Food & Drink

How We Use Beer to Celebrate and Promote Latino Culture

“We want to create a brand Latinos in the U.S. can really identify with.”

Jose Beteta
Photo: Kevin J Beaty; Illustration: Grace Han/Thrillist
Though Raíces Brewing has only been open in Denver for a year, it’s impact on the community has been huge. Not only does the brewery work to convert Latinos to the craft beer market, but it also celebrates Latin American heritage every day through art, food, and discussion. CEO Jose Beteta shares how his long and winding path from Costa Rica has ended with his very own brewery on the banks of the South Platte River. As told to Jess Mayhugh.

My family was slated to move to the U.S. from San José, Costa Rica in 1992. My parents were traveling back and forth to the U.S., working, coming back, and leaving again. They were looking for a better life for us -- more financial opportunity, a better education. We couldn’t come in the legal way, so we came in through the border when I was 13. We were faced with deportation and living in the shadows. It was frustrating, but eventually my family found their opportunity to get their status. The attorney we had he was trying to squeeze as much money out of us as possible. Instead of submitting our paperwork together, it was piecemeal. My application took so long that, by the time he went to submit it, I was outside of the age range. So my family had their citizenship and I was still in the shadows. I wasn’t able to fix my status until two years ago. I’ve been an undocumented immigrant, or a dreamer, for a very long time. Despite that, I was the first one in my family to go to and graduate college. I served as president to Latino Chamber of Commerce. Those experiences led to me to have relationships with the Colorado governor, senators, and county officials. But I am always looking out for the little guy.

I met my wife at Howard University in DC, where she was getting her PhD. She got an internship at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder. When I visited here, we both kind of contemplated, this place is amazing and beautiful. There just seems to be a different pace of life. People here were a lot more relaxed, a lot more genuine, spent time enjoying the outdoors and each other. We kind of loved everything about Colorado, so we decided to make the jump, and eventually we found our footing. Before, it just seemed like I was working to pay the bills. Out here, we find ourselves being more involved in bettering our community.

Jose Beteta, third from left, poses with his wife, Tamil Maldonado, second from right, and Governor Jared Polis, center. | Raices Brewing Co.

Eventually, in 2015, I was enrolled in a program at University of Denver, and we did an exercise about new ideas. I kind of blurted out ‘Latino brewery!’ I did the research and found out that, out of more than 8,000 craft breweries in the country, less than one percent were owned by people of color. But we consume close to 18 percent of the craft beer market. That’s a huge discrepancy. There’s no representation here, so we have to fix this. My wife, my brewer, and myself created this team and our mission at Raíces Brewing is to merge Latino culture and beer.

The background of this whole thing, too, is that 80 percent of what U.S. Latinos consume is imported beer. They are highly loyal to Corona, Dos Equis, and Tecate, which are really part of big conglomerates. The rest of the 20 percent is your Budweiser, Coors brands and then craft beer. We want to create a brand Latinos in the U.S. can really identify with. Raíces means ‘roots’ in spanish, which really means cultural heritage. It’s perfect because any Spanish-speaking person you say that to, they know what you’re talking about. It’s straight to the heart.

Craft beer has been so white-dominated, more than anything, because of access to capital. It’s more of a premium product because there is a lot of cost involved in making local beer. The consumer side, the beers are more expensive than going to the corner store and paying $1. On the owner side, there is a huge barrier because we’re talking equipment and a project close to $3 million. For any person of color to get that together is just wow. I never thought I could pull something like this off. My background in civics helped me know where to apply, how to say things, and what resources to go after.

Education is another huge thing. Denver right now is saturated with so many breweries. One of the first things I would tell someone is it’s not enough to be a person of color to open a brewery, you have to have a unique concept. If you can write that business plan, that’s probably half of the work because then you can convince the banks, investors, and lenders. In our world, if a white person was trying to minimize risk, we have to minimize it even further than them. Having a clear concept and writing a kick-ass business plan is a big piece of the puzzle.

The first thing we wanted to do at Raíces is introduce the Latino community to craft beer. It was important to show them the classic styles. One of our most popular beers is Manguito with mango puree -- it’s a delicious summer ale and we do it in a way that’s not too sweet. We have our Mexican lager, it’s been selling like crazy. Wine is especially big in South America, so we came up with our own recipe for a beer/wine hybrid called Armonía. That helps non-beer drinkers come in and try something in between. We’ve also been doing beer-mosas, but the twist is it’s made with a champagne ale that we created -- it’s so refreshing. Plus we have our guest taps. Right now we have a Horchata Cinnamon Ale by Donovan Brewing Company, which is also Latino-owned.

We don’t focus on just beer, we also focus on culture. You see bilingual menus and Latino art around the taproom. We have a rotation of food trucks on a daily basis. One day we’ll have Mexican, then Colombian, Saturdays we have two food trucks like Argentine and Brazilian. We have a lot of talks and panels about race relations in the Black community and the Latin American community and we invite our allies. We livestream all of those things through our Facebook page. We have the only brewery in Denver right next to the [South Platte] River and we can also see Broncos Stadium. We opened at the end of September 2019, and we had football parties in the fall. We’re always celebrating something here. February is full of carnivals from around Latin America, not just in Brazil.

We debuted Suave Fest exactly one year ago as a way for us to help highlight people of color in the industry. We gathered as many Latino-owned craft brewers as we could. We’re telling the industry for the first time, ‘Hey we’re here, you’ve got to take us into consideration.’ That’s when the Brewer’s Association hired the Diversity Committee and started the Diversity & Inclusion Grant. We feel like we had a big impact on the industry. This year, we really didn’t want to go virtual. I get bored on a Zoom call [laughs]. We’re working to create this platform to bring together Latino breweries around the country. I’d say we have around 40 right now, and we’re starting to build a coalition for next year’s festival. Our hope is, by year three, we can bring in brewers from all of Latin America and the Caribbean.

It was scary at the beginning on COVID-19 because nobody knew what would happen. But we decided to be like water and adapt quickly. Thank goodness we are right next to this river, and it has a bike and running path next to it. People would be outside working out, and we would blast music and have signs and say we have a hydration station! If you get thirsty, come have some beer and water. About 80 percent of our revenue was people coming from the river. That helped spread the word to new guests and helped propel Raíces forward. People are looking to be more connected with their cultures, and strengthen their identity. The Black community is doing that through Fresh Fest, the Asian-American community and so many others have so much more room to grow. For minority groups that are increasing the U.S., it’s inevitable that industries will keep getting more inclusive.

Beteta recommends these Latino-brewed beers:

Cafecito by Raíces Brewing
One of our most surprising beers, Cafecito is a coffee blonde ale made with Guatemalan coffee in partnership with Copper Door Coffee, a woman-owned Colorado company that sources its coffee beans for this specific beer from indigenous women-owned coffee fields at fair trade. The distinct and delicious coffee profile gives this beer an amazing and surprising kick from a blonde beer.

Liberty Lager by Lady Justice Brewing
This everyday lager is perfect for these hot summer days and it helps further Lady Js mission to help nonprofits and social causes.

Hazelnut Porter by Coal Mine Brewing
As the name suggests, this delicious and full beer goes excellent for those who look to taste something different and hearty.

Túpac Amaru III by Dos Luces Brewery
If you're looking for something different, this delicious barrel-aged alcoholic chicha is a must try. Using native Latin American ingredients -- like malted blue corn and clove -- TA3 is unlike anything you've ever tasted.

Green Queen by Novel Strand Brewing
Out of all of the Latin owned breweries, Novel Strand may be the specialist in IPAs and other hoppy varieties. Green Queen is a solid product sure to entice hop heads of all creeds.

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Jess Mayhugh is a Cities Editor for Thrillist, who would like to teleport to Denver to have a Manguito on the river. Follow her on Instagram @jessmayhugh