As far back as I can remember, every time I opened the refrigerator door, the first thing I saw was my stepfathers favorite beers. They were either in a blue can or a clear glass bottle filled with a yellow liquid I thought was lemonade. For the longest time, I could never understand why my stepfather would always drink his lemonade with salt and lime…kind of weird. That’s what I grew up thinking beer was: blue cans and clear bottles. It was simple, on the weekends, Corona was the “Mexican Beer.” After a long day’s work Bud Light was the “American Beer” which we call Mexican Pepsi! Maybe every now and then, I would see a new character come into the mix, the Red can “Tecate!” But it was usually reserved for a special occasion and as always, never to be served without “Sal y Limon.” When I came of age, (15 in case any of my non-Hispanic friends are wondering) I tried both those beers and hated them!!! I thought they were the nastiest tasting things ever invented, put in a can, and sold in a store. I couldn’t fathom why someone would pay good, hard earned money to drink something so bad. I ended up avoiding them at all costs and made a firm and unwavering commitment to the faster and tastier alternative: mixed drinks and hard alcohol.
Poquito Veneno No Mata
As the years went by, nothing seemed to change, my step-dad drank his Coronas while watching a random “futbol” match and my mom enjoyed her blended margaritas. It’s all I knew at the time and I never thought to look for a buzz elsewhere. That was until one fateful Thanksgiving Day, when all of that changed. I was visiting my brother in law, Javier, and his fiancé, Yalda, in San Diego. That year, Thanksgiving just so happen to land on my birthday. (Ya lucky me!!) We made the 5 hour pilgrimage from the central coast of California to San Diego, determined to make the most of it and I will admit, we eventually had an awesome time. The highlight of the night undoubtedly came when Javier walked out of his garage holding what looked like a wine bottle and said, “Hey try this…” As he poured a black liquid that looked like motor oil into fancy glasses, I said, “Ugh, what is that?” Javi replied: “Don’t worry about it and just try it. Poquito veneno no mata” (A little bit of poison won’t kill you.) Seeing as it was my birthday I thought “What the hell?” and replied “Don’t mind if I do!!!” I knew it had to be some type of beer only because Javier was really into this “new craft beer stuff” that was happening in San Diego. He was all about “craft beer this, and craft beer that.” But in my mind, whenever I heard the word “beer” the only things that came to mind were that blue can and clear bottle…Yuck!!
As I picked up the glass to take my first sip he stopped me and told me to wait a bit. Confused I said, “Ok…” and waited for his cue to drink. Oddly enough, I started to get excited wondering what all the fuss was all about and why I had to wait to drink a beer. I thought “Won’t it taste worse as it warms up? The blue can stuff never tasted good and it was even worse warm.” Reluctantly, I followed directions and waited, I saw others smell it first so I followed suit. It smelled like licorice and rubbing alcohol but then, just as that new aroma began to intrigue my senses, I took a sip. It was Amazing!!! It didn’t taste, look, or smell like what I knew to be beer, but I instinctively knew it was beer…very, very good beer. He smiled and asked if I liked it and I said, “No! I love it.” I was hooked by the second sip and by the time the dark brown lacing of that wonderful liquid coated the bottom and side of my fancy glass, I knew I had found something special. With my mind struggling to catch up with my senses wondering why this beer tasted so good I finally asked. “Isn’t beer just beer? Javi, what is this? ” He proceeded to turn the bottle, poured little more of that dark liquid into his fancy glass, and handed the black champagne-like bottle over. I read out loud the gold letters on that dark blue label, “The Bruery BLACK TUESDAY.” “Hmmm…never heard of this” I thought. I pulled out my iPhone and started Googling for this beer looking for a place to buy it. Good luck newbie. I was too green to know it then, but that was the proverbial “first day of the rest of your life” moment that would eventually turn me into the craft-beer-junkie I am today.
I started reading other articles and saw that people were not only talking about this beer but also talking about other great beers. “Wow, there’s more out there?” I asked. I started picking Javi’s brain about “craft beer” and asking a lot questions. He started talking about various styles, bottle shares, beer releases, and home brewing. I had no idea what he was talking about. He even mentioned brewing his own beer…yes a Mexican brewing his own beer, really? Two or 3 years later, his “Stupid Sexy Flanders” sour apparently was all the buzz at a local beer festival.
During our drive back to the central coast, I caught myself constantly thinking about that Black Tuesday, I was amazed at all this new information, this new and emerging wave of craft beer. I wanted to try more “great beers”. So I started researching, shopping, and tasting. Some beers were good, some were bad, others great, and some were just horrible (clear bottles = yuck). It seemed to me that outside of San Diego, in my hometown, the closest thing I could find to craft beet was a Blue Moon. San Diego had all these great breweries but making a 5 hour trip for great beer at that time, was unthinkable. Maybe, just maybe there could be a great brewery close to home. Once again, Google to the rescue. After a few searches and 20 minutes later, yes this was before the blazing 3G speed era, Firestone Walker Brewery popped up on my screen. I called Javi and asked if he was familiar with and what he thought about the place and after a solid recommendation, I was planning my first brewery adventure.
Two weeks later, I found myself driving south on the 101 freeway headed to Buellton CA, eager and excited as if I was on my way to a first date. I sat in the car a few minutes, and mustered up the strength to walk in and try something. It was very awkward when I walked in…I felt a little out of place because it seemed like I was the youngest person inside, I was the only woman there (besides the servers), and I was the only Hispanic. But I was there, I had made the journey, I could smell the good beer, it was almost in my hands, and there was no turning back. I took a seat at the bar and asked if they had a beer menu completely oblivious to the chalk board behind the bar. Not wanting to sound like a rookie, I asked “what do you recommend?” “We have flights” the bartender said. A flight? Hmm…I kinda liked the sound of that. “Sure, one of those” I said, not really knowing what I had just agreed to drink. Eventually, after what seemed like an eternity of silence, the bartender (*sensing my “newbie-ness”) asked which 4 beers I wanted to try and pointed up to the chalkboard. After a few minutes of back and forth about styles, flavors, and alcohol content, I chose 4 beers…I don’t remember what I chose to drink that day, but I had a another moment of clarity tasting what Firestone had available so close to home. I couldn’t get enough of Firestone and soon enough I was a regular at the fighting Lion and Bear place.
After the Dust Settled
Finding “beer buds” that had the same curiosity for craft beer was proving to be a much more challenging task. All my local friends were used to drinking mixed drinks or the usual “Mexican Pepsi” or Corona with lime. After some time, I began going to events and beer releases “solita” trying to get the next new beer, hoping it was as good as what the internet said. I started reading different beer blogs and making new friends, “craft beer friends” who knew what I was talking about when I said, “This beer is too hoppy” or “Do you taste brunt caramel?” Then came social media. Not so much Facebook and Twitter but Instagram!! I loved the fact that you were able to view and post pictures of what you were drinking (or at least holding). Not only that but then I noticed something else. You were also able to talk about beer, trade beers, or even get a heads up on events. I was very skeptical at first but I did my first trade through Instagram. It went through smoothly but not all of my trades have gone so “ex-lax” as my husband says. I have been burned more than once and I would contribute that to not only my natural nature of being so trusting of others, but also to the fact that I am a woman. Some may see me as weak and naïve, it seems most people early on did. I do admit I was new at the whole trading scene but people shouldn’t underestimate a strong Latina Woman! In no time I had people asking me for advice on trading, begging for a trade, and asking me to join clubs. It took a lot of time, effort, and hard work (tasting a lot of beers is hard work), but in the end I realized it’s about paying it forward, knowing your “stuff”, and trusting the right people.
The good thing is that my family supports me including my mom who will poke fun of me and always asking what I do with so much beer. She knows it’s what I love so she doesn’t judge and will even go pick up beers at releases for me when I can’t. My daughter and son even recognize some of the brands and labels I like and the ones I absolutely don’t like! Everyone has their own journey in craft and fortunately mine is in its prime and just keeps getting better, and better.
One thing I did notice throughout my journey is the fact that there are not as many women in craft as there are men but our numbers are growing as are the numbers of Latinos/Latinas in the craft beer community. We have been growing in numbers and I have been seeing more and more not only at my favorite brewery, Firestone, but also at beer releases and on social media. Over the years I’ve seen some of my friends and family members convert to craft beer with a little push from me! Lol I still have those die hard friends who will never give up their mixed drinks and Mexican Pepsi! Those friends that think I’m either crazy or turned “white washed”. I think choosing to love great beer has nothing to do with who you are or what your heritage is. It’s all about knowing what’s out there and what tastes best to you. But my story doesn’t end here or anytime soon. This “craft beer movement” is only getting bigger and better. Until the next time: Salud!