by Adolph Dietsch,
Technical Director of the Cerveceria Cuauhtemoc, Monterey, N. L. Mexico.
Published in LETTERS on BREWING – Journal of Hantke’s Brewing School (1902)
Beer has been brewed in Mexico for long time, but only a top fermentation beer and this on a very small scale. The whole equipment of a brewery at that time consisted of a kettle, having a capacity of 1½ to 2 barrels, a corresponding mashtub and a few fermentation vats, in a one story square adobe (clay) or sias (a kind of sandstone) building. After the fermentation was completed, the beer was filled into bottles and thus sold. I know of a brewery here, who now sell about 5000 barrels of beer annually and who in the beginning, not being able to equip a small brew house, used well cleaned 5 gallon oil cans as brew kettle, mashtub and fermentation vats. With this primitive arrangement they operated quite successfully until they were able to get their present modern equipment. However, “tempora mutantur,” from such small beginnings large businesses have developed, lager beer breweries (some having a capacity of 100,000 barrels) which are provided with the most modern and practical machines and apparatus and furnish a product, which compares favorably with the best imported beers.
The Mexican himself is not yet a big beer drinker and it was probably quite a task for the pioneers of the brewing industry to convince the natives of the advantage of beer over their own strongly alcoholic beverages. At that time there was also not the energy known, which is now present in all industries of the country; the Mexican laborer (peon) received low wages and with his few centavos could buy nothing better than a “pulque”, “tequila”, or “mescal”, the effect of which were perfectly satisfactory to him. The national beverage of the Mexican is pulque, which is similar to weissbier, very high in carbonic acid and is made from the juice of a plant, “Maguep” (sic. maguey/agave) It is very evident that this beverage first found favor among the natives, principally on account of its cheapness, compared with the expensive imported lager beer.
With the growth of home industry, however, the wages of the masses also increased and several enterprising breweries introduced ice machines, built lager beer breweries and, especially in the last ten years, have gained a high position, which alone speaks for the quality of the product.
In general, there are two kinds of native lager beers, the Münchener (decoction) and the Pilsener (infusion) beers. The former have a pronounced Münchener character, are dark, brilliant, mild and palateful and have a good foam holding capacity. These are preferred in certain parts of Mexico and in Central America and especially by foreigners. The material for these beers is almost exclusively obtained from Germany and Austria. The malt (made from Chevalier barley) is of excellent quality and the best imported hops are used, on the latter there is no duty.
On the other hand the infusion beers have a pronounced winey character, are very pale, very high in carbonic acid and have an agreeable, prickling taste. These are preferred more and more in the northern part of the country. A certain percentage of raw cereals (rice, which thrives well here and is of good quality) is used in the manufacture of these beers and the finest imported Bohemian or Bavarian hops.
Very few attempts in malting have been made here up to the present time and these with primitive equipment; the product was used for the manufacture of sencilla (a kind of “Dünnbier”), However these few attempts have shown that with sufficient care, the Mexican barley can be satisfactorily malted.
The beer in this country is usually sold through so-called beer depots, i.e. the brewery does not deliver its products directly to the saloon keeper, but has one or more agents in each town, according to its size. These are usually saloon keepers themselves, who have ice house or large ice boxes, which are kept cold at the expense of the brewery and who then deliver the beer to the saloons, restaurants, hotels, etc. These agents lay in their supply of beer early in the morning and as they are right in the midst of their customers, they can furnish beer to the saloons on short notice at any time of the day. It is therefore also not necessary for the brewery to haul the beer for hours in the tropical heat of the sun.
The packages used are generally eighth barrels and the breweries sell only for cash; an eighth of lager beer costs $2.50. A glass of beer, 4/10 liter, is usually sold for 10c, regardless of the kind. In the cities and towns, where beer is kept on draught, the saloon keeper is also furnished with an ice box by the brewery, but must buy their ice, $2.00 per 100 kilograms.
Bottled beer is to be had in all restaurants, hotels, saloons, as well as in all groceries, etc. The pint bottle retail is sold for 25c and a case of 5 dozen from the brewery costs $10.00. In the little villages in the country no beer except bottled is to be had, usually of a questionable age and warm, for ice is not known to these villages. The temperature of the bottle and beer is usually about the same as that of the outer air, which in summer is often over 100 oF. However a warm glass of beer is a refreshing drink compared to a warm glass of water. The bottled beer, which is sent out of town, is pasteurized and packed in straw in 2, 5, and 7 dozen cases.
Besides all the large and small cities in Mexico, the Mexican bottled beer is to be had in all Central American States and very often great durability is expected. There are some places, distant from a railroad, to which the beer is brought first by rail, then by steamer and finally with mules. The beer is therefore on the road sometimes for at least two months from the brewery to the destination; then it may lie with the agent for 3 – 4 months and it often happens that the old stock is kept on hand through inattention and ignorance by placing the new beer in front. Thus the beer in tropical regions often does not reach the saloon keeper and the consumer for from 15 – 18 months. The consumer of course expects full value for his money; so the beer must not have a sharp or sour taste of a bad taste of any kind.
These beers, from which such an astounding durability is expected and which really are durable, have not been treated with antiseptic, but have been made durable by correct and proper treatment and cleanliness. The Mexican laws positively forbid the use of any antiseptic whatsoever. Occasionally samples from the various breweries are examined by a government official in the City of Mexico and if any antisepticum is found, the brewery is warned and the result of the analysis published in the official government papers. If the offense is repeated, the concession may be withdrawn. In this case the small neighbor is setting a commendable example to its large sister republic and it is to be hoped that the brewing industry of this country will continue to develop in the same lines. To date the effort has been crowned with success and the end of the next ten years we may expect the brewing industry of Mexico to be one of the most prominent of the country.