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Beer For Every Barrio: Border X Brewing’s ‘Chicano 2.0’ Cervezas Are Right at Home in Bell

Photo by Melissa Mora Hidalgo.

[dropcap size=big]T[/dropcap]he arrival of Border X Brewing with its grand opening in Bell just a couple of weeks ago marked an L.A. area debut for the Barrio Logan craft brewers. The San Diego-bred brewery is known for signature beers that incorporate Mexican flavors and ingredients into traditional European styles such as gose, saison, German and Belgian wheat beers, as well as a range of more familiar lagers and ales. Independently owned and operated by David Favela and some family members, Border X brews inventive and nuanced beers that challenge our perceptions of the kinds of hop-forward, sometimes palate-killing West Coast-style double IPA beers that put San Diego craft brewing on the map years ago.

Border X Brewing’s rotating lineup of seasonal, collaboration, and original cervezas reflect thoughtful recipes and guided experimentation with flavors, ingredients, and beer styles from both sides of the US-Mexico border. On sixteen taps, you’ll find beers made with pumpkin and piloncillo (camote), or that taste like saladitos or your abuela’s hot chocolate.

Border X co-founder David Favela. Photo by Melissa Mora Hidalgo.

I went into the brand-new Bell location hoping to try the beer with pepino and lime that I’d heard a lot about in San Diego.

“The Pepino Sour? Oh, we tapped out of that already. We had a crazy opening day,” Brenda, the server, tells me from behind the bar. The quenching cucumber and key lime Berliner Weiss-style sour wheat ale also serves as the basis for Border X’s micheladas, which were also popular opening weekend.

“These aren’t gimmicks,” explains Favela. “These ingredients are central components of our signature beers. We don’t just add things for color or taste. We grew up with these flavors. They’re great flavors, and they’re familiar to our palate.”

Whether a German lager, Czech pilsner, or Belgian wheat ale, these common European style beers — think XX, Bohemia, or Stella Artois — serve as the canvas for Border X’s unique beer expressions of Chicano-Mexicano folk flavors.

A beer like the Algo Light Cream Ale (4.4% ABV), for example, may look like an ordinary light draft beer in a glass. Upon sipping, Algo Light feels crisp on the tongue and goes down like a Mexican lager laced with fluffy churros or crispy rice cereal and marshmallow treats. Unlike in Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Belgium, there are no beer purity laws here, just pure Chicano creativity, Border X style.

RELATED: Mexican Craft Brew Specialist Border X Brewing Opens in Bell ~ By Lalo Alcaraz

Photo by Melissa Mora Hidalgo.
Photo by Melissa Mora Hidalgo.

First Blood: The Saison That Started It All

[dropcap size=big]A[/dropcap]ll ten beers I sampled were delicious, and I would drink full pints of any of them.

My favorites included the flagship brew, Blood Saison (7.5% ABV). At first sip, I understood why Favela said this beer started it all. The beer was born thanks to his nephew’s idea to brew a saison, a French-Belgian light ale meant as an easy-drinking “household” beer, with a bunch of jamaica and some agave to suit their taste. Moved around the palate, Blood Saison feels and tastes also like a rosé wine or pomegranate cider, perfectly tangy and juicy for downing a few carne asada tacos.

The Horchata Golden Stout (9.5% ABV) is a smooth blond stout so silky with prominent cinnamon and rice flavors that it doesn’t need to be served on nitro, like many stouts require. Unlike conventional dark brown or black-looking stouts, where the dark color comes from the deeply roasted grains, Horchata Golden Stout features a color that results from a much lighter roast of the grains, if there’s any roasting at all. Unroasted barley and other grains mean more sugars to ferment, thus yielding a higher ABV. The result is a dangerously drinkable light-medium bodied stout that belies its alcohol content.

“Our beers are creepers,” says Tony, another beer server behind the bar, with a sly smile.

Border X also featured two collaboration beers on tap. The Biere de Bohrder biere de garde is a French farmhouse strong ale style created with Federick Frattini, a brewer from Argentina. Amistad, a Christmas-time rompompe-flavored wheat ale, represents the first collaboration between Border X and Jess Fierro, the Latina head brewer of Atrvida Beer Co. in Colorado Springs.

The complexity of their flavor profiles make Border X beers suitable for food pairing. “We don’t go to beer festivals, we go to food festivals,” said Favela. He likes to pair birria with Abuela Chocolate Stout. “The combo of spicy and smoky from both complement each other really well.”

Photo by Melissa Mora Hidalgo.
Photo by Melissa Mora Hidalgo.

Chicano 2.0: From Barrio Logan to Bell

[dropcap size=big]T[/dropcap]he historic Barrio Logan neighborhood of San Diego is home to a couple of US Navy bases, the Coronado Bridge, and Chicano Park, the heart of the neighborhood and ground zero for community activism since the days of the blowouts and moratoriums of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Favela and family opened Border X Brewery on Logan Avenue in 2014 and hosted the first ever Chicano-Con the following year, a testament to the craft beer maker’s positive community presence in the barrio. Five years later, Border X finds itself opening doors to its second brewery some 120 miles to the north in the Southeast L.A. city of Bell.

So of all places in L.A. to open a Chicano-style brewery, why Bell?

“Number one, we wanted to be in a working-class area and serve Chicano clientele,” said Favela. “The city’s 90 percent Latino.”

The building and space, formerly a bakery, also suited Favela’s brewery plans. But another big reason was the city itself. After its spate of bad news related to a city council scandal in 2010, Favela acknowledged that the residents of Bell were ready for a fresh start and an opportunity to change the narrative of their past.

Border X’s success in Barrio Logan bode well for the fate of the brewery in Bell. Favela cites the recent small-business boom on Logan Avenue as an ideal model for how we might “do gentefication right, if that’s what it is.”

RELATED: Where Julio Cesar Chavez and Macho Camacho Became Stars ~ How Azteca Boxing Club in Bell Became a Training Ground for Champions

Photo by Lalo Alcaraz.
Photo by Lalo Alcaraz.

In his mind, there are three rules for bringing new business to a neighborhood. “Rule number one, build business for people who already live in the community. Ideally, those of us who open businesses in the barrio are doing it for the people in the barrio, providing things and services they want in their neighborhood,” says Favela. “And make things affordable.”

“Rule number two,” continues Favela, “make a positive impact on the existing businesses. We have an opportunity to interact with the community already here. You don’t take business away, you bring business to everyone.”

Favela points to their arrangement with the fifty-year old Cuban café and market next door, whose workers set up a station inside the brewery to sell hot Cuban sandwiches and other delicious, made-fresh food to complement the cervezas. He also invites local artists to display their work commission free, so that the artists keep all proceeds from any work they sell at the brewery.

“And rule number three, you gotta represent. It’s about making connections to our culture through the beer. Chicano 1.0 can be described as the the Movimiento Era, the 1970s, Chicano Park,” Favela explains. “It was period of Chicano renaissance in terms of arts, education, politics, and civil rights.

“Border X and a lot of those businesses on Logan are Chicano 2.0, the economic component of that cultural renaissance, the legacy. These are businesses that integrate our border roots, culture, and values. Chicanos combine the best things from both sides of the border.”

Photo courtesy of Lalo Alcaraz.
Photo by Lalo Alcaraz.

And that’s exactly the point.  For “X” marks the spot. The intersection, the unknown, the psychic, historical, and the material “mezcla” of cultures that the Tejana writer Gloria Anzaldúa famously theorized as unique to “the borderlands.”

For Favela and his beer makers, “Our beers are the border X.”

From the Grand Jefe German-style wheat beer, Tarantual American Stout, and Café Inglés English dark mild beer, Border X represent the criss-crossings of living, clashing, and complementary cultures of this historic and contested region. “What do you keep and what do you add from both sides when you’re ‘ni de aqui, ni de alla,’? It’s a beautiful set of contradictions.”

And these contradictions make for delicious beer in the barrio.

RELATED: Indie Downtown L.A. Breweries Make Beer for the People ~ Scene Report

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