San Diego’s Border X Brewing Builds Community Through Beer

December 10, 2018

By Ligaya Malones, December 10, 2018

At first glance, Border X Brewing looks like just another San Diego craft brewery. Located inside the historically Mexican-American neighborhood of Barrio Logan—Logan Heights to longtime locals—the brewery’s “core four” tells you almost everything you need to know about Border X’s brewing philosphy. These include a Horchata Golden Stout that was a 2016 Los Angeles International Beer Competition winner as well as the top-selling Blood Saison made with hibiscus from Mexico. You’ll notice familial vibes during Latin Jazz or Lotería night, a vibe that even CEO and partner David Favela can’t quite articulate. This particular quality has drawn the masses, many of whom are first-time, Latinx craft beer drinkers.

“It was more than craft beer,” Favela says, reflecting on the family-owned brewery’s upward trajectory since opening 2014. Before then, the brewery briefly operated in Otay Mesa, less than five miles from the Mexican border into Tijuana. “People were tapping into something else, so we've been experimenting with what that something else is, what is it that is really activating people's engagement?”

For the Latinx community, Border X’s deliberate decision to brew beer made with nostalgic flavors—their Blood Saison is inspired by Agua de Jamaica, a non-alcoholic hibiscus tea—is a compelling invitation. Favela knew they were on to something when, in their early days in Otay Mesa, a group of women—“a parade of strollers,” Favela says—showed up one uncharacteristically blustery day.

“We heard you have Abuelita’s,” they inquired, referring to Border X’s Mexican chocolate-flavored Abuelita’s Chocolate Stout. Since then its Barrio Logan location is a revolving door of activity, from a rotating roster of local artists and musical acts to hosting the Latinx-focused comic convention Chicano Con, Border X exudes a sense of community—think Abuela next to a retired banker and a guy in Moto Club all drinking beer together, says Favela.

And even if you’re not Latinx, Favela, who is Mexican and runs Border X with his brother and nephews says exploring their cultural roots offers a different experience in what can feel like a homogenous craft beer scene.

As Border X prepares to open its second tasting room in the city of Bell in Los Angeles County in the coming months, they hope to tap into that same feeling, and there are encouraging numbers behind it. Univision, citing an IHS Global Insights study reports Hispanic beer spending is projected to increase by 30 percent in 2019, compared to 17 percent for non-Hispanics.

Similarly Favela believes there’s more at stake beyond being a frontrunner of a burgeoning market. His broader goal is to empower the Latinx community at large through a growing movement across the country called “gentefication.” Call it a repositioning of gentrification. While the term has been given varying definitions, Favela’s version of gentefication outlines three tenets: that an incoming business serves the existing community, honors the history of the place, and participates in the community.

It’s a galvanizing call to action for a neighborhood’s people—or gente in Spanish—as well as its business community. In Barrio Logan, local entrepreneurs including Por Vida, a coffee shop pouring sublime horchata and mazapan lattes, and Tijuana-style hot dog spot Barrio Dogg meet regularly as part of non-profit business organization Logan Avenue Consortium to evaluate the neighborhood’s pulse, share resources in an effort to promote businesses culturally invested in the neighborhood and host public events that celebrate Barrio Logan’s deep Chicano roots.

This collaborative approach has largely resonated in Barrio Logan, and Favela hopes they can do the same in Bell, where 92 percent of its approximately 35,800 residents are Latinx, per the U.S. Census Bureau. With the help of a successful crowdfunding campaign, the second location of Border X will open in January.

“It feels like a revolution. It feels like I’m part of something really cool and I have a visceral, emotional reaction to what [Favela]’s trying to do,” said Karmen Olsen, Senior Manager of Emerging Business of Craft Brew Alliance in a 2016 interview with Brewbound.

For its new location on Gage Avenue, whose neighbors include Bell’s City Hall, a local fire station and a concrete soccer field, Border X plans to partner with independently owned businesses like the Cuban bodega next door whose lechon will play counterpoint to Border X’s brews.

“[El Nuevo Mundo’s] been in the community 49 years; they bake their own bread and roast their own lechon. We’re not trying to get them kicked out so a hip new restaurant or store can come in. We’re looking to be an economic catalyst,” says Favela. Expect El Nuevo Mundo’s pork to make appearances at Border X in the form of pulled pork sandwiches served with a side of yuca fries, among other items like fresh churros. A kid’s menu will also be available.

During a recent walk-through of the new space with exposed brick walls and wood-paneled ceilings, Favela gestures to a few areas earmarked for private parties with capacity to seat between 30 to 40 people. “Latinos have big families,” Favela says. Additional touches include an art show curated by artist and muralist Wenceslao Quiroz titled “Por Ellos”—meaning, for them—which will accompany the opening. Community art events like a sketching workshop and musical performances meant to engage all generations are coming soon, too.

Further afield, Border X plans to continue their social and economic experiment throughout Southern California. Taprooms in various stages of fruition are planned for other areas with sizeable Latinx populations including Long Beach, Riverside, and Escondido in San Diego County, where Favela grew up.

In contrast to Favela’s enthusiasm and "rising tide lifts all boats" idealism about gentefication comes a wave of criticism on par with gentrification’s opposition. In Barrio Logan, the same businesses that enrich the neighborhood with expanded services, employment opportunities, and new energy also unwittingly contribute to higher rents and property values that can displace longtime residents. At the moment, Favela and other members of Logan Avenue Consortium are working toward a more cohesive response to educate skeptics.

“It's a very thin line between gentrification and status quo,” admits Favela. “But I think we have to explore it.”

ZX Ventures, a division within AB InBev, is an investor in October
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