Once in a while you go to a craft beer festival and find a little gem you’d never heard of before.
A little over a month ago, I attended the Hop N’ Barley Festival in Scotts Valley, CA and stumbled upon Border X Brewing based out of San Diego. I got to talk to their Production Manager/Head of Education, Steven Terán, and quickly figured out they were more than worthy of being featured in my diary! I tried their Pepino (cucumber) Sour at the festival and I was hooked! Those guys have a very interesting story and a completely different approach to building their brand. It’s genuine craft at its finest. Read on and discover what Border X’s CEO David Favela’s got to say about this Mexican craft beer gem!
Why Border X?
We believe Borders are unique spaces full of new potential, where language, culture, traditions, cuisine, music, history… come together, creating something completely innovative and unique. Border X is a state of mind, where “X” stands for both “Crossing” and “X” stands as in any and all borders, like a border placeholder. Our founders and brewers, Martin and Marcel, grew up in Tijuana, attended school there, and then completed their university studies in San Diego. They are Border X. Our beer combines the best of Mexican flavors and ingredients with European brewing traditions, it is Border X. Chicano art that is featured in our tasting rooms is Border X. The music we play in the tasting rooms is Border X. In everything we do, we strive to explore that Border X space.
How did Border X start?
Border X was born out of a simple idea of creating stronger bonds between two brothers, myself and Marcelino Favela, and Marcelino’s two sons, Martin and Marcel, while making delicious Mexican inspired craft beer. It was a humble start on a tiny 15-gallon brewhouse, fermenting in cornie kegs and serving in our tiny tasting room on the border, in an industrial park in Otay Mesa. We would have been happy brewing beer, selling enough to pay for ingredients and rent. It was going to be our family time, to have fun and share our beer with family and friends. The world, however, had other plans for us. On our opening day, November 2, 2013 we had a line of people waiting to come in and try our beer! We were overwhelmed by the demand, within two months, on December 24th of 2013 we signed a lease on a new tasting room in Barrio Logan. There, things kept growing and we were always running out of beer. We got to such a point that we decided to take down all of our signs, not promote on social media and basically go silent. Only people who knew we existed would come visit. Ironically, this backfired on us as more people came to visit the “hip” new hidden brewery in the heart of Barrio Logan. So, on September 2014, we opened across the street at a larger location, which is our current location. We had great success there, and it gave us enough courage to open in Los Angeles on March 2nd, 2019.
Through all these experiences we realized that we had created something quite organically and naturally. Our foundation is and will always be taking a craft approach to our beer and food. Coming to Barrio Logan though taught us about Chicano culture and community and really reinforced our original goal, to explore all things Border X! In Barrio Logan we were in the center of a vibrant community that resonated with us and supported us as we evolved our business. We teamed up with artists to create art that decorate our unique tasting room, we partnered with community activist to host fundraisers and raise awareness of important issues, and through it all, we created a place that became the hub of the community.
As we expand to other communities across California and the Southwest, we realized that other communities could benefit from what we created. Opening up in the City of Bell, in Los Angeles, we purposely chose a site in the heart of the community, and with a very large tasting room (7,000 sq ft), and are following the same approach of “Craft-Culture-Community”.
Tell us about making Mexican craft beer in San Diego, which is full of craft breweries. What sets you apart?
When we consciously decided to make “Mexican Craft Beer” in San Diego, we did so from a genuine desire to add something unique to the burgeoning San Diego beer scene. San Diego did not need another IPA, there were some of the finest breweries in the nation making great IPA’s, why would we try to replicate? So, we took a dramatic turn, and did not offer ANY IPA’s for the first two years of operations. We believe that while modern brewing is primarily a European tradition, fermenting and brewing are a universal right and heritage. We don’t have to follow anyone’s rules. Our first beer brewed with this philosophy was our Blood Saison, a traditional saison that uses copious amounts of Hibiscus flowers and natural agave. It was amazing! That beer became our top seller and flagship representing the direction we were taking. After that, we never looked back. Abuelitas Mexican Chocolate Stout, Horchata Golden Stout, Pepino (cucumber) Sour…. all beers created since then and that form the core top sellers in our business.
San Diego has a varied and vibrant craft brewing scene. We are proud to be part of it, however we feel it has fallen into the trap of its own success, just as most of the nation’s breweries. Starting with IPA, then West Coast IPA, Double IPA, Triple IPA, Hazy IPA, Milkshake IPA…etc.. innovation was driving relentlessly to bigger and bigger IPA’s. While a hardcore group of aficionados applauded and rewarded this innovation, it alienated the majority of new craft beer drinkers, as well as minorities and women. Craft beer became synonymous with IPA’s, and bigger IPA’s in general, which polarized the consumer. You either loved or hated where it was going. Minorities, Latinos and African Americans, in particular, were turned off by the perceived snobbery of craft brewers.
By focusing on delicious, innovative craft beers that were more approachable and that connected with our target customer, we grew new market share by recruiting a new demographic of Latinos and women to the craft beer scene. Latinos make up roughly 75% of our customer base, and women in particular make up nearly 60% of our customer base, numbers that are unheard of in the traditional craft beer market, which is 90% white male. We don’t feel like we are competing with any brewery, on either side of the border. Our branding, our beers, our whole philosophy is unique in the industry as a whole.
Last point…. There is no such thing as a Mexican Lager. This trend from a variety of breweries, big and small, to attract Latino market is just a marketing exercise. European immigrants started breweries in Mexico, Brazil, China, Thailand, etc… and used the traditional Vienna Lager formula, with few modifications. There is nothing “Mexican” in a Mexican lager other than the fact that it was a European recipe replicated in a Mexican geography. Once you make that beer in the US, it just becomes a US Lager. Make that same beer in Canada, and it’s a Canadian lager. A Mexican Lager is a lager…. period. As a true Mexican Craft Brewery, it’s disheartening to see such lack of innovation on the breweries’ part to serve Latino customers.
Any interesting plans for the future?
We plan on both continuing our expansion into at least four more locations, as well as canning/bottling for on-premise sales. We have discussed distribution for years and have always reconfirmed our strategy of concentrating on tasting room sales and brand building. The distribution game is geared for high volume, fast turnaround and efficient operations, and margins are challenging. Our feeling is while it would provide a huge boost in revenue, it would erode our overall margins and worse, if your brand stagnates on shelf or tap, it damages your brand long term. We will distribute one day, but only when we feel we have the brand momentum and partnerships to ensure sustainability and long-term success. For now, we will continue to focus on our tasting rooms, building a strong team and building our brand with great beer, culture and true community.
Tell us about your beer. How do you go about creating recipes?
As I’ve mentioned before, we look to the rich flavor, ingredients and brewing traditions from Mexico and Latin America in general. Fermentation is a tradition used by just about every culture and Latin America has over 2,000 different traditions. From Pulque and Tepache in Mexico, Chicha in Peru, and a huge variety of fruit-based fermenting, we have a lifetime’s worth of work exploring these flavors. Our Blood Saison was inspired by the traditional “Agua de Jamaica,” or hibiscus tea drink ubiquitous throughout Mexico and was a huge success. Mexican Chocolate, candies, fruits, cactus (agave) and even corn have a long history, and in some cases pre-colombian roots. This is our calling and our charter. We don’t look to where the beer industry is headed. Trends are for people looking for direction. We know who we are, what we like and we follow our palate. If you can’t trust yourself, your own culture, your own taste buds, then why make anything? ” To thy own self be true” -Shakespeare