Finding Beer Beyond Corona & Dos Equis in Cancun and Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Relaxing on the white sand in front of bathtub-warm turquoise waters, shaded by a palapa, beer in hand sounds ideal. You know what could make it even better? If that beer wasn’t one of the fizzy yellow lagers that Mexico is best known for.

Both Jess and Josh make it no secret that they aren’t huge fans of clear or light lagers. But only Jessica had the opportunity to go down to Cancun (for work – tough job, we know), so it was up to her to do the hands-on beer research in finding the good stuff.

Tulum Swing Bar

With palapa roofs and swings at the bar, the Mayan Riviera’s drinking establishments can’t be beat. And it’s not all yellow and fizzy cerveza. The main alternate styles seem to have a certain taste profile: darker, heavy on the malt, light on the hops, but still easy drinking for the beach. There’s dark/dunkels, Vienna style lagers, and amber lagers.

To find these guys, keep your eyes out for the words:

  • o(b)scura
  • negra
  • ambar

Some of the more easy to find aren’t craft/microbrewed, but they are still unique to Mexico – or at least we’ve never seen the dark malt-bomb of Bohemia Obscura, the Munich-style dunkel Leon, or others up here in Ontario, Canada.

Beyond the Mexican macro. . . where’s to find the craft? Well, we have a few recommendations.

PLAYA DEL CARMEN

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Club de la Cerveza 

5th Ave, between Calles 34 and 38, Playa del Carmen

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Right on Quinta Avenida – or 5th Avenue, PDC’s main tourist drag – Club de la Cerveza is an oasis of casual tables for sipping beer amid the fluorescent lights and thumping bass of the other shops and bars along 5th Ave.

 

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The beer list is a full book, with pages of Mexican microbrews and interesting craft offerings, as well as a good list of imports.

Just a single page of the menu
Just a single page of the beer menu

And the fridge is packed full, some familiar up here, and some delightfully less so.

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Jess wasn’t there for food, but the free popcorn was a bonus!

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Elsewhere in Playa del Carmen

Jessica didn’t get to visit, but she strolled past the delightfully German-looking  Manne’s Biergarten (Calle 4 Norte, between 10th ave and 15th ave) which apparently has a decent selection of Mexican beers beyond the standards, plus German imports. 

 

CANCUN

Casa Tequila

8.5 km Kukulkan Blvd | Next to the Convention CenterCancun

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Since Jess was in Cancun for a conference, she didn’t have much time to escape the hotel zone and head to Ciudad Cancun, so she went on the hunt for a place to get some local beer. Surprise, she found a place right beside the conference centre: Casa Tequila.

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It might be a  touristy place and the food is probably more on the side of what tourists expect over authenticity. But hey, that beer list is pretty decent for central hotel zone, and the food (authentic or not) was good!

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Elsewhere in Cancun

The big grocery store in the Hotel Zone, Selecto Super Chedraui (Blvd. Kukulkan 9) has a pretty large beer selection – craft, imports and macros – so even Josh was able to partake in the batch that Jess brought home.

Jess didn’t make it out to Ciudad Cancun, but heard that Estadio Cerveceria and The Beer Box are also good places to grab a cerveza! Just call ahead for Beer Box, because a lot of the reviews or posts we saw online had people disappointed that they showed up when it was closed.

Carvings at Tulum
Carvings at Tulum

 

StoneHammer Brewing – Guelph Brewery Crawl Part 3/3

Part three of our three-part Guelph, Ontario craft brewery crawl. 

Our third and final Guelph stop was to StoneHammer Brewing. You may know them under their previous name, F&M Brewing (StoneHammer was the product line). Regardless, they’ve been making their brand of all-natural, hand-crafted, fine-brewed ales and lagers for 20 years.

In fact, it was StoneHammer Dark Ale that first sparked Josh’s love for craft beer, so he’d been particularly eager to visit and check it out.

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The Place

StoneHammer is tucked away inside a quiet commercial-industrial park, designed for utility more than aesthetics. Not very pretty, but it does the job. Inside, it’s set up like a storefront rather than a bar/hang-out. A few fridges, a table with a register, and a tiny serving area. We weren’t lucky enough to get a tour the day we went, but there were tastings.

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The Beers

We came between any of their seasonals and one-offs, so it was just their five year-round signature pours up for sampling. Samples were free, so we tried a bit of each.

  • Light Lager: We’ll be honest – neither of us particularly like light beer, nor do we drink it. That said, this one is certainly an improvement over the major commercial offerings.
  • Pilsner: There’s not much to say about a pilsner – it’s simple, crisp, and either done right or done wrong. This one is definitely done right.
  • Pale Ale: This is a brew you won’t get anywhere else. Yes, beer has a “terroir” just like wine does – the flavour of this one comes from Guelph’s unique municipal water, heavy on limestone, which gives it an almost savoury quality. Perhaps a bit of an acquired taste, but definitely worth trying.
  • Dark Ale: Easily the best of all. It has a malty aroma and a toasty flavour that anyone who enjoys a dark beer will certainly appreciate
  • Oatmeal Coffee Stout: One of the better blends of beer and coffee that we’ve tried. The oatmeal gives it a sweetness almost like a regular coffee at your favourite shop.

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The Extras

Stone Hammer is pretty much bells-and-whistles free. There’s a rack of t-shirts, but not much beyond that. But hey, look at that shelf of awards!

Visit Date: October 9, 2015 

Post 1 in the Guelph Brewery Crawl – Royal City Brewing: http://hoppily-ever-after.com/2015/11/03/royal-city-brewing-guelph/

Post 2 in the Guelph Brewery Crawl – Wellington Brewery – http://hoppily-ever-after.com/2015/11/12/wellington-brewery-guelph/

Wellington Brewery – Guelph Brewery Crawl Part 2/3

Part two of our three-part Guelph, Ontario craft brewery crawl. 

Our second stop on our Guelph craft brewery crawl was Wellington Brewery. It’s  basically the old standard in local craft brewing – currently celebrating their 30th anniversary, it’s the oldest independently owned microbrewery in Canada.

And with age comes experience. They’ve got the full package, from the Welly brand itself to the location to the full roster of good beers.

 

Wellington Brewery Ivy

The Place

Wellington is in an ivy-bedecked building with one little tower. We found out that its style is an homage to the traditional oast house (not to be confused with the brewery by the same name), or hop kiln,  the farm building where hops were taken to be dried.

Half of the public area is a retail store with all their beer and merch on display. The other half is for tasting. It has an English country club vibe,  and was bustling on the Saturday afternoon we visited.

Wellington Brewery Interior

The Beer

Wellington’s brews are well distributed throughout Ontario. You’ve probably seen them in every LCBO or in craft beer-friendly restaurants across the province. However, unlike some beer you see everywhere (I think you know what we mean), with Wellington, it’s entirely justified. The folks there know how to make damn good beer.

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In the sampling room, you get little wooden coins for $1 to get samples of whichever size you’d prefer. Here’s a little sampling of some of our standouts:

  • 30th Anniversary Ale – a unique brew for this year. It’s got a lot going on- but it all works. It’s strong (8.2%) with floral/fruity notes. It’s malty ale brewed with elderberries, aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels, mixed with dry-hopped imperial golden ale infused with heather tips. Wow!
  • County Dark Ale – The ideal English style brown ale. It’s malty, it’s smooth, but it has just enough zing to stop it from being boring. We’re both big fans.
  • Imperial Russian Stout – Despite the name reversal, this is your quintessential Russian imperial stout – as black as Putin’s heart, and as bitter as the man himself. Josh is a big fan of Russian imperial stouts, and particularly this one.
  • Special Pale Ale (S.P.A.) – Jess first described this as “coppery, super drinkable, with no overt flavour other than good beer”.
  • Trailhead Lager – A surprising complex amber lager, but still light enough for the easy beer drinker.

Wellington Brew

The Extras

Some of the vines on the building are actually… hop bines! We like that sort of touch.

Hops at Wellington

And they’ve got some great merchandise. Josh couldn’t bear to leave without buying a big glass beer drinking boot. They also have a fridge in the retail store which on our trip included one of their ‘Welly One-Offs’, that wasn’t in the tasting room – Fresh Off the Wire, a wet-hopped pale ale made with local ingredients.

Wellington Brewery Merch

 

Visit date: Oct 9, 2015

See also: Post 1 in the Guelph Brewery Crawl – Royal City Brewing: http://hoppily-ever-after.com/2015/11/03/royal-city-brewing-guelph/

Royal City Brewing – Guelph Brewery Crawl Part 1/3

Part one of our three-part Guelph, Ontario craft brewery crawl.

Guelph is home to a burgeoning craft beer scene, as well as a long history of brewing – Ontario’s oldest brewery, Sleeman, is a large part of the city’s history. And between September and April, 15% of the city’s population is students. The University of Guelph (Josh’s alma mater), a major landmark in the city, brings a youthful vibe and plenty of folks willing to grab a beer.

Our first stop was Royal City Brewing.

Named after Guelph’s unofficial nickname (“royal” because Guelph was the surname of the British royal family when the city was established), the brewery was founded in 2013. The owners seem to lean toward brews with a hint of flair.

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This flair is best exemplified in their flagship product. Usually flagships tend toward the status quo, but Royal City pulls no punches. Smoked Honey is a light brown ale made with smoked malt and fermented honey. Despite its complex formation, it’s actually on the milder side, and even those who aren’t big on smoked beers can enjoy it (we’re into smoked beers, but we also like this one!).

The Place

The brewery is tucked away inside a busy strip mall. Not much to look at from outside. But inside, it’s got the bare essentials you need for a decent brewery hangout: a long bar for interacting with the staff and ordering samples, a few tables for sitting down with friends, and a fridge off to the side with the take-home bottles. The brewing area is clearly visible from the bar area.

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Also… Han Solo frozen in carbonite (with Royal City growlers)? Yes, also that.

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The Beers

At Royal City you can try your beers in a full glass for $5, a little sample glass for $2, or just a taste for free.The beer is split up into several categories. First the mains, available year-round, then the rotating offerings – some seasonal, some just based on availability – and then “by the glass”, a special handful of beer only available in full glasses. They also offer a “Barrel Select” – a limited-time offering, specially crafted and barrel-aged.

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Here’s a selection of what we tried:

  • Dry Hopped Pale Ale – definitely for those who tread on the lighter side of hoppy pale ale. The flavour is crisp and clean.
  • Autumn Ale – Made with sweet potato and butternut squash instead of the usual pumpkin, but with the “pumpkin” spices. A bit avant-garde if you’re not expecting it, but all-around a good beer for those who like their gourd ales.
  • Munich Dunkel – Dark and malty, mixed with a strong, almost fruity taste. A bit too fruity, and not quite rich enough for our tastes.
  • Oktoberfest – Made in the traditional märzen style, but somewhat less malty than most. Nevertheless, the flavour was spot on. We were happy to find a proper Oktoberfest beer.
  • Bamberg Smoked Lager – Definitely our favourite of the bunch! A rich, amber lager with a medium-strong smokiness running through. Worth a taste for any fans of smoked beers.

We also bought their Barrel Select offering at the time – a Russian Imperial Stout. A heavy, bitter body mixed with slightly sweet undertones made for a truly delicious brew. It ranks near the top of Imperial Stout-loving Josh’s list, and even Jess enjoyed this one.

The Extras

They’ve got a teensy little rack of Royal City merch, but the really interesting extra is the huge line of growlers from other breweries all along the top wall of the bar. Interestingly, they’ll trade you a growler from another brewery in exchange for one of theirs in the same size – but only if they don’t already have one from that brewery.

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We’re fans of Royal City, but we’re fans of Guelph’s breweries in general too! Stayed tuned for our next Guelph brewery crawl series coming soon. 

Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest at the Schwaben Club

Since we couldn’t make it to Germany this year, we did the next best thing. We popped down the highway to Kitchener (once known as Berlin), which has Canada’s largest German community, and the second largest Oktoberfest celebration in the world. The first, of course, being Munich itself.

Jessica had been to the Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest before, but only to a couple of the big festhallen. Josh was a first-timer, and we knew we wanted to get that holy grail of tickets: to one of the city’s authentic German clubs. They sell out early each year, so you have to be quick on the draw.

Luckily, we found a pair of tickets to the Schwaben Club. They had two rooms running for the ‘Fest: the larger Main Hall, and the smaller Schwaben Hall, where we ended up. It didn’t disappoint. 

Oktoberfest Crowd

All colourful pennants and half-timbered-style ceiling, the hall had everything that comes to mind when you think of when you think of Oktoberfest. Beer? Oom-pah-pah band? Servers in dirndls and lederhosen? Guests in dirndls and lederhosen? Sauerkraut, schnitzel and bratwurst? Jawohl!

Steve Angel Band
The Steve Angel Band in their lederhosen’d best

ZWEI BIER, BITTE!

We have to admit: we worried about finding good beer with the Molson sponsorship. But fortunately we found two interesting options in the Hall: Big Rock Brewery’s Traditional Ale and Rickard’s Lederhosen. Big Rock’s “Trad” is a medium English brown ale with a nutty malt flavour. Definitely not Oktoberfest-style, but a tasty brew. Lederhosen, on the other hand, is a traditional märzen (the iconic lager of Oktoberfest). It didn’t quite measure up to some of the craft märzen‘s we’ve had this autumn, but it was welcome at the Fest – and undeniably in style.

That is NOT Canadian in the glass on the right.
That is NOT Canadian in the glass on the right.

One of the benefits of being at a proper German club was that we had options. The Schwaben Club continues to run their open-to-the-public Bier Keller (cellar beer bar) downstairs during Oktoberfest. And they’ve got a good variety of offerings from Paulaner and Hacker-Pschorr. We both went for Paulaner’s Hefe-Weizen as a change from our upstairs brews.

DAS ESSEN

Oh, the food. Another major benefit of going for an authentic club – real, homecooked  German food.  It must have taken forever to bake all that Apfel-Strudel, not to mention tenderizing all that schnitzel. But boy, was it worth it. Beyond the main meal options (schnitzel, sausage, sauerkraut, potato salad, coleslaw, strudel, etc), they also came around with baskets of warm pretzels, which we definitely indulged in. 

 

Apple strudel
Fresh baked apple strudel

DIE EXTRAS

The Schwaben has what we think is the ideal ‘Fest vibe: a blend of young and old – the university students, the grey-haired crowd, and beyond. We ended up chatting with a group of folks from another Schwaben Club in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and then a group of recently-legal university students who’d never heard of sauerkraut. Everyone got along, chatted at their long tables. And dance.

The dancing brought everyone together. Lots of accordion, horns, polka, chicken dance, and the regular necessity: Zicke-Zacke-Zicke-Zacke-Hoi-Hoi-Hoi!

At 11pm, the lights turned on, and we thought we were kicked out. But no! Instead, a special and unexpected treat: traditional German dancers folk-dancing away to German techno. . . and Du Hast.

Imagine the sounds of Rammstein to this country dance.
Imagine the sounds of Rammstein to this country dance.