“Unemployment combined with a great love for craft beer are a magic combination of factors.”
Cerveceria La Brü Owner Shares His Experiences Starting a Successful Mexican Brewery
Cerveceria La Brü is a craft brewery founded in Morelia, Michoacán, Mexico in 2006 by three Mexican brewmasters who wanted to introduce craft beer to their country. Their specific emphasis was on the great traditional styles of Old Europe. Cerveceria La Brü’s approach was in preserving the old brewing methods: no chemicals, no preservatives, no filtering, and no pasteurization. Today, their Mexican brewery continues to handcraft these traditional beers but with the addition of many local and traditional Mexican ingredients such as blue corn and wild vanilla. Portland Kettle Works recently spoke with Cerveceria La Bru’s Owner, Matthew Hikory, who shared his thoughts on how all this came to be.
Brewmaster Ernesto Herrera removing steaming spent grain from Cerveceria La Bru’s PKW brewhouse.
PKW: Where did you find the courage and inspiration to start your Mexican brewery?
CLB: Unemployment combined with a great love for craft beer are a magic combination of factors. Starting any business is risky, and microbrewing is a tough one in terms of making money in the short term. Being without a job opened up the time to start dabbling with my love for beer. Once we got started, it just consumed my time, and before I knew it, I was working full-time to get things up and running.
PKW: What was the biggest challenge in starting your Mexican brewery and how did you overcome it?
CLB: For us in Mexico, the biggest challenge was breaking into a new market where craft beer was virtually unknown. At the time, big beer companies were implementing exclusivity contracts with bars, and the possibilities to sell were very limited. We had to be creative in finding ways to get our product into people’s mouths. Once they tried it, they wanted more, and the trend still continues. Distribution is also an enormous challenge here in Mexico, but little by little, more and more establishments are looking to create a more diverse beer offering.
PKW: Now that you’ve gone through the process, what would you do differently?
CLB: Well, the list of little things I would do differently is endless. One of the key things would be to invest more in quality control and efficiency early in our process. Spend more time planning and less time putting out fires as they start. I’m still working on doing this differently. I think it’s a challenge that’s constant for independent brewers with our limited budgets.
PKW: What has brought you the most success in your business?
CLB: Innovation has been a key driver of success for us. Differentiation is key in the craft beer business, and we are constantly looking for ways to stand out. The relationships we’ve developed over the years with other people in the craft brewing community have also been key. Taking the time to get to know people and placing importance on those relationships is a big part of what makes La Bru different from many of our competitors.
PKW: What’s your funniest/most memorable moment at the Mexican brewery so far?
CLB: Some years back, we were driving on our way to Cervefest in Mexico City [La Feria Internacional de la Cerveza / The International Beer Fair] in the old VW bus we used for events [Mexico City is a 4-hour drive from Morelia, Michoacan]. The thing was on its last legs and sure enough, part way there, the engine blew out. We ended up stuck on the side of the road, sleeping on top of the beer boxes in the back, and the next day waiting while a mechanic basically rebuilt the engine for us. It was one of those situations that is so not funny, all you can do is laugh. We ended up arriving on the afternoon of the last day of the festival, limping into the event in our old combi, to the cheers of an expectant public. We ended up selling out anyway, so it wasn’t all bad.
La Bru’s bottled beer in front of their PKW fermenter.
The Cerveceria La Brü Team believe their love of craft beer is evident each time you open one of their bottles. If you are in the vicinity, stop by and try one; the brewery is open Monday to Friday, 10 am to 6 pm. ¡Salud!