Hibiscus beer for the win

Border X nabs brewery startup prize

The red-hued Blood Saison that helped Border X win the Startup Brewery Challenge.
  • The red-hued Blood Saison that helped Border X win the Startup Brewery Challenge.

On December 1st, Barrio Logan brewery Border X was named the $5000 winner of the Startup Brewery Challenge. The biannual competition is staged by national craft beer website Brewbound.com and Craft Brew Alliance, the "fifth largest craft brewing company in the U.S.," that was formed in 2008 by a merger between Portland brewery Widmer Brothers and Seattle brewery Red Hook.

Border X Brewing

2181 Logan Avenue, Logan Heights

The competition took place at Mission Bay's Paradise Point resort during a Brewbound Session, a conference the news site sponsors twice a year to bring together brewery owners and executives. Six brewery applicants from around the country were selected to attend the conference and deliver a four-minute pitch to a panel of judges made up of industry professionals, who assessed each brewery's business plan, mission statement, and a single beer offering, to determine a winner.

"It's really what sets you apart from the crowd," says Border X cofounder David Favela, who made the presentation that impressed the judges. "Is it aligned with the trends in the industry? Is it addressing issues in the industry? What is the likelihood of success?"

Part of Border X's success has been due to its representation of Latino culture in craft beer. This was made clear to the judges through Border X's beer submission: Blood Saison, a red-hued, slightly tart, Belgian-style ale made with hibiscus and agave.

When Favela and his brother Marcelino started Border X behind the brewing talent of his nephews, Martin and Ivan, they initially stuck to the usual beers. "We were one of very many breweries in the city trying to riff on an existing tradition," he recalls. "I said, 'Look, we're Latinos. We're not Irish. We're not English. We're not German…. So, let's add in the Latino palate and ingredients, and let's make beer our way.'"

Blood Saison became the first beer made with this mindset, arising from Latino culture's fondness for agua fresca de jamaica, or hibiscus water. "If you didn't grow up in that tradition it feels like a big risk," Favela points out. "But we said, no, we love this, this is what we drink. And it turns out a lot of other people love it, too." He says Blood Saison has been the brewery's top seller by far, accounting for more than half of tasting-room sales. "Latinos love it because it tastes like the original jamaica," he adds. "Beer aficionados like it because it approximates the whole Belgian sour experience."

Part of the money will go toward expansion of the brewery

Part of the money will go toward expansion of the brewery

Favela says the cash prize will roll into the brewery's operating expenses, which includes next month's upgrade from a three- to ten-barrel brewhouse. The brewery is also investing in bottling runs, with an impending holiday release of its Mayan Belgian tripel and 22-ounce bombers of Blood Saison in early 2017.

But, Favela notes, "Winning this award isn't just about the money." The MBA also will be making a trip to Portland to consult with branding and finance experts at Craft Brew Alliance, and Border X will make a collaboration beer with Widmer Brothers. "The third biggest benefit of winning?" Favela concludes, "We just got front and center with the beer industry."

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