A Q&A With Border X Co-Founder Martin Favela
One of Barrio’s brewery pioneers speaks about beer, business, and building community
Border X Co-Founder Martin Favela helped to make Barrio Logan one of San Diego's most dynamic craft beer areas
Before Border X, Barrio Logan was a craft beer desert. When the brewery opened its first tasting room on Logan Avenue five years ago, they opened a new frontier for craft breweries east of downtown San Diego. Since that time, the area has seen Iron Fist, Thorn, Alta, and Attitude establish Barrio locations—and there are more are on the way.
I sat down in the backyard beer garden with Border X co-founder Martin Favela to ask him a few questions about how life in Barrio Logan is going and what’s in store for the future. As I sipped on the always-delicious and aesthetically appealing blood hibiscus saison, Martin brought me up to date.
What would you say was your brewing “aha” moment? The moment you realized this was what you wanted to do?
Martin: Our “aha” moment was actually after we started brewing. It was when we realized that the beers we brewed with the Mexican ingredients and Mexican flavors were the ones we could really get our friends and family to drink the most. It’s actually how we got them to try craft beer without being afraid of it.
What were those beers and flavors, exactly?
Martin: Well, eventually, it was cinnamon, vanilla, horchata, cucumber & key lime, Mexican chocolate, and agave; things like that. Our first beer, which became our “flagship” or “differentiator,” was our Blood Saison. We call it a “blood saison” because of the very red color that it has, but the color is from the Spanish ingredient you often see in a traditional Mexican drink called Jamaica—the red drink you see at taco shops. We wanted to call it Jamaica, but we realized people were going to think it was from the island of Jamaica. The other option was to call it “Hibiscus Saison,” but I didn’t even know what hibiscus was when I was growing up in Mexico, so if you call it “hibiscus” to a lot of Spanish speakers, they’re not going to know what you’re talking about. They’re going to think it’s a tea or something.
I remember that was one of maybe three or four beers you had on tap when you first opened across the street, right?
Martin: That’s right. We had very few taps, we were really small. And initially we weren’t making beer of commercial quality. We worked hard and learned a lot; we started networking, we started improving, we asked a lot of questions and got a lot of help from other brewers. Cosimo from Monkey Paw; we learned a lot from him, like how to make really good double IPAs. The brewers at Hess and Helm’s also gave us a lot of help.
Since you opened, what has surprised you most about San Diego craft beer drinkers?
Martin: Well, I have to say that we started off with a very wrong assumption that I think lots of other brewers also had, which is that women don’t like craft beer as much, especially not dark beers. We weren’t planning on ever doing any dark beers. In Mexico, most of the women that I knew didn’t drink craft beer at all. So, the biggest surprise to me was when we had women coming in and asking for a dark beer. Women of all ages were asking for chocolate dark beers. This completely changed our assumptions. In Mexico, most people see a dark beer and they’re kind of afraid of it. So that was an expectation and realization I came to that I had no idea about before. Now, Abuelita’s Chocolate Stout is one of our core beers.
What would you say you’re most proud of, looking back over the past five years?
Martin: Well, our growth for one thing, but mostly the impact we’ve had on the community. The beers have improved immensely, but hosting a lot of events, holding the fundraisers, being part of the community, and holding a space where the community can come together, that’s one of the accomplishments I’m most proud of.
What would you say has been your single biggest challenge in becoming a pro brewer?
Martin: Oh, man. I think growth. We’ve hit a lot of snags with not having enough supply for our demand. We just have a 10-barrel system here with 10-barrel fermenters. In Bell in Los Angeles, where we just opened up another 10-barrel system, it’s more automated and we have 20-barrel fermenters. We also have a 7,000 square-foot tasting room there. It was definitely a big move. But that location is going to allow us to grow a little bit more. Now we brew more of the core beers up there and more of the experimental batches down here.
Alright, final question. What’s your Desert Island beer? Rest of your life. Drinking just one beer. What would that be?
Martin: For me it would be a style that I haven’t quite perfected yet, a style I was homebrewing. And I can’t find a very solid version of it right now, and it’s not a style that we make. It would be a Belgian IPA or Belgian Pale Ale. I really love the Belgian esters, I think they’re refreshing, and I love pairing that with the citrus qualities and bitterness of the hops. So, for me, I can drink a Belgian IPA all day long.