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First micro in N. Mexico has gigante ambitions

Over the phone, Jose Antonio Gonzales talks in such a businesslike manner that one may forget he is starting something of a brewing revolution in Mexico.

"My father was a distributor for beer for 15 to 20 years," said Gonzales, now 52. "I grew up around beer warehouses. I love the business, the product. I thought that one day I am going to make a brewery."

Gonzales opened up the first microbrewery in Northern Mexico earlier this year and is facing the same opportunities and challenges that the first small breweries in the United States faced many years ago. His company, Consorcio Cervecero de Baja California, is going up against several large breweries with nearly unlimited resources and tight control over the market.

To overcome these challenges, Gonzales is seeking to offer a better-tasting beer that residents of the city where he has lived since he was 16 can be proud of. The response has been overwhelming and Gonzales is already talking of doubling or tripling the brewery’s output. The beer is sold in bottles under the name Cerveza Tijuana TJ.

"When you invest your money, you better be successful. The only way to be successful is to provide quality products and to match honesty with honesty," Gonzales said.

Gonzales invested heavily in the best equipment and ingredients and recruited his head brewer, Davis Masa, from the Czech Republic. He models his pilsner after the best brewing traditions of Europe.

"We are in the traditional process to make beer," Gonzales said. "That means strictly the four elements: water, malt, hops, and yeast. We don’t use any other raw materials."

The brewery and restaurant is located at Bulevar Fundadores #2951, Tijuana, B.C. The telephone number is 52 66 38 86 62.

Excerpts from a question and answer session with Gonzales:

Q: What is the competition like?
"In Mexico, there are big companies, two big companies. The U.S. used to have a similar situation. But now you have a lot of microbreweries. Ours is only the third one in the whole country, and the first brewery in northern Mexico."

Q: Who is coming to the brewery?
"Right now, it’s a lot of Tijuana people. We don’t promote yet to tourists. We are going to start promoting with some tour companies."

Q: How did you set up the brewery?
"I was visiting known places for beer. Germany, Vienna, the Czech Republic and other places around the world. I traveled around there and decided what kind of beer is going to be good for my market and then I decided to follow this type of beer." 

Q: Why have you focused on quality?
"Well, it is #1 for a couple of reasons. The first thing is, if I want to compete with only two big companies, they control the beer in the Mexico market. They are like Budweiser. They are gigante. They have a lot of resources and control the market. The only way I can bring people to my brand is not how much I spend on publicity, it is how I make the beer. It is how I provide the best beer. The second reason is the name of the beer. The name of Tijuana is a challenge for me. It is a challenge because I need to give good representations to the brand, to the beer. The only way to marry with identity is to provide quality."