Suave Fest and Raíces Brewing Shine Light on LatinX Brewers
The communal nature of the craft beer industry naturally lends to a general sentiment of inclusiveness. Race, gender, sexual orientation, doesn’t matter to most in the beer community as long as you make good beer? Despite the widespread tone of inclusivity, the majority of owners, employees, and even depending on region, patrons, are still only represented by white males.
However, on the eve of one of the industry’s most significant beer festivals of the year, the inaugural Suave Festival, which celebrates LatinX brewery owners and LatinX inspired beer in Colorado, we’re highlighting some of those owners who make up what has been estimated as less than 0.6% of the beer industry in the United States, the Latinx beer community! (Latinx is the gender-neutral version for what many know as Latino)
Progress Brewing – South El Monte, CA
The first brewery we had the honor of talking to was Progress Brewing out of South El Monte, CA in the greater Los Angeles Area. Co-founders Dr. Diego Benitez and Kevin Ogilby, started Progress brewing in 2012, coming from the biomaterials industry. Talking to Benitez he says: “Kevin and I were working in Pasadena at a biomaterials company I co-founded. The company needed to move to San Diego to start clinical studies of the products and we both wanted to stay in Los Angeles. While we worked in Pasadena, we used to frequent Lucky Baldwins and we started talking about opening a brewery. One day we took a notebook to take notes and started putting together a rough business plan. We are only 2 owners and no investors. This allows us to make all our own decisions without having to listen to anyone that is not directly involved with the day-to-day operations. Our science background helps with some aspects of brewing and the brewing process, and we have worked really hard on developing our palates to be able to taste minor differences of what we brew.
“I feel Los Angeles is extremely used to Latinx culture. Maybe not in the beer industry, but Latinxs in general are a strong demographic running small businesses in LA. I feel we came to the right place, and especially at the right time and focused on a very underserved segment. To us, it seemed the natural thing to do, but we realized we had been part of a consumer preference shift when big beer companies started focusing very large amounts of capital targeting Latinxs. The community has been very supportive by embracing beers we have made inspired in flavors I grew up with. I believe what makes me different is being an immigrant and having a strong immigrant mentality. I believe immigrants tend to be more resourceful, less scared of obstacles, and more persistent. Early on, we received a lot of encouragement and positive feedback on what we were doing. We also saw that our main customer segment was Latinxs that lived or worked around South El Monte. One of the aspects of Progress that I am the proudest is to see our tasting room with many different people interacting and brought together by Progress beer. Especially on Thursdays, you can see teachers, welders, bankers, engineers, plumbers, truck drivers, of all ethnicities and backgrounds.
“We have tried to adapt Mexican ingredients to replace a traditional ingredient in classic styles of beer. For example, instead of using Belgian Candi sugar, we use piloncillo in our Bronco Belgian Pale Ale. We have also used Oaxacan heirloom blue corn masa nixtamalizada to replace corn in Alamo Cream Ale. This minor adjustment respects the originality of the classic beer style, but adds a Progress twist. In addition, we have also created beers that highlight specific Latinx beverages. For example, tepache (sourish pineapple drink) was common in my house. We then made a mildly sour beer with pineapple to taste similar to tepache. Other drinks that we have used as inspiration are tejuino, ponche, cafe de olla and others.”
Atrevida Brewing – Colorado Springs, CO
Atrevida Brewing in Colorado Springs, CO, is owned by Jessica Fierra. Atrevida got its start through a TV show oddly enough, which was Beerland, aired on Viceland. She was selected as one of the brewers from across the country and placed first with her Tamarind Biere de Garde named Doña Neta, which was then made and distributed nation-wide through Golden Road (AB). After the show, she started her own brewery, independently owned by her and her husband. She had some great insight into both the Latinx brewing culture as well as being a female in the industry.
“Diversity, it’s on tap!” Jessica says, “This was written in my notebook years before I opened my brewery (which is now prominently displayed on our storefront marquee and my merchandise). A simple message with a huge meaning! As my love and passion grew for craft beer so did my curiosity. Why are there not more women brewers? Why are there not more people who look like me consuming craft beer? Where is the diversity? Bringing diversity to the forefront was a major motivating factor for me. I set a goal to be the FIRST Latina owner and head brewer with an all-woman staff when I was to open my brewery… Diversity is certainly needed in this industry, in fact, it is need in all industries. Diversity is about inclusion. Creating a space where ALL feel welcome and respected without regard to sex, age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious belief or lack thereof. ANYONE who wants to be in the top tiers of their industry should have those opportunities open to them and not just to check that box off that ‘one’ was considered but to truly be weighed against their counterparts in a fair and unbiased manner. This motivated me then and drives me today.”
“As a whole we have been very well received, thankfully! We have folks who congratulate us for being so bold in our message and we get folks who question our message. I think the difference in being a Latina Owner with a strong message is that I do get questioned. I’ll give you an example. I was about 30 minutes into a great conversation with a male customer and at one point he says ‘Hey can I ask you a question?’ I said ‘sure!’ and he looks me dead in the eye with all seriousness and says ‘How is it working with all women in a brewery?’ I looked at him waiting for the I’m just kidding laugh until I realized he was serious. So I put my index finger up gesturing for him to hang on just a minute. I went I poured myself a beer and I came back to him and looked him dead in the eye with all seriousness and said ‘Well, let me ask YOU a question. Do you make it a habit to go to other breweries and ask them what it’s like working with all men in a brewery?’ and he looks at me, smiles and shamefully says ‘yeah, I am an asshole. I’m sorry!’ and without skipping a beat I looked at him, smiled and said ‘yeah… next pint on me!’ and we both laughed and cheers’d. I had another customer tell me my accent was too thick and he couldn’t understand me. Mind you I speak perfect English. Another who told my friend ‘Yeah we’ll see how long this Latina card lasts’. My point is that these very specific comments and questions are being said to me for a reason. Do I think the other breweries are being asked or told the same things? My answer is no. While it is not my responsibility to educate anyone I do feel that with my message I can bring awareness, as in the first example, without being combative or disrespectful. With that being said for every one person that has something crazy or negative to say we have dozens more who support and encourage who we are as a company!
“I am inspired by infusing cultures, people, music, cultural events, flavors I grew up with and more in my beer-making process. For example, I have a Boricua Belgian Blonde, I have a Juneteenth Cream Ale, I have a Malala Yousafzai DIPA. I also have some fun ones that are reflective of my own culture and flavors I have grown up with such as Fresas Con Crema cream ale on nitro, Chocolate Ibarra stout, Drunk’n Churro witbier, Dolores Huerta Mexican Lager. I also do a 4-day event for Dia De Los Muertos with beers to match! These are just a few examples of how I bring diversity and culture to my beers.”
Raíces Brewing – Denver CO
“Raíces, means ‘roots’,” says Tamil, a spokesperson for the brewery, “To pay homage to our heritage and cultural identities and to highlight Latin Culture and its influences- (Raíces) is the community tap-room delivering high-quality craft beer along with Local and Latin-American food and entertainment to connect its patrons through culture.” Raíces defines themselves as a place to connect with other Latinos and feel at home, surrounded by traditional Latin food, music, culture and great beer and for non-Latinos, a place where, in addition to having great food, music, and beer, people can learn and connect with Latin culture and its richness. Although busy planning the festival, on top of launching their own brewery they were able to say, “We are providing a brewery where Latinos can identify with, and others can experience the Latino culture and communities. We are a platform for gastronomy, artists, a hub of sharing knowledge and strengthening community. We are diversifying the craft beer industry and creating pipelines to bring accessibility of the industry to underrepresented groups in it, and we are a welcoming and family atmosphere with high-quality beer, with a twist of styles from our one experiences, and flavors.”
This kind of philosophy is the driving force behind what will be represented in Suave Fest which debuts tomorrow at Denver’s STEAM on Platte at 1401 Zuni St, Denver, CO. This is the first time a beer festival will be held to represent and feature exclusively LatinX breweries and LatinX inspired beers. The event will include Latin American and Caribbean cuisine from a diversity of vendors, as well as live music from Latino artists. There will also be traditional non-alcoholic drinks featured such as malta, chicha, and aguas frescas.
Participating breweries include:
- Raíces Brewing Co.
- Atrevida Beer Co
- Boggy Draw Brewery
- Cheluna Brewing
- Coal Mine Ave Brewing
- Donavon Brewing
- Dos Luces Brewing
- Jade Mountain Brewing
- Lady Justice Brewing
- Novel Strand Brewing
Although the divide between Latinx craft beer consumers and brewery owners is large, the few out there are making great waves and fusing their rich heritage into the delicious beers they make. We all look forward to the continued growth in the beer industry, and welcome more Latinx breweries to join in the future!