Cinco de Mayo is traditionally a big day for Mexican restaurants and bars in Chicago, and staying at home isn’t how José and Javier Lopez of Casa Humilde brewery expected to spend the holiday. Instead of a big celebration, Casa Humilde, one of the few Chicago breweries owned by Mexican Americans, joins the rest of city’s bar industry in plotting out its survival during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Stay at home has closed down the taproom inside District Brew Yards, the pour-your-own-beer brewpub in West Town. Casa Humilde is one of four breweries that call DBY home in a unique collaboration which is like a food hall, but for beer; tenants share costs giving breweries a more affordable way to have a taproom. Food hall vendors also share costs as many work toward establishing their brand and opening their own restaurants. As Casa Humilde still sells canned beers at DBY, José Lopez has been driving across Chicago to visit liquor stores to convince them to sell his brews. There’s a DIY spirit with Casa Humilde as co-owner José Lopez also works as a salesman, while his brother makes deliveries.
While Cinco de Mayo does provide a marketing opportunity for a Mexican-American brewery, it’s been a rough competing with megabrands like Corona, Modelo, and Dos Equis. Another prominent Latinx brewery in Chicago is 5 Rabbit Cerveceria. Celebrity chef Rick Bayless’s Cruz Blanca in West Loop has also come along using Mexican ingredients in recent years. In Pilsen, home to one of Chicago’s most vibrant Mexican communities, Lopez says many store owners are reluctant to add Casa Humilde. The stores would rather stock the macrobrews.
“We wanted those beers to go side by side with ours,” Lopez says.
But Lopez expected that challenge, and hopes his brewery can make progress. New accounts include Evans St. Liquors in Pilsen and Armanetti Beverage Mart mini-chain. Lopez says he’s also had some success at stores on the Chicago’s Northwest Side. One of Lopez’s favorite parts of his job is the educational aspect, particularly with beer drinkers in the Mexican community. They may not be exposed to craft beer.
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Feliz Cinco de Mayo! We’re bummed knowing we can’t throw back a couple of beers with you all at the beer hall, so tag us in all of your great pictures drinking our cerveza, while staying safe at home! Remember you can order beer for pick up and delivery, link in bio! #cincodemayo #stayhumilde #nopalli #batalladepuebla #cerveza #orgullo #mexicanos #mexicancraftbeer #craftbeer
Sales of to-go beers have been on the rise since mid-March when the state closed all dine-in restaurants and bars. Lopez says sales at Casa Humilde have been on the slight uptick. They had stopped brewing for about a month while seeking their bearings, depleting their existing beer inventory. Last week the brewery cranked up again. Its lagers are headlined by Maizal, a 4.7-percent ABV lager. “Maíz” is the Spanish word for “corn.” The beer has a pleasant, slightly sweet taste that goes well with lime.
Lopez is happy to be part of the District Brew Yards community. The rehabbed space is where Burnt City Brewing moved to last year after leaving its longtime Lincoln Park space. Burnt City oversee the operations with Around the Bend and Bold Dog Beer as tenants joining Casa Humilde. The four breweries are there to support each other. It also would have been difficult to stay afloat if each brewery had their own separate facility and bills. The space also gives them flexibility. Customers at DBY can pick up beer and meat from Purely Meat, a West Humboldt Park butcher.
As today is May 5, Lopez provided a few alternatives to the bigger breweries. These are his favorite Mexican-style beers to drink for Cinco de Mayo. With the exception of Bohemia, a beer Lopez grew up drinking, the beers are cool, crisp, and refreshing. Lopez also threw in a bonus spirit at the end: Prolijo Mezcal. He hopes one day Casa Humilde could age a beer in Prolijo barrels.