Utah’s craft beer culture often signals the various kinds of backgrounds and experiences of our community. Not only does Utah craft beer indicate the presence of our robust, non-teetotaler variety and their beer-brewing creativity, but its momentum also makes way for cultural expression. Past Utah’s history as the settling place for LDS faithfuls, its wild-west frontier days, its times as a Mexican territory and as a Spanish colony, “Indeed some scholars have mentioned that Utah may have been Aztlán, the legendary home of the Aztecs,” says Cerveza Zólupez Beer Company Founding Brewer, Javier Chávez, Jr., who is Mexican-American. “The Aztecs migrated south to Central Mexico from the north, and our very home of Utah may have been the Aztec homeland, some scholars believe.”
Chávez’s and Cerveza Zólupez’s craft beer expression evinces Utah’s ancient-Mexican mythos and has one foot in Utah craft beer and the other in Mexico’s cerveza artesanal craft beer movement. Many may consider light, crisp lagers as the hallmark of Mexican beer, but the cerveza artesanal movement is the counterpoint to that idea with its penchant for craft ales. Think anything from an India Pale Ale (IPA) from Cervecería Allende in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, to a more terroir-rooted agave ale from Cerveza Colombo in Zapoltiltic, Jalisco.
"Don’t get me wrong, I love lagers, and we brew them, but we wanted to explore the rich complexity of ales,” Chávez says. “We don’t want to be bound into stereotypical styles—we want to be free to explore, to experiment within the horizons of our Mexican cultural heritage.” Chávez notes that the marrow of their cerveza artesanal inspiration derives from Baja California, Monterrey and Nuevo León craft beer scenes. “The IPAs and ales of those places—the flavors and ingredients—impact us [most].”
Chávez grew up around his parents’ restaurant business, Javier’s Mexican Restaurants, coupled with strong, family-based ties to his Mexican heritage. “I remember my abuela (grandmother) making strong, robust beverages—chocolate mexicano, café mexicano, atole, champurrado,” he says. “All these deep, rich, complex drinks influenced me to brew my beers.”
About a decade or so ago, Chávez began to experiment with extract brewing in his apartment—something he now deems “simple and rustic,” he says. “I could not find a craft beer that paired with Mexican food, so I decided I would brew my own. A couple of years later, I took structured classes at breweries and at UCLA’s Extension Program—I got to fine-tune my skills.”
Chávez aimed to create beer pairings with Mexican fare that many may be familiar with Stateside, but also with food that runs a little deeper for what Mexicans would consider comida típica. “We were seeking to create synergistic pairing with our cinnamon/sugarcane Amber Ale and carne asada tacos, pico de gallo ceviche with our mango/lemon Golden Ale, and jackfruit vegan tamales and our agave/lime IPA,” he says. “The foods that influence our beers are traditional Mexican spices, chocolates, chiles (de árbol, habanero, piquín).”
Beyond tacos and chiles, Zólupez incorporates various nuances of Mexican culinary traditions. If you take a look at the beers on their roster on their site, the brewery offers options such as the Zólupez Wheat Beer, which includes hibiscus and is inspired by agua de jamaica. Their Amber Ale’s use of piloncillo sugar and cinnamon nod toward café de olla, to boot. Even tapping into what Chávez considers regional representations, the brewery presents a well-rounded variety of flavors commonplace in Mexico but, perhaps, not necessarily what Americans first think of vis-à-vis Mexican food.
“We pay homage to the memories and histories of my family in Zacatecas, the local fruits like prickly pear cactus fruit,” Chávez says of an upcoming IPA. “We will also be coming out with an enchilada ale (brewed with lactose and chili peppers), paired with carne guisado. Que rico.”
Chávez attests that he’s proud of it. “This enables us to brew creatively and take bold, daring decisions because we can [continually] experiment,” he says. “Because of the strong demand for our beers, we—at times—collaborate and contract with other breweries. This leverages existing resources and allows us to get our beers out to the public.”
While Zólupez pays tribute to Mexican food traditions, Chávez defies allowing the brewery to be pigeonholed through any formula. “We really try to listen and channel our inner brewer’s “alma” (soul) to determine what excites us and what ignites our passion,” he says. “We open our minds and hearts to both food pairings, but also to just some fun new experiment.” After all, such is the spirit of cerveza artesanal in Mexico.
“I’m honored to say that what we brew here in Utah is very representative of what is going on in Mexico in the ‘cerveza artesanal’ movement,” Chavez says. “That said, we also add and augment our own style and taste. We have one foot culturally in Mexico and one foot in Utah. At the same time, we are our own, independent brewery that combines both—and takes a step further.”
Chávez considers what Zólupez is doing as building on Utah’s craft beer movement rather than creating something separate. In turn, it’s irrefutable that they have begun to impart diversity to Utah craft beer. “Our goal and mission is to simply be part of the brewer conversation—to add a LatinX and Mexican cultural voice to the craft beer culture in Utah,” Chávez says. “LatinX peoples are the largest ethnic minority group in Utah—by far—and we want to be part of the beer culture mix here. The Utah brewers and public have been very supportive and inclusive.”
Cerveza Zólupez Beer Company’s headquarters are in Ogden about 40 minutes north of Salt Lake, yet Chávez has been diligent in creating a presence for Zólupez in the Salt Lake Valley. “We have worked very hard to get some solid distribution in the SLC area,” he says. “You can find Zólupez at Harmons, Lee’s, Lucky’s and other independent local grocery stores. Keep an eye out for us! You can find what stores have our beer on our website, zolupez.com.” At Harmons, find the Zólupez Amber Ale and IPA.
Cerveza Zólupez Beer Company is testament to Utah industriousness, our Mexican influences and our Uto-Aztecan lineage—all rolled into one. We can’t help but admire Chávez’s steadfastness as he continues to nurture his brewery. “We are planning to expand our brewery,” he says. “We have a new spot and [architectural] plans. Stay tuned.”