Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
Between toasts to friendships new and old, the kind of trade talks that commemorated 300 years of shared history were brewing in Shiner Country this week.
The delegates, three craft beer brewers from the Canary Islands, arrived last Sunday in the tiny Texas town of Shiner, population 2,069, to an ice-cold welcome at the Spoetzl Brewery, home of Shiner Beer. They came with an eagerness to learn from the century-old brewer and have spent the past week collaborating over a special small-batch brew that will mark the occasion.
“When you get brewers together, it doesn’t get better than that,” said Jimmy Mauric, head brewer and Shiner native, standing outside the brewery’s white brick, circa-1935 building where he has worked for 40 years. “From a cultural standpoint, this is heaven on earth.”
It was a blazing-hot Wednesday at the historic brewery, with the aroma of barley malt saturating the muggy air. But inside the pilot-brew room, there was a warm and welcoming camaraderie among Mauric, Gambrinus Brewing Operations Director Tom Fiorenzi, and the visiting brewers. They rely on their shared passion for beer to overcome language barriers, together checking valves on stainless-steel fermenters, and comparing formulation notes.
The Gambrinus Company Chairman and CEO Carlos Alvarez met Enrique Arocas, Aurelio Gutiérrez, and Pedro Baussou, founders of Aguita Cerveza Artesanal, on a trip to the Canary Islands a month ago. The brewery is one of a growing number of craft brewing companies in the Canary Islands.
As San Antonio celebrates its Tricentennial, an anniversary that marks the city’s founding by immigrant farmers, laborers, peasants, and fishermen of that Spanish archipelago, this week’s cultural exchange may also serve as the start of something new.
“Nos vamos de viaje [we are going on a trip],” the brewers posted to their Facebook page on May 28, announcing news of the venture abroad. Arocas said this is the first time Aguita has collaborated with another brewer. “It’s a very important milestone for us and our company,” he said.
The brewery name comes from the popular Canarian expression,"Agüita!,”widely used in the city of Tenerife, to demonstrate awe or curiosity over something novel or shocking. Since the brewery’s hobby start in 2005, Aguita began brewing commercially just last year offering five styles – La Rubia (Belgian blonde ale), Dead Bully (American pale ale), La Picona (Indian pale ale), La Morenita (Irish dry stout), and Hoppy Pilsen (seasonal IPA). The brewers moved their equipment from Baussou's home into a 900-square-foot factory in November.
The trip is also the first time Gutiérrez and Bassou have traveled to the United States. They left behind business partner Lucas Finamore to man the store and made the 27-hour trip to San Antonio armed with three proposals – recipes for a brew that would combine the best ingredients from both their homeland and South Texas.
Together, the brewers landed upon one formulation that contains local honey, the natural artesian well waters of Shiner, and gofio, a Canarian flour made from roasted grains. Though it won't be sold commercially, the brewers are no less excited for the final product.
The new brew, dubbed by Alvarez "Las Canarias Rubia," won’t be ready for tasting for another week or two.
In the meantime, after three days spent in Shiner, enjoying traditional kolaches, Tex-Mex, chicken fried steak, and barbecue, they will tour San Antonio’s historic and cultural attractions, sample more of this city’s flavors, and shop for souvenirs to take home. They'll also return with a new beer recipe they said could become Aguita's "San Antonio Rubia."
Alvarez said it was his idea to bring the Canary Island brewers to the oldest brewery in Texas during a significant time in San Antonio’s history and to celebrate the 300th anniversary with beer.
"Beer is really a great lubricator for social interaction, and with beer, we can talk about this event with a collaborative effort between a Texas native brewery and with a Canarian craft brewery," he said.
Born in Mexico City and raised in Acapulco, Alvarez's own history in San Antonio began with HemisFair '68. He again visited the city during a business trip in 1978 for a meeting with the owners of the former Pearl Brewery, and moved here in 1986. On Wednesday, Alvarez returned with his guests to those stomping grounds for dinner at the Pearl's Southerleigh restaurant, which he called "a paradise for brewers."
"I couldn't be happier with the outcome of having them here," Alvarez told the Rivard Report on Thursday. And not just because they could talk "beer, barbecue, or pico," but also because of the many experiences they've shared and business insights they've traded, from marketing and retirement to healthcare plans.
“We have been treated like family here,” Arocas said. “We feel at home here. The people are very humble, proud of Texas, and they are working people.”
In that way, he said, they are a lot like the people of the Canary Islands, a favorite vacation destination for Europeans where food is an important part of the culture, and the people are "always smiling."
So, before they go Saturday, the brewers will all raise a glass to toast their collective efforts, to honor early settlers, the seeds of a new alliance, and salute the craft that brought them together.