El Paso — Even as beer drinkers around the U.S. are still suffering from a recession hangover that has hurt major brewers, craft brewed beer is continuing to please more palates and this trend is finally showing positive signs in El Paso.
“This trend has been increasing in the past four years [in El Paso], where as before it was almost non-existent,” said Adrian Perez, craft and imported beer specialist at L&F Distributors in El Paso. “Our craft beer selections have increased at 30-40% each month for the past year.”
Craft beers are defined typically as unique beer styles made by small independent brewers that are free from corporate large brewer ownership, such as Anheuser-Busch which produce more than 6,000,000 barrels a year.
According to the Brewers Association based out of Boulder, Colorado, in the first half of 2010 the craft brew industry grew by 9% in volume and 12% by retail dollars, while overall beer sales dropped 2.7% by volume.
Perez, also an active beer enthusiast, spends his spare time sponsoring craft and domestic beer tasting events at local restaurants and supermarkets to increase beer appreciation in the city.
These events have taken place at gourmet food establishments such as P.F. Chang’s and locally based Medallions.
“Beer is a great food pairing and a lot of people didn’t realize that. I started out doing one beer dinner, and now we are up to our twenty-fifth one this month,” Perez said, “the more we educate the customers and consumers, and the more support we get from the breweries the better our craft beer section will get [in El Paso].”
This demand for independent brewers has sparked a wave of accessibility for El Pasoans looking for a classy pint, as all around the Sun City supermarkets, new contemporary restaurants and bars are beginning to put more emphasis in catering to the craft beer drinker.
Successful contemporary restaurants around El Paso such as: No Fish, Toro Burger, Crave, Ruli’s International Kitchen, and Commonwealth have all incorporated craft beer as an integral part of their menus.
“[El Paso’s knowledge on craft beer] has been growing exponentially it seems,” said Raul Gonzalez III, owner and executive chef at Ruli’s International Kitchen, “the amount of sales we have seen in the craft beer has gone up dramatically. It’s to the point right now that [we] don’t even need to carry commercial beers.”
Gonzalez, like Perez, said that incorporating food with beer can lead to a greater appreciation for both the meal and the craft brew. “We like to offer pairings that way people understand that this is more than drinking to get drunk, this is drinking for the enjoyment of the flavor and the way it pairs with food. It’s an over all experience.”
Gonzalez also hosts themed craft beer tasting sessions in his restaurant often highlighting a particular style of beer and pairing it with an appropriate cuisine. “What I want people to take away from this is that there is so much out there as far as what people are [brewing], and also to appreciate the beer for the craft and craftsmanship that goes into it.”
Although the Hoppy Monk Bar, located on N. Mesa, has only been open for five months, it has set a new standard for the burgeoning craft beer scene in El Paso. Carrying over sixty-four independent craft beers on tap the establishment has already built a large following of beer enthusiasts.
“I really feel that this has filled a niche for craft beer,” said Joseph Valenzuela, co-owner of the Hoppy Monk.
Valenzuela said distributors taking risks with El Paso’s new tastes for beer has allowed his business to thrive and continue to bring new types of craft beer to the city. “Just by speaking to the distributors and speaking to the brewers directly they understand that there really is a market here for their beer and they are being extremely supportive. It’s comforting and exciting.”
Valenzuela said that the most popular craft styles at the Hoppy Monk are bitter Indian Pale Ales and wheat-based Hefeweizen. “We try and support independent small brewers,” Valenzuela said, “I’m completely against macro-breweries. I don’t support what they do or the ingredients that they use.”
Valenzuela said as beer drinkers move toward more complex and robust tastes they begin to appreciate beer as a carefully crafted art form. “Many craft brewers are environmentally conscious, into actual art and good people overall. They all do it, not just to make money, it’s more about their passion,” Valenzuela said. “[Major breweries such as] Anheuser-Busch, Miller/Coors, and InBev obviously see that their sales are declining and they are giving way to craft [styles] of beer.”
Valenzuela said he is confident in the new taste the city has acquired. “I think [the craft beer scene] can only get better from here on out in El Paso. It’s going to continue to grow, we are seeing it already many of these [establishments] expanding their beer selection.”