Saturday, May 05, 2018
Those who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s came to think of Mexican beer as watery amber lager at best. At worst, it was a urine-colored liquid that you jammed a lime into just to get past the skunk and make it palatable.
So, it's natural that eyebrows should raise with today's opening of Ceveceria Colorado, a Denver Beer Co. project that celebrates the cultures and flavors of Mexico across an opening-day lineup of eight beers. But you need to remove from your predispositions any concept of what you think Mexican beer is, because what has been created here is an explosion of flavors that is unlike anything you'll find in Mexican beers that export to the United States.
Roasted limes, pineapple, even churro add to base beers that are both native to Mexico and nowhere to be found in our neighbor to the south. In some ways, the offerings are more experimental and more satisfying than even the portfolio of beers found at Denver Beer.
"Some beers like this exist, for sure. But a lot of the craft breweries down there ... have pretty standard beer styles. They have an ale and a porter," said Jason Buehler, the head brewer at Denver Beer who has spent significant time brewing with Mexican craft purveyors. "This is a totally separate identity. It's a great space. It's a great place. And the beers are fun."
Buehler got introduced to Mexican brewing a few years ago when he was one of just two Americans that got to judge a craft beer festival in the country. Through the connections he made there, he began to travel more to the country, working with breweries to improve their beer but also soaking in the flavors that hadn't crossed the border and understanding the breadth of tastes that local Mexican breweries have to work with.
Denver Beer, meanwhile, had a barrel room next door to its main Platte Street location that too often went unused. It considered opening a sour brewery or a German brewery but decided that those concepts had been done and that it wanted to introduce something totally unique - "American-style craft beers with Mexican inspirations," co-owner Patrick Crawford said.
Cerveceria Colorado's menu does feature a traditional Mexican lager, Venga, and it's the most boring offering on the menu, reminiscent of Tecate but without that lingering off-taste that makes you feel the beer went too long without being refrigerated. Buehler and co-owners Crawford and Charlie Berger think it will be the brewery's signature beer, but you're honestly better off skipping it.
Instead, go directly to the Cocolimón, a kettle sour made with roasted limes in collaboration with Cerveceria de Colima in the Mexican city of Colima. It's the roast that makes this beer stand out from any sour beer you've ever tasted, giving it a fresh, cooked base and making the lime less acidic than it is omnipresent, creating a unique taste that transports you elsewhere in your mind.
The Churro Stout is another winner — a beer that came about only after Buehler drove around the Denver area with his son one day trying to find the tastiest churro. What he developed — a milk stout with those winning churros thrown into the mash — is big on lactose and background cinnamon and so smooth and sweet that it has a slight complexity that's not present in many other sweet stouts.
Then there's Señor Piña, a blonde ale fermented with pineapples and dry-hopped with Mosaic hops. It's fruity without being cloying, subtle in its hopping and an altogether very drinkable experience.
The menu is filled with other treats, from a light but tasty poblano pilsner to a chocolate pale ale that feels naturally blended rather than some sort of gimmick. Around every turn, Cerveceria Colorado is willing to throw something new at you and demonstrate it knows what it's doing.
Berger acknowledges that this isn't the beer most Mexicans are drinking. But he thinks the melange of flavors would give them pride in what they taste. And it should rightfully please all the non-Mexican Denverites who want to stop in and learn just how fully realized a cultural effort this is.