In May 2018, Luis Carlos Serapio was walking down Banks Avenue by Catawba Brewing Co. when he spotted an interesting poster on the business’s windows. The flier advertised the brewery’s new Carolina del Norte Mexican Lager with artwork featuring a cardinal bird wearing a mariachi hat — imagery that Serapio didn’t find culturally offensive in any way. Sold by the respectful nature of the sketch, he went inside and tried the beer.
“Not only did it taste like Mexican beer, but great quality Mexican beer,” Serapio says.
He soon learned that Catawba was collaborating with Cerveza Beata and Cerveza Güira from Buenos Aires, Argentina, on a small batch IPA for AVL Beer Week 2018 and arranged for a meeting with Catawba marketing director Brian Ivey. Shortly thereafter, Catawba decided to become members of Descubre Asheville, the bilingual website founded by Serapio to connect the Latinx community with local businesses and generally celebrate and spotlight multiculturalism.
Their first project was a marketing campaign centered on the World Cup and Carolina del Norte. Serapio later helped promote the collaboration with the Argentinian breweries, and his relationship with Catawba has only grown in the interim.
“Since then, we’ve partnered with Luis and his team on several projects, including a bilingual Spanish-English blog post, professional video and photography services and a Descubre Asheville fundraiser for the Discover Your Potential scholarship,” Ivey says.
Such collaborations, however, have been few within the local beer industry — a status that the Mexican-born Serapio finds shocking since the city he’s called home for 19 years has established itself as one of the East Coast’s primary beer destinations. “When I realized that we had over 30 microbreweries in town, I also realized how none of them were doing anything to appeal to a diversified market,” Serapio says. “I’m not just talking about the Latino market, but just the fact that most companies in Asheville work and develop advertising that reflects a demographic that is not necessarily one that promotes or highlights multiculturalism.”
The overall absence of such marketing inspired Serapio to create Descubre Asheville and fill that niche while also challenging the manner in which Latinx immigrants are portrayed in the media and popular culture. In his work as the company’s creative director, he strives to show the public that this community has an entrepreneurial spirit, but he says the large majority of his content is aimed at “white liberal readers who believe companies should embrace diversity by supporting people of color.”
Serapio finds the lack of effort to appeal to local Latinx beer drinkers especially puzzling in light of the Mexican beer industry’s success in both the U.S. and Mexico and moves by major U.S. breweries to tap into this market. He points to Heineken’s purchase of Dos Equis and its development of The Most Interesting Man in the World campaign — ads he finds corny but that uplift an image of Latino culture and doesn’t ridicule it. Similarly encouraging, he says, is Anheuser-Busch’s sponsorship of Mexico’s national soccer team when it’s on tour in the U.S., a move that helps sell products at packed stadiums and increase brand awareness.
“Asheville sees Latinos only as a labor force. [Local breweries are] missing the point that they’re also consumers, and they’re also missing the point that Mexicans are very fond of beer,” Serapio says. “Not only because of the climate that they encounter in their country of origin, but culturally speaking, it’s very rooted. Mexico had some of the first breweries in the continent.”
Beyond Cinco de Mayo
Tastefully and respectfully connecting the dots, however, can be tricky. Serapio says breweries have to educate themselves on how to properly approach the Latinx community and produce media that avoid being “reckless, harmful and nonsensitive, even if the intent is good.” He adds that while releasing Mexican-style lagers on Cinco de Mayo can be a step in the right direction, it’s best to augment the release by collaborating with people who are more knowledgeable of the culture in order to encourage a higher rate of success as well as increased sensitivity — precisely what Catawba did in May.
“We have a sincere curiosity and appreciation for other cultures, and that doesn’t just start and stop with brewing international beer styles,” Ivey says. “So, for example, when we released a small batch Mexican Amber Lager for Cinco de Mayo this year, we wanted to attach a fundraiser that benefits the local Latinx community. And we wanted to create Spanish-language marketing content for that beer,” Ivey says.
“Luis helped us make it happen, and the beer release turned into a much richer experience as a result. Because we weren’t just borrowing a beer recipe from Mexico, we were able to go much deeper — honoring the history and people and culture from which that beer style originated.”
Also following that example is New Belgium Brewing Co. with its Mural Agua Fresca Cerveza. The beer, made in partnership with Mexico City brewery Primus Cerveceria, takes inspiration from the country’s ubiquitous agua frescas, featuring the flavors of hibiscus, agave, watermelon and lime.
“There’s an incredible amount of thoughtfulness that goes into all of that stuff because the last thing anybody would ever want would be to make any culture feel like they’re being taken advantage of by a beer company,” says Michael Craft, Asheville community ambassador for New Belgium.
“There’s a lot of outreach that goes on behind the scenes, of really having these conversations over a beer and dropping down cultures and colors and where your family’s from. Beer is the social lubricant for everything now, so I think it allows the opportunity to have those conversations a little less guarded.”
Further echoing Serapio’s call for promoting multiculturalism, New Belgium’s Craft and Liquid Center representative Preston Hart points to Piano Keys Chocolate Vanilla Stout, New Belgium’s collaboration with Atlanta-based craft beer influencer and African-American cultural ambassador Ale Sharpton. The partnership arose to call out the opportunity for diversity in craft beer and has been part of a rise in talks regarding diversity at the industry’s top conferences.
“You change people’s perceptions through their tastebuds, and before you know it, they’re not just thinking differently about beer, but then all of a sudden it opens up the conversation, and they look at the world through a whole other outlook,” Hart says. “It’s the people’s drink. It beats out anything else, in my opinion.”