Javier Chávez Jr. dreamed of this moment. In some ways, it’s at the heart of why he founded Cerveza Zólupez Beer Company.
In February, not long before COVID-19 effectively put everyday life on hold, Chávez traveled to Monterrey, Mexico, to brew a beer. Not just any beer — a craft lager that would honor firsthand the Ogden brewer’s Mexican heritage. Though Chávez was born and raised in Utah, he holds a deep affinity for his parents’ homeland.
Chávez teamed up with Cerveza Cabrito, an award-winning Mexican craft brewery, to brew an “authentic, legit” Mexican-style craft lager in Mexico.
The result? Zólupez Lager Mexicano.
Chávez, who earned a law degree from Boston College, worked in advance with officials to ensure the finished beer could be legally and safely imported into the United States and distributed in Utah.
He arrived in Mexico and brewed his recipe. But COVID-19 restrictions forced him to return to the U.S. not long after the brew day. Fortunately, a good friend in Mexico — Chávez’s “boots on the ground” — oversaw the fermentation, lagering, and packaging.
The lager arrived in the U.S. not long before the Mexican government closed all non-essential businesses, including breweries, to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.
“We’re very proud of what we’ve done,” he says. “It’s a very fun project. I love the beer, my family loves the beer.”
And now Utah beer drinkers are starting to enjoy Zólupez’s crisp lager created by cross-border collaboration.
But to get a better sense of the significance of Lager Mexicano, it’s necessary to get a clearer understanding of Cerveza Zólupez Beer Company, Utah’s only — and one of the nation’s few — Latino-owned craft breweries.
Zólupez Beer Company: In Their Own Words
BONUS: Subscribe to the Utah Beer News Podcast and listen to our interview with Javier Chávez Jr., Zólupez Beer Company founder and brewer. Hear how he got his start in brewing, why the beers — and even the brewery name — hold special meaning, and, as one of the country’s few Latino brewery owners, Chávez shares his thoughts on the importance of increased diversity and inclusiveness in the beer world.
Influenced by ‘Small Batch’
Chávez’s parents immigrated to the United States from Mexico in the late ’70s. Not long after, Javier Jr. was born. He grew up in Ogden and, due in part to his family’s restaurant business, spent his youth enjoying four generations of authentic Mexican food.
Chávez, 40, worked in the family business, put himself through college at the University of Utah, and went on to earn a law degree and an MBA from Boston College.
He began to develop an interest in craft beer and remembers traveling to Mexico and drinking beer while visiting the hole-in-the-wall taquerias he loved.
“I was influenced by smaller batch (models),” he says. “You could do creative, fun things. I’ve seen some of the best restaurants being these small-batch, artisanal places. To me, that sounds fun and different.”
But he wanted to do more than simply pair his beers with Mexican food. Chávez wanted to infuse his beers with Mexican culture and tradition, to honor his heritage. He couldn’t find anything in the United States, even with its booming craft beer scene, that checked all these boxes.
“I said, ‘I’m going to brew that beer,'” Chávez remembers. “A craft beer that pairs with Mexican food, pairs with the culture, honors the (tradition), and speaks to my heritage.”
He knew he didn’t want to do what everyone else was doing. From the focus on authentic Mexican ingredients to the five-gallon — about 50 bottles — batches to the word-of-mouth advertising, Chávez took the path less traveled.
Even the name Zólupez honors his heritage. It’s a portmanteau that combines his parents’ hometowns (Zóquite and Guadalupe) and his surname (Chávez).
Zólupez Beers: Ingredients Matter
With more than 8,000 craft breweries in the U.S. now, Chávez acknowledges that many are brewing tasty Mexican-style lagers. But for most, such a beer is often a one-off or a seasonal release. Breweries generally aren’t devoting time and energy to creating year-round craft beers that truly represent the Mexican culture.
For years, Chávez struggled to find “something that had that cultural continuity in a way that spoke to me personally as a Mexican-American,” he says. “Something that honored that heritage in an authentic or culturally attuned way.”
Chávez sought opportunities to learn more about beer history, culture, and production. In U.S. beer meccas such as St. Louis and San Diego, Chávez practiced law and took beer classes to learn all he could.
“I saw this as a huge opportunity,” he remembers. “Bringing Mexican culture and beer culture together.”
And so he went to work creating his own recipes, first as a homebrewer and then as a pro.
“Every one of our beers has some ingredient from Mexican culture,” Chávez says.
The Zólupez IPA, for instance, is brewed with agave nectar and lime peel. It’s intentionally on the lighter side of a traditional IPA, Chávez says “to make sure it meshes well with spicy food in hot weather” — two Mexican hallmarks.
The Zólupez Amber Ale, the first beer style Chávez ever consumed and brewed as a homebrewer (and as a pro), features piloncillo (cane sugar) and canela (cinnamon). “What we have here is literally years of trial and error” to get it just right, Chávez says. “The sweetness of the cane sugar enhances the savory notes of an Amber Ale.”
And the Zólupez Golden Ale, which includes mango and lemon peel, hearkens to Mexico’s popular aguas frescas, corner stands that offer sweet refreshers. “I wanted to brew a beer that had that fresh citrus,” Chávez says.
These three beers are available in a 12-pack Fiesta Pack in Utah grocery and convenience stores. Additional Zólupez beers, as available, can be found in restaurants or bars.
Zólupez Looks Toward the Future
About a year after it began selling beer out of its small beer store in Ogden, Zólupez began contracting with Salt Lake’s Uinta Brewing to help meet the demand for its beers.
Brewing five gallons at a time meant extremely limited batches and quickly running out of product at beer festivals.
“We’d sell out immediately and it was frustrating to everybody involved, including myself,” he says. “We looked around and asked, ‘how can we grow this?’ Our craft beer brothers down the street stepped up to the plate and said, ‘let’s work on this together.'”
Chávez called its relationship with Uinta a “great synergy to take our dreams, our goals, our beers, our know-how and really leveraging existing resources to meet demand.”
But just because Zólupez batches are now measured in barrels rather than gallons, and they’re available throughout Utah and Idaho, doesn’t mean the beers are straying from the original ideals.
“I’m intimately involved in the (brewing) process,” Chávez explains. “It’s not a situation where we’re saying, ‘here it is, do this for us.’ These are my recipes and I’ve been involved every step of the way.”
It’s an important point, especially considering Zólupez is Utah’s only Latino-owned craft brewery and one of the few in the country. A 2018 benchmarking survey by the Brewers Association found that only 2.4% of U.S. breweries are Hispanic- or Latino-owned. Additionally, just 4% of respondents reported employing a Hispanic or Latino brewer.
Listen For More…
To hear Chávez share his thoughts on diversity and inclusiveness in the beer industry, and what everyday beer drinkers can do to promote these tenets, please listen to the Utah Beer News Podcast. The discussion on diversity begins at the 45:17 mark.
“Javier’s boundless energy and attention to every last detail are tremendous assets as he establishes the nucleus of what promises to become a rapidly rising star in the Utah craft community,” says Jeremy Ragonese, Uinta Brewing’s president. “In an industry full of skilled and creative entrepreneurs, he stands apart for his vision, tenacity, and character, which are the major reasons why we wanted to work with him on bringing the Zólupez brands to a wider audience.”
Though COVID-19 slowed Zólupez, as it did with most breweries, it didn’t kill it. In fact, once business gets back to some semblance of normal, Zólupez plans to return to the blueprints it created earlier this year and move forward with building a larger brewery of its own.
“Building a larger facility, that’s very much part of our goal,” Chávez says. “With fresh beers on tap, and always being creative. Coming up with new stuff that’s artisanal, that’s part of our heritage, and that’s fun.”
About Zólupez Beer Company
Cerveza Zólupez Beer Company sold its first bottle of beer in November 2018. And when it did, the Ogden brewery epitomized the term “small-batch beer.” Javier Chávez Jr., a brewer with a law degree, opened Zólupez brewing five gallons of beer at a time.
Chávez, born and raised in Ogden, sought to brew beers that paid homage to his Mexican heritage. Zólupez beers, therefore, include ingredients that honor the culture of his parents and grandparents.
In 2019, Zólupez teamed up with Uinta Brewing to help expand production and distribution. In the weeks prior to COVID-19, Chávez had identified a location he plans to open his own larger brewery and brewpub.
Cerveza Zólupez Beer Company
- Opened: Nov. 3, 2018
- Notable: When it opened, Zólupez Beer Company became Utah’s smallest professional brewery, brewing and bottling five gallons at a time. The Ogden nano-brewery focused on brewing beers that paired well with Mexican food, as well as honoring Mexico’s culture and traditions. Chávez, who is a licensed lawyer, received unwavering support from his parents, who own restaurants in the Ogden area. But, he says, he promised his mother that he’d always keep his law license active.
- Website: https://zolupez.com/
- Social Media: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter