Compañía Cervecera Hércules is an independent brewery in Querétaro City that makes a wide range of lagers and ales that are poured fresh at its on-site beer garden.
A big part of Hércules’ success today is head brewer Josh Brengle, who moved to Mexico from the United States in 2016. I recently chatted with him via email for this interview, which has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Hi Josh, thanks for speaking to Mexico News Daily. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your career as a brewer?
Hey Peter, thanks for the opportunity. I’m a Florida native and started brewing at a pretty young age. I brewed at home a lot in my early 20s and helped out in some Orlando brewpubs while I had a non-beer related day job. I was also heavily involved in entering and organizing beer competitions.
By my mid 20s I was working at Cigar City Brewing in Tampa, where I started as a night shift brewer, later became lead brewer and finally worked as production manager. I spent about six years there until I met my future wife and moved to Mexico and started at Hércules in 2016.
I had the chance to spend a few hours in Hércules’ beer garden a few years ago. The beer and food was great, and the brewery/beer garden site, an old textiles factory, was equally impressive. What’s the history of Cervecera Hércules and its unique location?
Hércules is one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city of Querétaro. It has pre-Hispanic roots and the property we’re on was once the property of Conín, an indigenous Otomí conquistador, and his sons. His sons had a mill here … and it was a convent for a while as well.
The textile plant itself was opened by Cayetano Rubio in 1846 and continued to operate until 2019. I am told it had around 8,000 employees at its peak and that it was the second biggest industrial textile plant in all of Latin America.
There is a ton of history here and it’s definitely one of the most interesting places I’ve ever been.
The brewery was founded in 2011 while the textile plant was still operational and placed inside one of the big production spaces that was no longer in use. Sales were slow but steady until 2016 when the beer garden opened. That created an avenue to get the freshest beer to our customers.
Hércules brews some very interesting beers including a Mexican porter with black corn, a cerveza de jamaica (hibiscus beer) and several spontaneous fermentation beers. Can you give us an overview of the brewery’s range of beers and what inspires you and your team to make them?
We make between 70 and 80 styles per year. We get tons of inspiration from local agriculture and our culinary surroundings here in Mexico, but we also try to base ourselves well within the idea of ‘beer flavored beer’.
So we make a ton of traditional European styles such as lagers, pale ales and saisons.
When we brew conceptual beers, we try to make sure the base beer or base style shines.
Aside from all of the ‘clean’ beers we make we also have a program called Cervezas Salvajes Hércules (Hércules Wild Beers), which consists of spontaneously fermented beers (think Mexican lambic/gueuze/kriek) and other beers with alternative yeasts and local fruits and spices. All of those beers are fermented and aged in wooden barrels and/or foeders.
Can you recommend a couple of your beers that are especially good to drink during the hotter months of the year?
Wow, there are a lot! At the top of my list would be Faro, a helles (traditional German pale lager), our summer ale Caballo Blanco, Lagermaíz, a lager with local corn, Buen Chofer, a witbier and Ráfaga, an American pale ale.
I guess any beer can be a hot weather beer if you are thirsty enough!
Craft beer is becoming increasingly popular in Mexico with independent breweries located across much of the country. What’s your view of the industry and what changes, if any, do you expect to see in the next few years?
I think it’s similar to other countries, it’s very regional. The beer culture in Monterrey is a lot different than say, Chiapas. In our part of the country we see people opening up more and more … to new styles and many people embracing fresh local beer.
But in general it’s still a pretty conservative area and beer consumption per capita is much lower than further north.
The trends are confusing as our best-selling beer in Querétaro is Macanuda, a brown ale. I can’t think of anywhere else in the world where a brown ale could be a brewery’s flagship beer.
In Mexico City, Súper Lupe, an IPA (India Pale Ale), is our top seller, which shows that the customer base is very different.
Trying to understand the market has been one of my goals since I arrived here in 2016. We spent time making many different styles – close to 100 unique beers some years – so that we could see which did well.
There were many styles that we adored but just didn’t sell, and vice versa. During the past two years we’ve reduced the list … to styles that sell well and that we like to make.
I think in the next few years I expect to see something similar to where the U.S. is now – more locality, more tied houses and [the opening of] new locations from existing breweries, (such as Hércules’ Lagerbar in Mexico City).
The craft beer industry seems to be quite collaborative with breweries often working together on limited edition beers. Has Hércules produced any beers with other breweries?
And, finally, could you recommend two or three beers made by other independent Mexican breweries?
We’re big fans of collaborations as they’re an opportunity to learn and make new friends, and sometimes revisit old ones. I think we’ve done close to 100 collaborations since 2017 or so.
This includes working with breweries in Europe, the U.S., Canada, South America and, of course, Mexico. The collaborations have sometimes influenced us to change a process or recipe, or even build a new brand from scratch.
There are a ton of great breweries in Mexico and plenty of great beers so picking three is tough! Here are five.
Aguamala (Ensenada, Baja California): Astillero Double IPA
Wendlandt (Ensenada, Baja California): Harry Polanco Amber Ale
Cyprez (Mexico City): Saison
Cuatro Palos (Querétaro): Good Day Session IPA
Cosaco (Mexico City): Flamenca
This interview is the first in a new series called “The Saturday Six”: six-question interviews to be published in upcoming Saturday editions of Mexico News Daily.