group of being that one-stop-shop for craft brewers.
[00:05:39] MG: Yeah, we want our customer to meet us halfway.
[00:05:43] TT: Very good. Rodrigo, obviously, most of the folks here in North America, as I mentioned, are very familiar with the Yakima Chief Hops and the quality and offerings that you guys have to the brewing communities. But tell us about yourself, your background, and what you do now for YCH.
[00:06:02] RP: I started with the Yakima Chief family in 2018, but I didn’t start with YCH back then. I started actually with Yakima Chief Ranches that at the moment was called Select Botanicals Group. I started as an intern there in the Quality Assurance Program. I was taking care of a lot of the footprints program.
I don’t know if you’re familiar with it, but it is one of the programs we have to take care of the quality of the hops in the field. I started over there. It wasn’t really a fully hands-on experience that summer internship. After that, in January 2019, I started with the sales team at YCH. I’ve been […] for Mexico Central America since then.
Right now, I call myself not a sales rep, but sales are the end result of everything in this job. But I like to describe myself better as an ambassador for hops. Some of my colleagues at YCH also call me kind of like a professor over there because I love science, and I love explaining all of this that is my passion—the beers and hops.
I love this kind of experience that I get driving around Mexico, driving around Central America, and meeting different brewers from all over the place, learning more about what they do, what they like to do, and how they’re doing things. It creates a lot of knowledge that you can spread around the globe. I think that’s one of the main things that I’d like to do.
[00:07:18] TT: Absolutely. Well, you’re not alone. We have another mad scientist on the call on the podcast every week. Don’t be surprised. It’s not me; it’s Grant. Grant has a science background, to say the least, and as I mentioned before, has a very historical background in brewing, if you will, so you’re in a good place, Rodrigo.
[00:07:38] GL: I echo you on that professor sentiment. It’s really fun just learning the science of how it all works, how the other hops interact with the beer, and how the malt interacts with the beers is also my passion. So really cool.
[00:07:49] TT: We’re always curious about what’s going on in the craft market outside of this, for the lack of a better term, the bubble we live in, right? Marko, let’s start with you. Give me some of your general thoughts on the craft beer movement, specifically in Mexico over the last ten years, in relation to the rest of the North American craft beer movement growth.
We have some Canadian folks on our team as well, and the general sentiment, if you will, is that Canada is a bit behind maybe five, seven years compared to where the US is with styles, with innovation, but they’re coming along very quickly. Where would you say Mexico is at this point? How many craft brewers are there now versus, say, ten years ago?
[00:08:33] MG: It has been a long way since the first brewery came up. I think the last maybe five years are growing fast. In the late, let’s say this historic brewing industry in Mexico about 15 years ago, now it’s more like if it’s a thousand, there is nothing. You can get some news that some guy’s making beer in their own house, and we’ll question them, really? Why?
For us in Mexico, we have this background, a huge background that was Corona, and there’s another brewery. The biggest sales in the world are Corona beer. But in Mexico, we have this culture that Corona is the best beer in the world, not the best with the best sales. But the best beer in the world. We are talking about the ’70s, the ’80s, and the ’90s. The Mexicans, we don’t even know about styles. We just think that beer is beer, and there is no stout, there are no pilsners, there’s nothing more like Corona.
With that said, you should understand how Mexican culture is about beers—very close, very narrow—and then suddenly start to get these beers from Europe, like […] and start a little bit of intermission from different breweries, but imported breweries.
Back in 1995, in […] home brewer. The brewery is […] now. This guy Gustavo started this. I know Gustavo. I didn’t know him until about a year ago, but I know his beers, maybe seven or eight years ago. Going in this way of brewing and discovering new breweries, we came up with Minerva and […] in the North where there are people who are investing in better equipment, and so they start this new style for us, like the Pale Ale style IPA.
For us, we don’t even know that these styles are coming. When you go to Europe, yeah, you ask for a beer, and that’s it. But in Mexico, as I said, it’s very difficult to understand the style. We came up with these breweries, and we began to understand how this works and discovered the breweries from the United States and the whole culture of craft beer. But the growth in Mexico was pretty slow, just because we could not get the right equipment or the quality of malts, the fresh hops.
This thing is very important because they got slow, very slow. The brewing industry was pretty young. The time came by, and every other person started to sell the equipment or the people who have factories, I don’t know how to say. They have these factories and other things, and suddenly they realize there is a business here. They start to make equipment, and they’re starting to make beer and contract beer with Minerva and the biggest ones.
Suddenly, there are a thousand brands, not breweries, just brands because they have contract brewing. This was like a geyser; suddenly, there appeared too many brands. About five years ago, the breweries started to get known, to sell, and to get going with the—how do you say it, Rodrigo, niche?
[00:12:36] RP: A niche.
[00:12:37] MG: Okay, that’s what it is. They started to get to know their niche and started to get professional. The people start studying, discovering Siebel Institute, discovering domains, and several other schools to start professional brewers. For the last ten years, I think the growth was low in the first five years, and the next is like a lot of breweries, even when they’re very small.
[00:13:10] TT: Yeah, it’s pretty cool what’s happening down there. It’s been a while since I’ve been there, obviously, with what we’ve got going on COVID and everything, but it was a pretty cool scene. A lot of younger folks seemingly came in, and you’re right, started homebrewing with just the equipment they could find, and you’re absolutely right.
At the time, it wasn’t like walking into a craft brewery we see here with a shiny 10 barrel brewhouse, tanks, and everything. They were using what they had on hand to make it work, and it was a fantastic beer. It really was. Rodrigo, what about your experiences, not just in Mexico? What do you think the scene looks like in Mexico and other countries in Central America that you’re seeing as far as the craft beer movement in the scene there?
[00:13:50] RP: I think similar to what Marko was saying, it’s kind of slow growth. It’s getting faster right now. Maybe, as you were coasting maybe ten years ago, maybe there were like 20 breweries in Mexico. Now, as Marko said, we have over thousands, maybe more. In other parts of the continent in Central America, it’s even slower.
The main challenge for many brewers, even in Mexico and in those other countries, is getting quality products. The logistics to get the product in good conditions over there, and to get the knowledge on how to take care of those. Particularly, for example, with hops that you need to keep in cold storage and in the original package. That was a big thing over here. Many people weren’t brewing with fresh hops, or maybe they have the latest crop here, but they were brewing with repacked hops that were really crappy, honestly.
Trying to change that mentality, trying to give them the knowledge on how to take care of their ingredients so they can make better beer and better beer every time they brew that was a challenge. We’re still working on that with some breweries over here. In Mexico, I think that has happened already. A lot of people are really looking for better and better products every time, and that is great for our suppliers that pushes us forward to make better things for our customers.
In Central America, we’re still working mainly with distributors because most of the brewers are really, really small. Some of them don’t have the capacity yet to either contract crops or buy directly from some of the suppliers. Maybe some of them don’t have the proper permit to import stuff.
That’s also one of the big challenges that we face, and I think a lot of brewers in the US or maybe even Canada don’t understand that. Well, you can just go online, click that I want some singles, some Canada malting, and there it goes. I just pay the shipping to my address wherever, and that’s it.
Here and in the other countries, we need to take import costs and all the logistics into account, and that’s a big challenge for us as well. That’s one of the things we deal with every single day, but we’re thriving in spite of that.
[00:15:48] TT: It’s good to have folks like the two of you, Rodrigo and Marko, that you know that there’s a request and a demand for those that are getting into craft brewing for quality ingredients. It’s good to have folks like you guys connecting with the folks out there who can assist and get them both hops, malt, and other raw materials to help them with their craft. So it’s great.
[00:16:10] GL: Yeah, I wanted to ask, despite the challenges—for a beer traveler such as myself listening—where would be the major hotspots to go for craft beer in Mexico or Central America? I hear a lot about Tijuana having great craft breweries. I know there’s a handful in Monterrey as well, but I don’t know much else besides that. Can either of you tell me maybe some surprising spots for a lot of craft breweries?
[00:16:36] RP: I think touristy wise, maybe Baja will be the best option because you have Tijuana, Mexicali, and […]. Baja is the state with the most breweries in Mexico. Guadalajara is also a really fun town to go brewery hopping. There’s Jalisco, the state where Guadalajara is, the biggest producer of beer in Mexico for craft beer.
There are also really fun spots. In Mexico City, there are many brands of breweries, Monterrey, as you mentioned. I visited one not so long ago. They have an amazing barrel-aging program. That was really surprising for us.
In Central America, I will say it depends on the country as far as our biggest customers are in Costa Rica and Panama. Panama will be Panama City, no doubt, and for Costa Rica, I would suggest you have to go to San Jose either way so you can try a couple of beers there. But the main scene is on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, where most of the beaches and touristy areas are. That’s where most of the breweries are, as well.
[00:17:35] GL: Excellent. Yeah, I’ve heard Costa Rica has a good scene. Marko, a question for you. Is there any that Rodrigo might have left out just now?
[00:17:42] MG: No, he’s quite good. This guy is going through all the country and the whole brewery. This guy travels a lot. He travels more than me. Even when we travel a lot together, this guy knows everyone.
It’s a […] thing in Mexico, that if you start in Central Mexico and let’s say Mexico City, you will find a lot of bars. There’s a taproom, there’s a lot of bars, and you will find imported beers, Mexican craft beer. When you go to a little bit north like in Querétaro, you will find the same but with brewpubs or breweries with their taproom like […] their taproom or their beer garden, and there’s a huge facility there. There is Cuatro Palos. They’re a small brewery, but you can drink.
There is no taproom there in Cuatro Palos, but you can find their beers there. You can drink one or two there while they are in production. If you go to Jalisco, the state we have just said in Guadalajara, you will find these places with the breweries and the restaurants. There’s more like US culture breweries.
Once you go up to the North, you’re getting more of this. Once you get to Tijuana, Mexicali, and […], you will find the brewery and their taproom or brewpub. You have very good food trucks. You guys know more than me about the US culture of the breweries and the brewing business that they have the food truck, the […], a lot of things, and a lot of services that they offer, but this is a fun thing. In Mexico City, you will find more bars and more taprooms than the whole North. Once you go up to the North, you will find more breweries with a pub or a tasting room with a name or the brand of that brewery.
[00:19:50] GL: Got it, okay.
[00:19:52] TT: We talked obviously about some of these regions. I was out in the Monterrey area probably six years ago visiting some of these small craft brewers. The biggest style out there, everybody’s making stouts, which I thought was very interesting, especially in the climate there. Rodrigo, we’re not just talking about Mexico, and you expand in other parts of Central America, but is there a particular style that’s kind of holding on, if you will, or that’s gravitated towards different styles? For instance, TJ, Monterrey, and in some other cities, we already discussed. Is there a certain style that’s more popular?
[00:20:25] RP: I think IPA is the most popular in Mexico as well as in Central America. I think the main variation that you could get in these countries is that we’re trying to aim for many of the fruits that we have eaten for most of our lives that are local from each of those countries, like tropical fruits, mangoes, and a lot of citrusy. I tried some […] even in Costa Rica with some different local fruits that I can’t even remember the names of that I haven’t ever seen in my life, and they were so delicious. That’s one of the directions that we’re getting within the brewing industry.
The other point that you mentioned with the stouts, I think that’s pretty interesting because I was in Mexico, and I think it’s the norm for everyone, or at least that happened to me. I find that most of the people that I talked to that happen as well is that chocolate, coffee, and those tea kinds of flavors and aromas are so familiar to us as Mexicans because it’s something that we used to drink as kids. The warm chopped cocoa or warm chocolate that your grandma used to make to have some pastries with it. That brings those memories back.
Having those flavors and aromas in the beer, I think that’s why stouts are so popular, and stout importers are so popular in Mexico.
[00:21:41] TT: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I didn’t even think of it that way. Marko, we talked about styles. Is there a particular malt or style of malt that you’re seeing craft brewers gravitate towards? When we talk stouts, they’re looking at roasted products; they’re looking at light-colored German like Heidelbergs. What are they gravitating towards right now, and is it different by region?
[00:22:03] MG: I think in general, the whole breweries are starting to try new roasted malts like pale chocolate or bitterness malts. They’re trying to look forward to not getting the harshness from the […] stout hops.
[00:22:22] TT: I always tell people it’s like licking the inside of a fireplace; that’s what everyone wants to avoid.
[00:22:27] GL: That acrid smoke flavor.
[00:22:30] MG: Yeah, exactly. The brewers are starting to look for a new or softness in these toasted malts. It’s very good because they are looking forward to improving the mouthfeel. As I see or as I taste the […] since 15 years, I’m receiving or looking at these changes in the brewers. Because the brewers think like this, I’m making a decent beer, let’s say, stout. My style is a little harsh in the end, and I will try to take that out. They improve that, and then I don’t like the foam or the head. I need to make my head better or creamy, so I improve that. It’s like a step-by-step thing.
Now, they’re more towards mouthfeel, which is pretty good for neutral, oatmeal stouts, or mid-stout. It’s a good thing to see and to taste because the brewers or head brewers are trying to improve any aspect of the beer, the experience of their final customer.
[00:23:49] TT: Yes. Constant improvement. Nothing is ever perfect for you, brewers. Right, Grant?
[00:23:54] GL: Yeah.
[00:23:54] MG: Exactly.
[00:23:55] GL: Makes it fun that way.
[00:23:56] TT: Yeah, right. I’m kind of that way with cooking too. I understand. We talked a lot about, or heard from you guys, you mentioned, Marko, Corona. I have a question that I wanted to ask you specifically around number one; I imagine that’s a big challenge to overcome, a company like Corona, where you had Corona for so long. As you mentioned, Marko, folks just have associated beer with only one thing, which is Corona.
First of all, any particular brewer that you know of—you might have mentioned a few already—that have been instrumental in that shift to craft beer over the folks like Corona? Then my second question is, are there still existing challenges that folks like the big guys like Corona pose to the growth of craft beer now?
[00:24:43] RP: I think there are still some challenges. There has been a lot, particularly with the fair competition in the market. There used to be some monopoly practices back then. There are still some that are being done below the table, as you say. But I think the biggest challenge right now with those is educating consumers on what beer is. It’s not just Corona. In Mexico, you will find the main classification of beer is clara or obscura. It’s a clear beer or dark beer, and that’s it. That’s mainly your American lager or a Vienna. That’s as far as a lot of people go.
But we started educating people. There is a huge mosaic of beers that you can try, and maybe if you don’t like beer as you may say, maybe you don’t like lagers, maybe you like stouts. You like sour beers or whatever. That is the main challenge that I think Corona drinkers got left behind.
[00:25:38] TT: Marko, again, you mentioned, but were there any specific brewers that you think were just instrumental in the craft movement in Mexico to date?
[00:25:46] MG: Yeah. I think we have these two variations of customers, which are easily men and women. In the festivals or in the bars, there is usually a customer who brings his girlfriend, and the girlfriend is like, no, I don’t like beer. We mostly offer her sours because they remind us of the michelada here. A long time in Mexico, there’s a beverage that you can find. You can even drink it on the street markets, and the police say nothing because they’re a very common beverage, michelada. Do you know michelada with lemon and salt?
[00:26:29] TT: Sure. They’re popular here in Texas.
[00:26:32] GL: Yeah.
[00:26:33] MG: This is a funny thing because we’re looking for new customers to get in love with this style and discover sours. The big industry is looking forward to getting these new customers. They’re making all kinds of michelada beer canned. You will have this close to the sour thing, but it’s a michelada. Now we have some fruits and tomato juice called Clamato. They’re looking for these people that are looking for another flavor, another experience. They’re also looking to get those customers because we are growing.
These guys, I know that we’re never going to win in this big industry, but the growth is very good. I know that the United States has 20%, 30% of the customers there. Am I right?
[00:27:41] GL: You’re talking about craft beer there?
[00:27:43] MG: Yeah.
[00:27:44] GL: I would say it’s definitely grown a lot. I mean, even over the last ten years, ten years ago, craft was pretty big. But it was only, I think, down around the 10% range. Yeah, I think you’re right. We’re up in the 20% range at this point.
[00:27:56] MG: Sorry. We are barely hitting 1% now.
[00:28:02] GL: Oh wow. Okay.
[00:28:04] TT: That was a huge opportunity. I don’t know if it’s anything similar to 10 years ago, Grant, where the big, big national breweries were looking at craft and saying, we got to make some changes. We have to start being unique. We got to go try to buy some and put them in our portfolio. Maybe, Marko, it will be that way in Mexico. I don’t know.
[00:28:24] GL: For sure.
[00:28:25] MG: I have a question now for you guys.
[00:28:28] TT: Yeah, go ahead.
[00:28:29] MG: What is your impression of the Mexican craft industry?
[00:28:35] GL: I’m just fascinated by it. You mentioned—well, I guess Rodrigo mentioned the clara and obscura, and that tends to be what I think about for an import because we don’t see a lot of your craft—your small brewers at least don’t make it up here even to Texas. But I know your larger breweries that are making Vienna Lagers, as you mentioned, or even pilsners, I would say, are quite popular here. Bohemia, for instance, Negra Modelo, just to name a few.
I would say that’s what a lot of people associate with it right now. I mean, I would love to have a craft Mexican IPA made up here with some fruits that I don’t even know about; that sounds amazing.
[00:29:16] TT: One of the things, Grant, I think you and I were on the same trip four or five years ago, maybe when we went up to visit one of our malt houses in Pocatello, Idaho.
[00:29:25] GL: That’s right.
[00:29:26] TT: We ran into a bus full of some Mexican brewers coming up for the—what was it?
[00:29:32] GL: Idaho Barley Commission.
[00:29:34] TT: That’s right. To sit in and listen and be educated on that.
[00:29:37] GL: There’s a bunch of brewers from Monterrey.
[00:29:39] TT: That’s right. One of the things I can tell you, you asked Marko, what do we think about the scene? It’s very similar to what’s happening in the states and Canada; just the passion is off the charts. They want to see and be creative. They want to see change. It’s very uplifting, and the time that Grant and I spent with those folks was really cool, really, really cool. I think having you in the market and having some product availability, some quality product availability through CMG and YCH is awesome for the industry down there.
[00:30:08] GL: I remember going out with those guys. We had a couple of craft breweries up in Southern Idaho around the malt house. They were all ordering IPAs and things like that. Hoppy Beers seemed to be what was on the brewers’ minds. When I asked them questions about Pilsner or Vienna Lager, they kind of rolled their eyes because I think they were tired of brewing those for their market, and their real passion at that time was IPAs. I think part of that is from what Rodrigo was saying was their access to fresh hops. They just couldn’t get any. This is about four years ago now. I’m glad to hear that’s changing.
[00:30:41] TT: Rodrigo, jumping back to the IPA here, and you talked about the challenges of getting hops to Central America. What’s changed in the past five years? Is it a combination of what you guys do at YCH? Is it the distribution opportunities you have now? You talked about moving hops from Yakima to a customer down in Florida during mid-summer. That poses challenges in itself. How are you guys dealing with it and/or being creative to be able to provide customers in Mexico and Central America with high-quality hops? Furthermore, what are some of those varieties that are very popular right now?
[00:31:18] RP: I think it’s definitely a combination of all those factors. Definitely our relationships and our partners in distribution, as well as our own work that we’ve been doing trying to bring the knowledge of hops and knowledge of brewing to those customers and trying to—also, what I’ve been focusing on a lot—have, for example, a variety book in Spanish or some recommendation in Spanish. Not only for our customers in Latin America but also in Spain. Also for a lot of the farmworkers that don’t speak English but are the main people that are working to grow your hops.
They’re having the information of what they’re growing in their own language; I think it has a great impact. All of those factors, I think, are key to seeing these improvements in quality beers in this region. One of the creative ways we’ve found, as mentioned, is the distribution partnership we’ve been having. For example, in Mexico with BeerMex, they’re trying to reach those smaller breweries that cannot contract or cannot import products. That’s who we rely on. Similar things in Central America as well as in South America, we rely a lot on these partnerships.
We have a logistics team in YCH that helps a lot in informing our customers on what they need regarding the documentation. Myself, I try to read a lot about what they need as far as permits, what they need as far as information, documentation of the product to send to their customs broker. It’s a combination of all those factors.
I think the third question you asked about the varieties; I think for the longest time, maybe still is […] that everyone wants. But putting those three aside, I think several […], and even now with the new release of […] some of the […] a lot of the brewers are wanting because they remind you of those tropical aromas for your […] IPAs of course. Also, for other types of beers that you can make using those hops and also combining those with local fruits.
[00:33:19] TT: Fantastic. Well, speaking of Yakima and hop selection, which has been going on for the past three weeks or so, Rodrigo. When you talk about fresh hops, we have quite a few brewers in North America that come out with one-time seasonal releases using fresh hops, which is unique. I know you guys have really been innovative and making sure to get absolute fresh hops out to the customers. Do you have anybody in Mexico or Central America, and logistically, I assume it to be a very, very big challenge, but have you had anybody using fresh hops off the buy?
[00:33:54] RP: Not yet at the moment. The main challenge is crossing the product through the border because it has to stay in customs for quite a few days. Sometimes, the longest we’ve seen is for two or three weeks. You can put it in cold storage, but of course, it gets more expensive every day. A lot of customers are trying to move away from that and make that import process as quick as possible. We haven’t done that yet, but we’re trying to figure it out. We just released frozen fresh hops. That’s a big step forward to bringing that opportunity to create those seasonal beers any time of the year everywhere in the world. That’s a work in progress that we’re doing right now.
[00:34:30] TT: Really cool.
[00:34:31] GL: I know with one of our past episodes when we talked about the new frozen fresh hops from YCH, from what I was understanding from that was that it would open up some new doors about getting fresh hops out internationally. Did any of those make it down to Mexico or Central America this year?
[00:34:47] RP: I think we only send internationally to Canada and in Europe, I think in the UK. But I hope that next year we can send to Mexico, at least to the breweries in the border region. Maybe earlier, now that we have the frozen product, we can […] maybe in March, and we’ll have fresh hop in spring.
[00:35:07] GL: That’s so cool.
[00:35:07] TT: Well, I was nice enough to receive a package a week and a half ago from our friends Zach, Grant, that sent over some Break side, one of their releases with their fresh hop beer. It was fantastic.
[00:35:20] GL: He sent me a few cans as well, and it was a real treat.
[00:35:23] TT: Damn. I thought it was only special on the show.
[00:35:26] GL: Some nice Breakside.
[00:35:29] TT: Yeah. Very, very good. Well, Marko, I don’t want to let any cats out of the bag or anything, but Tijuana is the newest distribution center? Do you have plans for more to accommodate the growth there in Mexico, or are you taking it one day at a time?
[00:35:44] MG: Yeah. This new warehouse brings us a big, big challenge because there’s a lot of breweries, and those breweries work in so many different ways. In central Mexico, we are used to the brewery’s works and are quite similar, but when Rodrigo and I went to Baja to get to know these brewers and the brewers and tasting, it was very surprising to me that they have so many different ways to do their business.
Some of the guys say no. I’m going across the border and bringing my malt back. I tell the customers that they are duck food or something. Yeah, but you cannot bring back one ton of duck food, right? Because it is easy for them to get it across the border and buy their malts or their hops. There’s another brewery that says, I buy my malt and my hops directly with […] and directly with YCH.
Also, there is another thing. They work very differently. The whole tax thing is so much different than in central Mexico. It’s a big challenge for me because these brands like Great Western, mostly the brewers know that brand, and they really like it. But it disappeared for a couple of years. Now we are bringing it back to the area, and they’re pretty happy. But we are trying to understand how they work.
We will have to improve and become experts in customer service because we need to understand and get to know our customers pretty well in order to satisfy their needs. I think that the next step is for Tijuana to work as planned. Maybe we’ll consider opening a new warehouse in Monterrey. But I don’t know, this year, we will center our focus, our attention in the warehouse in Tijuana, and learn from our customers.
[00:38:02] TT: Makes sense. Rodrigo, was there anything that stood out over the past several weeks in Yakima? Was there a particular variety of hops that was just outstanding compared to prior years? Was there anything that you were just taken back by?
[00:38:17] RP: There are quite a few. What we do is usually in […] we have a sensory analysis of every single day, maybe twice every day. When I’m there, because I love sensory, I try to participate with as many as I can. Every audit comes in the house. We try to do some quality and sensory analysis on it to have some feedback to give to our customers. Maybe this lot smells more like orange, more like grapefruit, or whatever. We do a lot of that.
Some other varieties that really surprised me this year were Columbus. Surprisingly, I’ve always used Columbus for bittering. I smelled it, and it’s really fruity and berries. Many of the lots that I smelled during sensory really surprised me. Also, Chinook, I was smelling Chinook, and I was like, oh man, because I didn’t know. It was blind sensory. This is the best thing I’ve ever smelled […] Chinook. That was really, really surprising, as well as some experimental varieties. Some HBC varieties were really, really amazing.
[00:39:15] TT: Excellent. I don’t want to speak out of terms, Grant, but I did ask Zack about that Breakside fresh hop, and he thought that was Chinook.
[00:39:24] GL: It was indeed.
[00:39:25] TT: Yeah.
[00:39:26] GL: It was Chinook. It was awesome. It’s a pretty good year for Chinook.
[00:39:30] TT: Yep.
[00:39:31] MG: Yeah. I was up there and, Rodrigo, we tried this Idaho 7. It also smells amazing this year.
[00:39:40] RP: Yeah. They were harvesting that one when we did the tour at the farm.
[00:39:43] GL: I love that hop. A bunch of bright pineapple out of it. It’s such a good one.
[00:39:48] MG: Yeah. Pretty amazing this year.
[00:39:50] TT: Well, it’s good to know the hop side of things is looking like a good year. I think Rodrigo, you’re probably aware of the challenges on the barley front in North America. It’s good that we have one that’s looking decent. Hey Marko, we ask this of all of our guests, what’s currently in your beer fridge? It doesn’t have to be beer. What do you enjoy drinking these days?
[00:40:12] MG: Well, mostly beer. I have so many PRIM beers that I brought back from Oregon. I have Principia from Monterrey, Hercules. You should try this also. It’s very good. I love […] a friend of mine, and she’s making […]. There’s a funny beverage that I like to drink at night. Are you familiar with the word Rompope?
[00:40:45] TT: I can’t say that I am.
[00:40:46] GL: I’m not.
[00:40:48] MG: It’s like eggnog.
[00:40:50] TT: Okay.
[00:40:51] MG: But this is with cannabis. A friend of mine made this kind of eggnog with cannabis. You drink two or three at night, and you dream like a tree.
[00:41:06] GL: I love it.
[00:41:12] MG: That’s pretty much it.
[00:41:13] GL: It is close to eggnog season up here. I don’t know if it’s quite on the shelves yet, but it will be soon.
[00:41:19] TT: I don’t think we have any cannabis-infused or anything like that.
[00:41:22] GL: No, I don’t think we have any of that.
[00:41:24] TT: My grandma used to spike hers. Not with cannabis, but there were all kinds of liquor in there.
[00:41:28] GL: Bourbon usually.
[00:41:29] TT: That’s right. That’s right. Rodrigo, what about you? What are you enjoying?
[00:41:33] RP: I usually have my beer fridge stocked with IPAs because we do a lot of […] here in Mexico. We always ask for a couple of cases of the beer we make, and most of the time are IPAs. I have a beer fridge full of IPAs that I love. But actually, at the moment, I’m really enjoying making different cocktails with maybe gin, rum, and vodka, and experimenting with those kinds of things. I actually got a really good gin and tonic during lunch today.
[00:41:58] TT: Nice. Hey guys, I really appreciate you all coming on. Marko, do you want to give your contact information and feel free to give a sign out in Spanish if you like, just if we got any listeners that want to reach out, Marko?
[00:42:10] MG: Well, you can email me; it’s [email protected]
[00:42:30] TT: Perfect.
[00:42:31] MG: You can email me there.
[00:42:32] TT: Very good. Rodrigo.
[00:42:34] RP: You can reach me at [email protected] If that fails or you have trouble spelling that, you can always send an email, text, or chat message through our social media at yakimachief.com or on the social media of YCH. They can put you in touch with me. I’m also on social media and Instagram as @rodrigopplancarte. You can follow me there as well.
[00:43:00] TT: Right. I can’t wait for travel to fully open back up. I will certainly come out and try some of that beer you guys are working on down south here.
[00:43:08] RP: Of course.
[00:43:10] MG: Yeah, you should.
[00:43:10] RP: You’re more than welcome.
[00:43:11] TT: Yeah, absolutely. I appreciate both of you joining on. Thanks to all the listeners. Again, reach out if you have any questions, comments, or concerns, for that matter. Grant, I appreciate your time as always.
[00:43:22] GL: Absolutely. It was great being here and learning a thing or two about the craft beer scene in Mexico.
[00:43:27] TT: Yeah. I believe we’ll be chatting with Pink Boots here on one of the upcoming episodes. Stay tuned, and wherever you get your podcasts, please take a listen. We look forward to talking to you soon. Cheers, everyone.
[00:43:41] MG: Cheers. Thank you.
[00:43:42] RP: Cheers. Thanks.

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