On the last day of a week-long winter vacation, I stumble across Mexican-brewed IPAs, porters and more.
Interview—La Negra’s Hector Reyes
It was my sixth (and last full) day of my Mexican vacation and I was dying for an IPA. All I could find in the all-inclusive was watery Mexican beer, two flavours (light and dark). On a brief, exploratory trip to the small town of Bucerias the day before, I had found an alternative, a bottle of Bohemia, at a small grocery store. But the Mexican lager did little to excite the taste buds.
However, I liked what I saw of the town, and decided to go back. Through luck and the right questions (thanks to Oliver at Los Famosas burgers), I found just the lunch destination I was looking for, Delicias Mexicanas. Family-run, the restaurant was located a few blocks off of the beach. The outdoor picnic-like seating area was empty except for a family of eight or so, a couple sitting on their own, and some turtles. The couple, Brenda and Cliff, were Canadians who spent part of the year in the town. They wouldn’t happen to know if I would be able to find a craft beer anywhere near, would they? Right across the street, as it turned out.
And that’s how I found myself interviewing Hector Reyes, co-owner (with his wife Serena) of La Negra, probably the only craft beer joint within 50 kilometres of Puerto Vallarta. The restaurant/bar features a full menu as well as a DJ set-up in the back for a chill, lounge vibe at night.
Reyes moved to the area from Guadalajara about four years ago. I asked him about opening a craft beer bar in Bucerias, convincing the locals to drink craft beer, and the country’s craft beer scene.
SC: When did you open?
HR: Two-and-a-half years ago.
SC: What inspired you to open a craft beer place here in Nayarit (which borders Jalisco to the south)?
HR: We moved here to open a beach bar. It was three blocks north of here. That was our first experience with a restaurant. It was difficult to start the beach bar. Bucerias used to be a town mainly for retired people—Canadians and Americans. I saw an opportunity to open something for a younger crowd. The town was very peaceful, very slow. The local people always complained about not having a place to hang out. Our concept was for electronic music and mezcal, mixology. We opened and ran it for a year-and-a-half but we never got the permit to open on the beach. It was more like a private club. When that became popular, we couldn’t hide that it was a business.
So I closed the business and we started looking, but couldn’t find another place on the beach. So we saw this house, with the tree, and there was a little sign, hand-written, ‘Sorenta’, for rent. I told the guy who answered the phone what I was looking for and he was super-nice. He lived in this house for 10 years with his family. We had some friends in common, he called them and told me I could run the business here. I thought it would be temporary, and I would find another place on the beach. When we first started designing the concept, I thought about how there’s no nice beer around, and I felt it was necessary. It wasn’t as popular as it is now, as it’s become in the last two or three years.
I have some friends who own breweries in Guadalajara, the biggest, Minerva and Fortuna, they’re my friends from college. I saw when they start in their garage, and now they own big companies.
SC: When you say “big”, you don’t mean Corona-big, but big enough that you can find their beers where?
HR: All over Mexico. Some of them are sporting (?). They’re in line to be not as craft as they started. And they supported us when we started.
From the beginning, mostly people from Canada and the U.S. were interested. Mexicans were like, “I won’t pay triple or four times the price,” and we were trying to teach them the differences in the ingredients, the benefits, the flavours. Even with our staff, they’d never tried it before, and now they’re crazy about craft beer.
SC: How did you get into craft beer?
HR: I tried a couple, I didn’t like it, for me it was too strong. I’m not a drinker. But after trying some good beers I started noticing the differences, and that’s when I became more interested. My wife loves beer and she started studying the production, the ingredients and everything needed. Now we love it. Rather than a personal interest, it has become a way of life. It’s very nice, many people come and offer beer, in these two years we’ve tried tons of beers, some of them good, some not very good. Mexico’s new, so they are small producers sometimes with no knowledge. We try to give them some advice.
Suddenly others are doing a really good job in a short time. For example, Fortuna. This friend went to California and took a brewmaster’s course. He became very good and now he’s exporting. And he opened a year ago. That says a lot about his work. And he’s winning tons of medals, not just in Mexico but also in the U.S. I think Mexicans are better doing beer.
SC: What regular Mexican beer would you drink?
SC: I don’t see that very often.
HR: When we opened the beach club, we started serving Victoria. No one knew about it but after a year it was the most popular beer. It’s part of the Corona family. It’s a Vienna-style beer.
SC: So you’ve been open two years, and you’re adding an upstairs area (when I first came across the bar, I had thought it was closed because of the construction on the second floor). You must be doing well?
HR: This is our second complete season, high season. The first 10 months were very difficult; nobody came. We were drinking the beers ourselves only. Then one Canadian couple came, and then another, and word spread.
SC: Who is the clientele?
HR: In the winter, Canadians come early, between 6 and 8:30, and then Mexicans start coming. And in the summer, only local people.
SC: So how many craft beer bars are there in Mexico?
HR: In Mexico City and Guadalajara, you can find similar places. Big cities with a lot of people who know about craft beer.