75. "Chela de la CDMX" for the Win
The standout creativity of craft beer in Mexico; some possible coming updates for Hugging the Bar; and tarot for protecting your success without getting defensive.
Happy 2023, folks. I truly hope you had the kind of holidays you wanted, whatever that looks like, and that you drank some great stuff. I also hope you’re easing into whatever kind of January you want to have, dry-to-not and all stops in between, with grace for yourself. There’s lots to say about the holidays and the new year and so on, but I’m going to leave it all behind because I’ve already chatted re: holidays, other people do it well every year, and, well, I belong to the Larry David school of thought on needing to get tf past this whole “happy new year” conversation much closer to the actual beginning of the year.
That being said, I am going to gaze back upon one thing that happened pre-December 31, 2022, and that is a trip to Mexico.
Make Mexico City Your Next Beer Trip
I’m pretty embarrassed about how bad my Spanish is. Actually, calling it “bad” is too generous; it’s non-existent. In stilted conversation after stilted conversation, I felt frivolous for having spent so much of my life studying French and German, when the need for either is so infrequent. And yet, the people working beer-bar-and-bottle-shops in Mexico City—the kind and patient people—were able to guide me on an incredible beer journey. No mean feat, that.
This was the first and most memorable thing that stood out to me about Mexico City’s beer scene when I first visited in 2019. At Drunkendog, a lively and convivial green-tiled beer bar in La Condesa, the beertender and I shared one common language, and that is the language of beer. Perhaps that sounds a bit much, but there’s no way around it! We couldn’t have talked about much else, but I was able to convey—or, let’s give credit where it’s actually due: he managed to suss out—I was from the States and wanted to try some Mexican craft beer, and bring a few favorites home, and (at the time) I was primarily after IPAs. Beer after beer after beer was pulled out of the front fridge and displayed on a table as he talked me through each one as best he could, with bullet-point descriptors that proved quite effective. “Bitter, orange, Mexico City,” “Thicker, sweet, pineapple, Tijuana.” Drilled down to flavors and mouthfeels and reference points and where the beer was brewed, I made selections and didn’t regret a single one.
This scene played out again and again as I got to more spots this December 2022 visit. Beer Box, back to Drunkendog, back to Trappist, Malt Bunny, a counter in Mercado Roma. And I also saw it take place with other patrons as they arrived. You are greeted at these places with questions. An engaging and informative conversation begins. Do you know what styles you like? Or, if not, what are some flavors you like? What don’t you like? What are you curious about? Do you want to try something from Mexico? Or maybe Belgium? The beertender is an enthusiastic tour guide: welcome to the big, wide, exciting world of beer. It feels so refreshingly accessible and inclusive. Like, whatever level of beer knowledge or interest you have walking into one of these places, it and all of the beer it has on tap or in the fridge is indeed for you. You will find something you love. You don’t need to be an expert on it—but also, you can be if you want, and the beertender’s here to help with that.
And then, of course, there’s the beer itself. I do regret that I was in fact so single-minded on my beer quest in 2019, because now really all I can tell you is that Mexican breweries were making some great IPAs. They were probably making other great stuff, too, but fool that I am, I can’t tell you about it. I can tell you that everything I tried in 2022 was not just solid, not just well-executed, not just satisfying…it was exciting. You see on display in taprooms and beer bars a common thread of Mexican breweries reinterpreting traditions and styles, and making things their own. And the outcomes are celebrations of both the beer style as well as other traditions. Case in point: I saw quite a few different beers incorporating mezcal. Monterrey’s Principia does a mezcal IPA, as does Jalisco’s Cerveza Minerva, for their collab with Run the Jewels. Meanwhile, at Cru Cru, I had a Belgian-style tripel made with mezcal. I was curious just how the mezcal is incorporated, and it makes sense this would vary beer to beer—I’ve seen one that was conditioned on mezcal-soaked oak chips. Fernando Gil Pichardini from Principia was nice enough to share some info on theirs:
“We infuse pineapple with mezcal Gota Santa and we smoke a small quantity of malt at the BBQ restaurant Nomada XXI of Monterrey. Since the mezcal has pineapple sugars we add it during fermentation.” Super interesting, and explains why that IPA’s overall smoke and citrus was so balanced and lasting, from the first aroma to the aftertaste.
Many beers, in fact, seemed to have a cocktail approach to their ingredients and resulting flavors and aromas. At Falling Piano Brewing Co., I had a black lager with “flamed coconut, Caribbean spices, and rum barrel chips.” And, another mezcal beer: this time a red ale with lemon peel.
And at La Roma Brewing (which, I am still trying to figure out: did they buy Escollo? Merge? Because it’s the same space, right? If anyone has any idea, I’m curious!), I found the kind of tap list that makes you nervous—like they can’t possibly do all of these very varied styles well, can they? But that’s also the kind of tap list that when you sample across styles and realize this brewery can in fact execute a hazy IPA as well as a Belgian-style table beer, you immediately understand this brewery is exceptional and become a devoted fan. This is what happened at La Roma. There were all these nods to American craft beer culture, from a Christmas tree decorated with cans from breweries like Other Half and Tree House to a collab with Manhattan’s own Torch & Crown(!). So, at first, I was like, “Interesting, okay, this is a brewery locked into that hop bomb life,” but didn’t mind it necessarily, because the hazy IPA I had—I did of course have to try the Torch & Crown collab—was so good and complex and well done that it was one of those hazies that makes you feel a little excited about the style again even when you’re nothing short of fatigued on them. But then: a Scottish light ale? A kellerbier? A Belgian dubbel? Was there nothing La Roma couldn’t do?
Then there was a brewery of whose beer I kept finding in different bars and shops, Compañía Cervecera Hércules. I found a fantastic IPA from them and happened to snap a shot of it for my Instagram stories, to which they replied letting me know that they have a lager bar! The sheer coolness, it is painful. I was gutted that I only learned this on Sunday night and we were leaving bright and early Tuesday morning and the bar was closed Mondays; it is truly the very first priority on my list when I get back to CDMX. Anyway, I’m pretty sure I had some others throughout the trip, too, but another standout from Hércules was their Pie Grande, a super smoothly, subtly roasty and bitter and chocolately, easy-drinking banger.
Our craft beer adventures stopped dead in their tracks when we got to Cancún, which I obviously wasn’t surprised by—I planned this second half of the vacation intentionally to have four days of nothing but beach and pool after four days of running around Mexico City morning to pretty-late night. But even then, all was not lost, and I don’t just mean because we’d brought beer with us from our bottle shop visits. At a luchador match, my husband handed me what was a sort of pared-down michelada that transcended everything I’d ever thought a michelada could be—how do we mess them up here, exactly? I’m really not sure: the ones in Mexico somehow seem to both better feature the beer but also better feature the spiciness and non-beer ingredients at the same time. And when I was about halfway in, he dropped the bomb that there was Clamato in it. I’ve spent my whole life thinking Clamato disgusted me, what a waste! I had years of Clamato-and-beer enjoyment to make up for, and by the time I was drinking at the swim-up bar in Cancún, it was Modelos and Victorias with just Clamato and a salt and Tajin rim. And yes, our fridge at home was pretty promptly stocked with Clamato and Victoria upon our return.
Perhaps I’m still on a post-vacation high, but right now I’m feeling more inspired by Mexican beer than I have by other destinations in a long time. It’s kind of funny with how I’ve been feeling about beercations lately—this trip wasn’t meant to be a beercation, per se, and we gave equal importance to checking out Mexico City’s world-renowned cocktail bars in addition to vintage shopping and just long neighborhood walks and wrestling and a Xochimilco excursion and markets and, duh, eating ourselves silly, and yet, I ended up accidentally becoming completely invigorated by what’s being done with beer there.
Paid Subscriptions Coming Maybe?
Okay, look, we gotta get this talk out of the way and now seems like a good time in terms of setting intentions and goalposts for the new year and all that. So. Paid subscriptions. Are these coming to Hugging the Bar? Yes? Maybe? I don’t know?
When I started this newsletter, I didn’t ever factor in paid subscriptions directly on Substack for two reasons. One is that I do always want the majority of content here to be free. That’s the crux of my mission here, making craft beer culture and the discussion around it accessible and inclusive. The second reason is a bummer to admit, which is my oft-mentioned impostor syndrome—to be honest, I never really had the confidence to think anyone would pay to read my writing.
The compromise, it seemed, which would indeed require at least a little confidence, was Patreon. I needed and wanted to get some kind of revenue going here, both because this is part of my living and because the whole Hugging the Bar mission comes with expenses, like paying diverse writers and donating to DEI-focused causes. And a handful of you signed up almost as soon as I launched the Patreon, which really meant the world to me and did help my confidence in this little old project grow (seriously, thank you to those people!).
But then, as I mentioned at the time, a lovely reader reached out and was like, look, I want to pay for your writing because I believe in doing so for writers I read, but I really don’t want to have to subscribe to a whole other, separate thing—I’m paraphrasing, of course. That made total sense to me! We all have, what, anywhere from 250 to 900 sites and email lists and social accounts and media subscriptions and memberships to keep track of? So, that’s when I created the link to make a one-time donation through PayPal.
Now, some other very lovely reader has gone and done something I only learned about when they did it and Substack notified me, which is pledge to pay. I’m not sure when Substack rolled this out, but if you have a newsletter that does not have any paid subscription tier, but a reader feels they would pay for your newsletter if you did, they can pledge and if you turn on paid subscriptions, they’d be a paid subscriber. It was really cool and flattering and motivating to see that pledge!
And now, the wheels are turning. Again, the bulk of this newsletter will always be free. But, do I add paid? What will that subscription look like? Exclusive Q&A’s, maybe? And on that note, do I take some plans for Patreon content, like extra tarot readings, and put them here instead as part of the paid subscriptions? And so then transfer Patreon patrons over to paid subscriptions (grandfather-ed in, of course!)? As I think about all of this, I wanted to share the possibilities now so that A, you can watch this space and have some idea of what 2023 might bring here, and B, you can let me know if you’d be interested in a paid subscription with extra, exclusive content—it would be really helpful to know if more readers would be into this!
This week, I pulled the Seven of Wands.
Wands is the suit of communication, intuition, and travel. The Seven of Wands speaks to challenges, persevering, and protection. And often, these things are linked: this card comes up when you’ve been enjoying some success in some field, and now there are challenges to that position, and you’ve got to rise to those challenges and protect what you’ve earned. This could mean anything from job competition to negative reviews on a project that’s otherwise well received and—importantly—that you’re proud of to troll-ish comments on your social feeds attempting to cut you down and undermine your knowledge and contributions.
I wouldn’t take this card to mean you’ve got to get super defensive, or start looking over your shoulder with every step forward you make. It’s not about mitigating your happiness around your accomplishments and success, far from it. I’d consider it more a heads up that, as with everything else, no wins are without some complication. (It actually reminds me of the piece I linked to last issue, about the unlikelihood of bars holding on to their World’s 50 Best Bars list status. Victories have to be protected to some degree in some way, even if that actually looks like accepting the onetime win, letting it encourage your path forward, and so then deciding you don’t need that particular validation to forge on.) An interesting thing I read about this card is that the guy is wearing two different shoes, which could suggest he was caught off guard. And I think that’s the major takeaway. Enjoy your success. Enjoy being proud—please let yourself be proud! Brag a little, it’s cool—I’m sure you’re super supportive of others’ work, too. But, just consider not letting your defenses allllll the way down. Don’t be surprised if haters come for you, as it might hurt more or have an impact if you’re not expecting it. It’s the whole “hope for the best, expect the worst” thing. Don’t let anyone take away from your achievements, but also don’t let the fear of this detract, either.
Perfect: J. Wakefield has a beer called Haterade. I know, technically haterade is what the haters drink—don’t think too deep on this. Instead, enjoy the message here. Let the haters drink their haterade—screw ‘em! You’ve got this. Toast to your success with a delicious beer. And sour fans should find this fruit punch “Florida weisse” just that.
This Week’s Boozy Media Rec
Heading into a new year, I’d consider it essential to read Jeff Alworth’s “Things May Be Bad, But Brewers Remain Optimistic” over on Beervana. Considering that often when sweeping industry trends are reported on, the situations different individuals experience can get lost, Jeff reached out to breweries in all different regions to take a temperature on how they were doing, the biggest challenges they’ve been facing and expect to continue to face, the biggest pain points in this business right now and their impact, and, yes, what they’re still optimistic about. It’s a great distillation of how real, individual breweries are actually being affected by the current state of beer, and, hey, it’s not as bleak as we often see!
I’m going to make this a double header since, again, we’re kicking off a whole new year. I really appreciate Doug Veliky’s 2023 Craft Beer Preview over at Beer Crunchers. There’s a whole bunch of predictions here, some under the “natural progression” umbrella, others perhaps a bit less expected but thought through with and supported with lots of helpful explanation—and all in all, it really makes sense of the industry as a whole for the year ahead.
Ex-BEER-ience of the Week
I got to check out a newish and new-to-me brewery this past weekend while visiting in-laws in Western Massachusetts, and it was an instant hit in my book. Rustic Brewing Co. has a real cute space and friendly folks in Indian Orchard. (They also have good beer trivia games mixed in with their board games, so I could consider my time there “studying.”) I had a great Citra IPA, a perfect Vienna Lager, and took home a can of mint chocolate stout I’m looking forward to cracking.
Until next week, here’s Darby at Other Half on Christmas Eve, in her Santa finest.