A rooster crows next door, the rhythmic thumping of truck air brakes slowing for speed bumps roar on the highway outside, and the room is filled with the aroma of mash just doughed in and converting. The morning air is cool and fills the room. The traffic is just a constant background noise. It’s just another morning brewing in Salvatierra Mexico.
Whenever I tell Americans I am going to Mexico to work they laugh and say enjoy the beach. But the truth is in central Mexico we are about as far from the beach as possible, smack in the middle of the country. The state of Guanajuato which is one of the more industrial states in the country. Familiar names like GM, Mazda, and Honda all have production facilities just down the road, plus a very active agricultural sector. While I see lower income areas, I have also been to a malls that rival any in the US and restaurants that could compete for a James Beard award.
So what is making beer like? Different. Okay that is a cop out, the brewhouse is a Speidel Brewhouse 200L system. While some liken it to a boil in bag system large scale, it reminds me of an old school coffee percolator system. The mash tun is the percolator and the wort is recirculated through a pump through it. After mashing we hand crank the mash tun up allowing to drain and we do a light sparge, I’d like it with 80C water but for the moment it’s just tap water.
Then naturally we come to a boil. But it isn’t quite the rapid boil as brewers like to normally think of, Guanajuato is around Denver elevation and the electric heating element works okay, but between the two factors a fierce boil isn’t a reality. So we cover with a lid until we hit our first hop addition and then uncover just a bit to allow steam and DMS (the cooked corn flavor) escape but keep as active as possible boil. Another brewery in the region made a beer and it was obvious they had the lid on the whole time, all I could smell and taste was DMS in it.
We ferment in just over 3 barrel fermenters so we double batch to fill them. I am trying to talk the owners into a Hot Liquor tank (HLT) or even a home hot water heater so that we could double batch in a single time. Currently the brew kettle is our only large scale hot water device so doing a double batch in a day is a 14-16 hour day is my rough guess.
So how is brewing in Mexico? It’s more work and things are at a slower pace. It is frustrating to someone who is used to busier pace for breweries. I have been told ingredients would be here when I arrive and they weren’t. So we grabbed a truck then went and bought enough ingredients to get our first batch running. In the middle of brewing that batch the ingredients I was told would not arrive until next Monday showed up. We didn’t have a sanitary pump when I was first here, so I rigged our Premier Stainless manual keg cleaner pump to be our CIP pump, we use it for transferring wort to the fermenter too. It doesn’t have a speed regulator so we control that with the valve at the kettle, it can’t be good for the pump but it works for now. Finding access to simple things like washers, faucet wrench, and other parts can be a few days shipping to near impossible to find locally.
Air conditioning is opening the roll up door to the highway outside so even though my assistant I am training here is good on his cleaning there always seems to be a fine layer of dust on everything.
Speaking on the assistant, why spend the money to send a brewer from the US? They had a brewer nice guy initial part owner but after a few years he decided to move on, brewing wasn’t in his blood. Then they hired another fellow who supposedly had professional experience, he got drunk crashed the company vehicle and filed a false police report on the crash, so I don’t know where he is but the authorities down here would like to know if you have any tips. That left them without a brewer. So I have come down to help get production going and train the assistant, nice kid good heart, he has lived in the US, but his English skills are poor but he is learning. Being my second trip to train I have him doing most of the work, supervise and make suggestions but leave him to do it himself and try to protect him from doing something stupid.
The test will be in a weeks after I leave when he will brew without any supervision. The first one is a recipe we have done before, a beer he likes, he has progressed to the point he seems to understand the steps well enough and he has SOPs in English and Spanish (thanks google translate) so hopefully he will do a good job. Time will tell.
Ultimately my work in Mexico has demonstrated I could probably make just about anything work for making beer anywhere, which is satisfying. I have made some new friends and had some interesting experiences, so it has been quite the adventure.