The Latin Side of Randy Mosher

David | Blog | June, 09 2011 | No Comment

Apologies to Conrad Herwig for the headline.

There are a handful of people instrumental in the growth of American craft beer who have never brewed professionally. They engage in other industry activities (writing, teaching, or organizing) and they may be very accomplished home brewers, but for one reason or another have avoided the regular gig in the brew house. Randy Mosher is no longer among them.

Araya, Showaki and Mosher, at Mosher's "Buck-A-Pound Brewery."

Mosher has served on the board of the Colorado-based Brewers Association; he writes about beer and brewing, teaches brewing technology at Chicago’s Siebel Institute, and designs the labels, logos and other graphics for some of the best brewers in the country (and a few around the world).  Last month he added brewery-partner to his list of titles.

For the better part of a year, Mosher has been providing graphic design and other services to entrepreneurial partners Isaac Showaki and Andrés Araya, who have been pursuing a plan to open a U.S. based craft brewery with Latin-American reference points.  Earlier this year, as his involvement deepened, Mosher was brought on as a minority partner, and to oversee brewing (currently contracted with Chicago’s Argus.)  During last month’s Chicago Craft Beer Week, the new company, 5 Rabbit Brewery, introduced its initial three beers.

One of the launch events took place at The Map Room, and it was the culmination of a fortuitous meeting (also at the Map Room) during the 2010 Chicago Craft Beer Week.  Showaki and Araya, who grew up in Mexico and Costa Rica, visited Chicago last March while scouting U.S. cities with a strong craft beer scene and an established Latin population. They reached out to the Chicago Beer Society, among others, and were steered toward Mosher for graphic services.

“We were looking for a place with a craft beer scene that was good, but still growing,” said Araya. “(Chicago) wasn’t like Oregon or Calif., in that respect, and also, the Hispanic community is strong. There is a big food scene with great Latin food, and there’s the Siebel Institute.”

Showaki adds: “It feels like the kind of community and family we want to be involved with.  After we finished that trip we knew this was the place we wanted to be.”

An interview article posted by Chicago Magazine coincided with the rollout, and tells more about how 5 Rabbit came to be. And just Wednesday, 5 Rabbit was featured in the Chicago Tribune. A select number of bars are already pouring draft beers, and bottles will begin to show up on store shelves next week.

When they first began working with Mosher, Showaki and Araya had no idea that he was an accomplished homebrewer and brewing author, let alone that he helps teach courses at Seibel, where a large portion of American craft brewers are trained.

“We asked him, if he knew someone who could help us develop our recipes, and he turned to us and said, ‘yes, I know someone–me,’” Showaki says.

Mosher says no one had ever asked him to join a brewery or work in a brewing capacity, adding that it should not come as a surprise.  He also says there is nothing about the current state of the craft beer industry to make a brewery partnership any more attractive than it was a dozen or so years ago when he and his friend Ray Daniels contemplated opening a brewery in Chicago.

“Craft breweries are usually opened by a homebrewer, so no one has ever really asked me to formulate the recipes,”  he says. “It was really a matter of opportunity. What Andres and Isaac bring to the party is all the stuff that I would not be good at.  It’s kind of perfect the way our talents and experiences kind of dovetail.”  While the business model of launch-through-contract has been successful for others in recent years, and there is no longer a stigma attached, Mosher says finding capacity for contract brewing, in a suitable, nearby brewery remains a big challenge. A company-owned brewery remains part of the plan.

Mosher's label for the flagship 5 Rabbit

Those who have been lucky enough to have tasted Mosher’s home produce over the years will not be surprised to see a lime and passion fruit witbier, or to hear that there is both brown sugar and chile Ancho in the dark beer. But make no mistake, this is not just Randy being Randy.

“I would put cicadas in a beer, but that’s not what we are doing here. These recipes are well thought out, and the idea is to make delicious beers that people will buy.”

Yet, how fortunate the original partners are to have found a graphic designer who also wrote a book called Radical Brewing.  For longer than many of today’s craft brewers have been old enough to drink, Mosher has been exploring the influences of things like malt selection and spicing on the flavor and character of beer.

For their part, Araya and Showaki were working for a global business consulting firm, and had spent a good deal of time in the breweries of a couple of clients. Suffice to say they fell in love with the smell of malt in the morning, and over the last five years or so a dream was hatched that grew into a business plan.

There are a number of interesting components to 5 Rabbit’s emergence, not the least of which is the very idea of a Latin craft brewery. The company has used the phrase “bringing a new accent to Chicago’s craft beer scene,” but if my suspicions are correct, the accent will be heard and tasted well beyond Chicago.

The beers are described in some detail on 5 Rabbit’s website. The Aztec mythology of the 400 Rabbits, which lends itself to the names of the brewery and its beers, is even nicely summarized there too, and on Mosher’s beautiful, whimsical labels. The Piixan philosophy of free spirit, adopted from Myan culture, has become a guiding principal at 5 Rabbit , helping in the selection of everything from tap handle designs to distributor choice (Louis Glunz got the nod).

Cheese and Cheers, of course, is most interested in pairing the 5 Rabbit beers with food, and especially with cheese.

“We really want to do with 5 Rabbit what Rick Bayless and Fronterra have done for Latin cuisine in Chicago,” Mosher says. “Great flavors from quality ingredients—sticking to tradition and culture but without being too precious about it.“

Here are some pairing suggestions:

  • “5 Lizard (a Latin Style Witbier) is great with fish, with ceviche, or with salads,” Mosher says. “The interplay between  the cilantro in a ceviche and the coriander in the beer is nice.  For cheese, I would think maybe a chevre, or a lighter Feta.”
  • 5 Rabbit is the gateway beer for the Latin audience, and one that most resembles what Mexican beers should taste like—made with Vienna malt and noble hops.  This beer is great for “everything in the middle,” Mosher says, “Tamales, fried red snapper, fried chicken, grilled pork.”  For cheese pairings try a Tomme de Savoie,  a Gorwydd Caerphilly, of even a lightly flavored blue like Hooks Blue Paradise.
  • 5 Vulture, is a dark ale made with Piloncillo sugar and just a hint of chile Ancho.  Mosher says it’s great for  mole and spicy foods as well as Spanish and Spanish-style sheeps and goats milk cheeses.  I can’t wait to try it as a dessert beer with flan.

We’ll do some taste tests with cheese pairings for 5 Rabbit beers as soon as possible, so watch for the results right here. Cheers, and live Piixan!

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