Dark Side of the Brew: Xela’s Crafty Beer Scene
For the intrepid traveler stepping out of their usual jaunts around ol’ Mississipi in North East Portland, the allures of a cross-cultural adventure in the land of the Maya can be a smorgasbord of cultural delights. From the beautiful huipiles native to each village to the indescribable cultural nuance found in the variation of Tortrix snacks indigenous to each pueblo, navigating the rich tapestry that is the offerings of Guatemala’s menagerie of impulse-buy oligopolies can dazzle even the most well-trodden muchillero. But what put most to nostalgia for their far-away bougie habitat is the craving for a brew that doesn’t taste like a left-over cup of Bud Light sitting out since you so impressively won beer pong two days ago. But never fear. Ol’ Xelatown has got some surprises in the brewing department and as always, your trusty guides at XelaWho HQ have got your back with the DL on the hippest brewing scene this side of the Rio Grande.
Brewing in Guatemala is a tough art. Breweries across the world have mysterious founding myths based around legendary entrepreneurs defying the powers-that-be in the name of bringing a tastier kind of brew to the thirsty populace. Founders have fought jail, espionage and law suits. Australia’s own James Squire Brewery’s namesake was famously given 150 lashes to the back for illegally brewing his first bootleg beer. All this in the name of beer. Modern day Guatemala is not so different(minusthe lashings) thanks to Gallo’s national beer monopoly for the last several decades in which they plied every bit of their power to put in place some of the most restrictive laws against start-up breweries in the world.
Getting a beer licence in Guatemala is an expensive affair due to a raft of ridiculous regulations designed to make the legalization process one that even the most determined brewmiester can barely make it though. And if you want to brew a little something on the side, Gallo and their henchmen are waiting to slap a cool Q50,000 fine and several years jail-time on you and your devious endeavor to bring brew to the people. Nevertheless, there are now a raft of brave entrepreneurs brewing in their basements, start-ups and even some cool breweries splashing upwards of US$1,000,000 to get through the legal gauntlet all for your precious taste buds.
When Brahva hit the streets in 2012 heralded a watershed moment in Guatemalan craft brewing. While Brahva is not exactly craft being basically Bud Light via Brazil, their arrival meant that Gallo found some stiff competition and the eye of Sauron was finally diverted. In the shadows between the now-battling monoliths of national and international brewing, craft beer in Guatemala came into its own.
This editor had the privilege of attending the first Guatemalan craft brew fest in Antigua in 2016 which marked a new dawn for craft beer in Guatemala. While only one brewery was legal at the time and there were quick legal reprisals by Gallo on the bajo el agua breweries, the emperor’s clothes were off and the Guatemalan beer revolution had begun.
There are now over 10 legal breweries In Guatemala together with tons of craft imports like Brooklyn Brewery that are challenging the blonde lager status quo. Guatemalans and thirsty hipsters alike are taking to the new brews. Gallo and Brahva are still king, but more and more Chapines are starting to get the joke about why Gallo is like having sex in a canoe.
So get out there Xela and support your local breweries and the entrepreneurs pouring blood, sweat and beers into the local economy.