Tuesday, May 15, 2018

A Brief History of New Mexican Cerveza

A Brief History of New Mexican Cerveza
A few weeks ago the group of us who are working to reestablish the herb garden at El Rancho de Las Golindrinas were tossing around ideas for types of plants and chatting about their historical, medical or culinary uses.  Someone brought up the question of when beer arrived in New Mexico.  We all agreed that the yeast-fermented, malt-flavored, alcoholic drink seemed to be pretty much a worldwide food staple.  But it obviously didn’t spontaneously come to life everywhere at the same time.   Did it come with the Spanish Colonialist beginning in the late 1500s?  Was it the Mexicans who brought it after they achieved independence from their southern European conquerors in 1821?   The Americans when New Mexico became an U.S. Territory in 1848?  Or was it possibly here “pre-contact”, as the period of time prior to non-native boots on the ground is known.
Or maybe even a little bit of all of the above.

Spain – Abundant and Inexpensive Wine

Beer has been in Spain for quite a while – and apparently Rome.  The writings of Pliny the Elder  (23 AD to 79 AD), the Roman philosopher and author (who coincidentally has an American beer named after him) indicate that he himself did not care for the brewski from Hispania, which he also felt the Iberians themselves were drinking way too much of.  However it is uncertain from whence or when this fermented beverage arrived in Spain – whether it was introduced into the country by the Greeks or Phoenicians who often traded in the southern part of España – or perhaps by some Libyan soldiers who brought it with them – or some other way.
In any event Spanish beer went largely unnoticed throughout Europe until Charles V (aka Carlos Quinto) arrived in the country from Flanders in 1516.  (He later would become Holy Roman Emperor from 1519-1558 while remaining King of Spain until 1556.) Charles had acquired an affinity for the malt beverage in Flanders, which, unlike his new home country, was not a wine producer.  Finding nothing local to his liking he imported that with which he was familiar, and hired a central European brew master to establish and run a small beer factory located in a nearby monastery.
But the Spanish people hated Carlos V and, possibly by extension, his favorite drink – so it too quickly fell by the popular wayside.  And the brews of his son and successor Philip II did not fair much better – even though he commanded the reestablishment of beer production on the Manzanares River in central Spain.  Nonetheless, despite the lack of popularity within both the country’s commoners and gentry alike, beer continued to be brewed in varying quantities.  Which disfavor was due, most likely, to the fact that wine in Spain was abundant, good and inexpensive.
Beginning in 1611 more factories were opened in Madrid – all named after their owners, all of whom were Flemish, Alsatian or German – anything but Spanish.  Still, not until the beginning of the 20th century did the beverage become popular enough for large factories such as Mahou (1890); Águila (1900); Cruz del Campo (today called Cruzcampo) (1904); and Damm (1910) to achieve some degree of success. 
 It took until the 1960s for beer to finally became less expensive than wine and take over as the preferred drink of the summer.  This trend was also helped by the advent of the small glass of beer known as a “caña”, which allows present day Spaniards to hop from one bar to another for an evening of “Cañas y tapas.”

Mexico – Supply Side Economics and Independence
Before the Spanish conquest of Mexico there were many local fermented beverages in that country– the best known being “pulque”, made from the sap of the maguey or agave plant and “tesgüino” or “izquiate”, a light, amber-colored corn-based liquid which is whisked before drinking.   The soldiers of Hernán Cortés likely produced the first barley beer in Mexico during his 1518 expedition.  But a lack of supplies abruptly ended that self-help enterprise.
The first official license (“concession”) to brew European-style beer in Mexico was granted to Alfonso de Herrero in 1543 or 1544.  The brewery was likely located either south of Mexico City (where Metro Portales is today) or in Amecameca.  The factory struggled to get started due to a lack of supplies, which in turn drove up its price – and from competition by traditional local, less expensive drinks.  It did catch on though with colonial officials – however heavy taxation and regulations from the mother country, which were designed to force the colonies to import commodities from Europe, eventually drove de Herrero’s and other breweries out of business.  As in Spain however, Mexican beer production never totally stopped, and just prior to the War of Independence beer consumption was well established enough to prompt disputes over who was legally entitled to produce it.   Two Englishmen, Gillons and Mairet, and a pair of Mexicans Miguel Ramos Arizpe and Justino Tuallion all claimed exclusive rights to produce beer in Mexico.   When the war ended the beer put out by the Tuallion brewery proved to be the most popular.
After independence the Spanish restrictions were lifted – and the industry was allowed to develop.  In 1845, a barley beer flavored with piloncillo (unrefined whole cane sugar) was introduced under the names “Pila Seca” and “La Candelaria” by Swiss brewer Bernhard Boldgard and Bavarian Federico Herzog respectively.  However the influx of German immigrants in the second half of the nineteenth century and the short-lived Second Mexican Empire headed by Emperor Maximilian I of the House of Habsburg was what truly began the Mexican brewing industry.  The Emperor brought in his own brew master to produce Vienna-style dark beers for his boss – an influence that can be seen today in the popular Negra Modelo and Dos Equis Amber brands.
This was followed over the next fifty years by the establishment of a large number of breweries (“cervecerías”) in various parts of the country, among them: Cruz Blanca in Mexico City by Emil Dercher in 1869 (which produced the first lager); Yucateca by José Ponce Solis in Mérida in 1869 (with German equipment and a German brewer); and the Cervecería Chihuahua by Juan Terrazas in Chihuahua in 1896.
The arrival of the Mexican railroad system at the end of the nineteenth century brought good news – the import of machinery and malt from the United States – and not so good news – U.S. produced beer.  By 1890, the first industrial-size cervecería, Cuauhtémoc, was built in Monterrey – followed four years later, by Moctezuma in Orizaba.  Corona, the best-known and best-selling Mexican beer in the U.S. began in 1925 at Cervecería Modelo in Mexico City, with exports to the United States beginning in 1933.
So did either the Spanish or Mexicans introduce any of their beers into New Mexico?  Or was it already here, pre-contact?

Near Beer and Boomtown Breweries
The Franciscan Monks who followed Don Juan de Oñate and the Spanish Colonists in 1598 into the upper valleys of the Rio Grande had need of sacramental wine to be used in their holy masses.  The nearest source was several months’ travel away.  So In 1629, Franciscan friar García de Zúñiga and Capuchín monk Antonio de Arteaga planted the first wine grapes in the Río Grande valley of southern New Mexico.  By the year 1880, grapes were grown on over 3,000 acres, and New Mexico Territory wineries were producing over 1,000,000 US gallons of wine – fifth in the United States. That year the Socorro (New Mexican) Bulletin predicted, "We see in the present attention given to grape culture, an important and growing industry which, in a few years, will assume proportions of no ordinary nature."
But was this The Land of Enchantment’s first intoxicating beverage?
"There’s been an artificial construct among archeologists working in New Mexico that no one had alcohol here until the Spanish brought grapes and wine. That’s so counter-intuitive. It doesn’t make sense to me as a social scientist that New Mexico would have been an island in pre-Columbian times," wrote botanical archaeologist.
Glenna Dean.
Early tribes in Mexico and Arizona are known to have produced a weak (low alcohol content) beer called “tiswin” from fermented corn.  But no evidence of this brewing had been found in The Land of Enchantment until Dr. Dean, with the help of Sandia Laboratories, discovered bits of alcohol residue typical of beer production on several 800-year-old potsherds that had been found in ancient New Mexico pueblos.
Glenna Dean warns, “It’s always possible that corn fermented in a pot without the intent of the owner."  But still…
My Internet searches for the “history of beer in America” all produced results that tell of the history of that beverage in Colonial East Coast America.  This Brit-centric view of the past will not of course be a shock to any New Mexican who has ever tried to investigate their home state’s past.  So just to tell THAT story – according to beeradvocate.com:
“1607  First shipment of beer arrives in the Virginia colony from England.
“1609  American "Help Wanted" advertisements appear in London seeking brewers for the Virginia Colony.
“1612  Adrian Block & Hans Christiansen establish the first known brewery in the New World on the southern tip of New Amsterdam (Manhattan).”
The list of landmark beer events continues – but nowhere do the words “Spain” or “Mexico” (old or New) appear.  However beginning in the 1800s and extending mostly throughout the latter part of that century some of New Mexico’s own landmark events conspired to draw the map of the territory’s first beer trail.  Fabled mines such as Bridal Chamber, Confidence, Little Hell, Calamity Jane, Hardscrabble, Mystic Lode, North Homestake, Little Fanny, and Spanish Bar drew thousands of thirsty prospectors to New Mexico in search of the mother lode and instant wealth.  Most were Anglo settlers who came from parts of the country where beer was available.  And at the end of the day they were used to having a tall cool one. 
But apparently not all of them.  The “New Mexico Nomad” website reports, “These communities varied in character. Some set the precedent for the bawdy old west mythos of brothels, gamblers, saloons and shootouts. Some were quiet, calm communities of law abiding, god-fearing folk. For example, Kingston and Chloride [3,000 people, 8 saloons] were party towns, with an impressive ratio of saloons to citizens and a dearth of chapels, whereas Winston was established by people who thought Chloride was unruly so they set up their own town down the canyon.”
There were however enough “wet” towns to support a small, burgeoning industry.  Jon C. Scott writes in “New Mexico Beer”, “Although Albuquerque, Las Cruces, Santa Fe, and Las Vegas, all towns along the Santa Fe Trail and later the railroads, had their share of breweries, many others operated in places that are now ghost towns, or at best tiny villages.  Mogollon, Bland, Elizabethtown, Georgetown, Kingston, and Sapello were boomtowns, built during the silver, and to a lesser extent, gold rushes in the latter part of the nineteenth century, and disappearing or dwindling to a few dozen people when the boom ended.”  (Sapello was also the original site of El Molino Grande (The Big Mill) at El Rancho de las Golondrinas.)
These breweries did not last for a long time – thirteen of them for three or less years, and four of them for a single annum.  When the mines closed so did they.  And, with the arrival of the railroads, beer was now being shipped into the region from other parts of the country cutting in to the rest of the local market.
The vast majority of these beer factories were owned and/or operated by German or German trained brew masters – the same ethnic group that were establishing the American Midwest based brands that would come to dominate the industry into the twenty-first century with names such as Pabst, Schlitz, Strohs, Anheuser-Busch, and (Marsha’s and my personal favorite) Yuengling – America’s Oldest Brewery begun when David G. Yuengling migrated from Wuerttemberg Germany to the coal-mining town of Pottsville, Pennsylvania.
According to Jon C. Scott, the first actual record of a brewery was in Sante Fe around 1855.  A flood destroyed the business and I was unable to find its name.  Among the known early New Mexico beer producers were the Illinois Brewing Company (1882–1918) in Socorro, a liquor wholesaler that moved into brewing in the mid-1880s; and the Southwestern Brewery and Ice Company (1888–1918) in Albuquerque maker of the well-known Glorieta brand. Both never resumed beer production after prohibition but continued selling ice and soda.
Improved transportation and distribution systems – plus lower production costs – brought the midwestern beers to New Mexico in the early 1900s, basically closing down the territory/state’s producers.  And Coors, a Colorado beer began selling in New Mexico, becoming the state’s de facto “local” beer.
Then, in 1988 the Santa Fe Brewing Company became the first New Mexico brewery to open since 1909 – to be followed by a multitude of local producers including Bosque, Broken Bottle, Chama River, Marble and Tractor.

I think I should stop here before the topic gets stale – nothing is worse than a flat beer.  It is time instead to reconvene the herb garden restoration quintet for another planning session – this time though perhaps accompanied by an ice cold “Twisted Root” from Santa Fe Brewery, or a nicely chilled “Sauvage Rosé” from Albuquerque’s Gruet winery.  Or maybe even some home-brewed tiswin fermented in the garage of local Paleo-Indian.
Whatever our beverage, let’s have a toast – “To history, and to beer’s part in it!”


“New Mexico Beer: A History of Brewing in the Land of Enchantment”, Jon C. Scott, American Palate, 2014

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