Four days into a stay at the “chic and cheap” 3-B Hostal in Playa del Carmen, south of Cancun. A former fishing town that was discovered by Italian vacationers decades ago, transformed into a fashionable hub. A mini-Cancun that thankfully lacks the all-inclusive “puke to party” vibe. The main street, Avenida 5, is awash with invitations to spend, from hand-rolled cigar factories to Argentinian steak purveyors. Thankfully, the Starbucks gang has not completely won over and a semi-exotic beach vibe lingers. Mexican seaside vacationing with a European flair, quite different from the U.S.-inflected Mayan Riviera I expected. Not a bad place to finish fevered remnants of Arisugawa Park and wait for pay from the usual gigs to dribble in.
My Chilean dorm mate of the past several days, Vicente Espinoza Ashton, makes a salad in the common area on his last night at the hostel. A recent college graduate, he shares a semi-private double bed with his girlfriend. I have not exchanged more than casual nods and smiles with them, blinded by the sight of a perfect tribe of two. The couple are aglow with good health and an almost innocent awareness of each others’ beauty—everything wholesome and bountiful on this green earth. Munching midnight greens, Vicente is for once without his lithe companion and we fall into the sort of easy conversation that hostels are made for. The random connections that turn lack of privacy into a virtue at the oddest moments.
From the municipality of Huelquen in the Andean foothills south of Santiago, Vicente has a vision of bringing craft beer to Chile. Something of a beer connoisseur (whose tastes have inexplicably drifted toward the crisp and quenching), I am intrigued.
As Vicente describes it, his father is a well known “hippy” vintner who operates the Antiyal winery and is a purveyor of biodynamic vintages. Antiyal means “son of the sun” in the local Mapuche dialect and has an ethos of growing vines with as little irrigation as possible. Organic composts are used to fertilize and grapes matured holistically. Though the yield is lower, Alvaro Espinoza believes that the resulting wines are imbued with a distinct sense of place—the essence of the Alto Maipo, with its dry climate and alluvial gravel that has washed down over the centuries from the high Andes.
With his family well established in the wine world, I ask Vicente why beer? He explains that Chile does not have any good beers, only conglomerate products such as Heineken and vastly inferior local brews. He feels impelled to create the country’s first true craft beer, taking inspiration from Stroud in England, where he completed an internship in 2012. I am not exactly familiar with that brewery but a quick Internet perusal reveals it as a less-flamboyant British cousin to those U.S. craft brewers who take pride in organic, locally produced ingredients and unique (over-hopped, to me) taste profiles.
I ask Vicente when he plans to roll out this brewery and his vision shrinks just a bit. With his father renowned as a wine producer, Vicente is serious about making it on his own terms. However, he is quite young. Attempting the terminology one would use to win over investors (or a cautious father) he notes that wine is on a different timeline from beer. You have to wait more than one year after harvest and bottling to sell wine. With beer, you can produce and sell quickly, in quantities that exactly meet demand.
Probing further, I learn that Vicente graduated university in December and would, on a certain level, like to learn with his father, who trained in locales as diverse as California, Australia, and South Africa. He has however not been given that option. Unlike his brother, who is currently learning advanced irrigation practices in Napa Valley (Chile’s Alto Maipo is in the midst of a protracted drought), Vicente must find a way to expand his repertoire beyond the family business. Moreover there is pride. As Vicente puts it “I want to make something different because my father makes wine really good. If I am still doing the same, I’m always going to be the son of Alvaro.”
Vicente will soon take a job with a company, he is not sure which, and brewing beer will be relegated to hobbyist level. He is well aware of the formidable road ahead of him. I ask if Chile produces quality hops and barley and he tells me no, to his knowledge there is only inferior product available. He will need to import the raw ingredients at first as he experiments with small home batches. He then foresees a couple years of intensive training with international breweries. I recommend finding one in Czech or Northern California and he mentions that his family lived in Hopland, Mendocino, when he was very young. This geographical pedigree suggests that his father may have indeed been a true hippy (a quality somehow prized in Latin America, where the revolutionary spirit still thrives).
I mention my more than passing familiarity with Mendocino and we have a moment of recognition—as if over the first sip of a very good beer—that we are at the inception of a vision that may yield alcohol-laced reveries of consequence. The beginning of a new craft brewing reality from the ground up, in a land that has no such indigenous tradition. I ask Vicente what name he has chosen for this prospective beer company and he reluctantly mentions Quadreros, the Chilean for bandit. His community is historically known for its outlaw presence—I imagine bad men in creased black hats, holed up in some improbably precipitous ravine that lawmen dare not traverse.
Vicente assures me that Quadreros is not the name of his label, as it does not translate well into the array of varieties—stout, lager, pale ale—that he envisions. I suggest that Quadreros would be an excellent name for a dark beer, a signature brew guaranteed to put hair on your chest—with a silhouette of the fabled bandit on its label. Vicente tentatively agrees with this concept.
Conversation turns to my so-called endurance writing and how I have sacrificed family and traditional markers of success for a dream. At age 40 there is finally hope, just—that I may be on a path to success—although I have not managed to find familial bliss. Vicente, a little too young to fully appreciate the beauty he has snared, admits that he is not quite ready to populate the world with the multitude of children his girlfriend sees in their shared future.
Talk shifts, not entirely surprisingly, to Jesus. Vicente is most interested in the historicity of Christ. He has received one version of Jesus, via a lifetime of Catholic school learning, and is not convinced that Our Savior is a Superhero. He sees the evidence pointing toward Jesus as the son of a king (David) who was a potent political force against an occupying Roman force. He is looking toward a possibility that, as Leonard Cohen put it, Jesus was “just the man.”
I, who have never put much thought into Jesus’ historicity, peruse an online article by Fernando Bermejo-Rubio, a professor of Greek philology and Indo-European linguistics at the Complutense University of Madrid. The author suggests that “Jesus of Nazareth and his followers were in fundamental sympathy with the principles of the members of the anti-Roman resistance groups, the use of violence not excepted on principle.”
Suddenly everything clicks—naturally the time was ripe, during a time of colonial overlordship, for a Jesus-like figure who represented a still strong cooperative of Jewish tribes. (No simple seditionist, Jesus was also naturally a moral force who preached a unifying message). To the early Christians in the Mediterranean, I imagine Jesus was emblematic of successful resistance to the use of overwhelming, exploitative, force by (again) the Romans. With this hazy realization, it is time to bid goodnight to Vicente Espinoza Ashton, leaving him to guilt-free slumbers and an early rise for travel to Cancun mañana.