Historic Beer Birthday: Pablo Díez Fernández

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Today is the birthday of Pablo Díez Fernández (June 29, 1884-November 17, 1972). He was born in Vegaquemada, León, Spain. His mother died when he was three, and was raised by his grandparents. “He studied Classical Literature and Philosophy at the Instituto Municipal de Boñar, and when he turned 16 he joined the Dominican Monastery of Cangas de Narcea. Soon after his 20th birthday, when he was about to be ordained, Pablo Díez decided that the priesthood was not his true calling in life and moved to Madrid. In 1905, with the help he got from the Dominican Friars themselves, he sailed out to Mexico.” In Mexico, he became a successful businessman and in 19292 helped to start the brewery, Cervecería Modelo, which would later become Grupo Modelo.

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Here’s his biography from his Wikipedia page:

Pablo Díez Fernández was the son of Ceferino Díez and Gregoria Fernández, Pablo Diez was born in Vegaquemada, León, Spain, on June 29, 1884. After the death of his mother when he was only three years old, he was raised by his paternal grandparents in the town of Palazuelo de Boñar. He studied Classical Literature and Philosophy at the Instituto Municipal de Boñar, and when he turned 16 he joined the Dominican Monastery of Cangas de Narcea. Soon after his 20th birthday, when he was about to be ordained, Pablo Díez decided that the priesthood was not his true calling in life and moved to Madrid. In 1905, with the help he got from the Dominican Friars themselves, he sailed out to Mexico.

Once in Mexico, he took on a job as book keeper at the Venegas bakery. In 1911 he became the manager of another bakery called La Primavera. As a result of his hard work, he was able to save enough money to first partner with and then, in 1912, buy that business from its previous owners. The following year, Diez Fernández became one of the founding shareholders of Leviatán y Flor, a company which has been recognized as the first compressed yeast factory in Mexico.

In 1918, he married Rosario Guerrero Herrero, whom he had met during one of his many visits to Spain.

Four years later he became part of the community of distinguished businessmen, industry experts, and bankers that would put up the capital to start the business which was later to become Grupo Modelo: Cervecería Modelo. A shareholder since the very beginning and member of its Board of Directors since 1926, the businessman from the region of León in Spain continued to care for his bread and yeast production businesses while also promoting other new adventures. One of them, Pan Ideal, is famous for having been the first mechanical bread producing plant in Mexico.

In 1928, Pablo Diez was appointed to the Board of Directors of El Crédito Español de México, SA and of other important businesses of the Spanish community in Mexico. That same year, Braulio Iriarte entrusted him with the responsibility of being the legal representative of Cervecería Modelo. He was 44 years old at the time.

Diez Fernández founded seminars, sanctuaries, and hospitals in his country of origin, for which he was highly recognized. The latter is also true for Mexico, where his philanthropic work left a profound mark on the development of nursing homes and hospitals. Among them the most recognized are the Sanatorio Español, the Red Cross’s central hospital in Mexico City and the Instituto Nacional de Cancerología; he made important donations to help build all these institutions.

In 1955, don Pablo Diez crowned the Virgin of Guadalupe as the Queen of Work, sharing in the devotion shown for the Virgin by the workers in the largest of his companies: Cervecería Modelo.

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In recognition of this philanthropic work and his entrepreneurial accomplishments, in 1969 Don Pablo Diez received the highest honor granted by the Mexican government: the Orden del Águila Azteca.

He was also a relevant shareholder in other companies in Mexico including IEM, Condumex, Fundidora Monterrey, Celanese Mexicana and Banco Nacional de México, and he served as the first Vice-president for this bank. In Spain, Cervecería Cruz Campo and Banco Central Hispano held his most relevant investments.

Just before he retired from public life, although he remained as Honorary Chairman of Grupo Modelo, Diez Fernández turned over the business to the people close to him who had managed it for several years. The main shareholders of the new company that controlled Cervecería Modelo, a company whose sales in 1970 were estimated somewhere between 850 and 900 million pesos, were Juan Sánchez Navarro, Manuel Álvarez Loyo, Nemesio Diez, Secundino García, Antonino Fernández, Pablo Aramburuzabala and other employees of the brewery which would later on become Grupo Modelo, the seventh largest beer group in the world, when it was headed first by Don Antonino Fernandez and, then, by Carlos Fernandez Gonzalez.

Don Pablo Diez Fernández died on November 17, 1972 in Mexico City.

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Here’s a Company History of the first fifty years from Funding Universe:

Grupo Modelo, S.A. de C.V. is the largest beermaker in Mexico, holding 55 percent of the national market in 1998, when it was the 12th-largest beer producer in the world and the most profitable brewer in Latin America. Its best known brand is Corona Extra, a light brew that ranked first in sales among beers imported to the United States in 1997 and fifth in the world in total production. The company also produces nine other brands of beer. A holding company, it is vertically integrated, beginning with its overseeing of the selection of seeds and germination of hops, and including brewing and bottling plants and distribution by trucks and ships. Grupo Modelo was, in the late 1990s, 50.2 percent owned by Anheuser-Busch Cos., the world’s largest beer-producing company, and it was the exclusive importer of Anheuser-Busch’s products in Mexico, including Budweiser and Bud Light. Anheuser-Busch did not, however, hold a majority of Grupo Modelo’s voting shares.

The First Fifty Years

Beer was the basis for the holdings of the Sada and Garza extended families, whose Monterrey Group became the most powerful business combine in Mexico. Cervecería Cuauhtemoc was founded in Monterrey in 1890. Its chief rival was Cervecería Moctezuma, founded in 1894. Cervecería Modelo, which eventually outstripped the other two in production and sales, was founded in 1925 in Mexico City by Braulio Iriarte, with the help of President Plutarco Elias Calles.

Cervecería Modelo soon came under the control of Pablo Díez Fernández, who became its director general in 1930 and its majority stockholder in 1936. Born in Spain in 1884, Díez Fernández emigrated to Mexico at the age of 21 with money he borrowed from the Dominican fathers under whom he studied. He first worked as an accountant for a bakery, established the first mechanized bakery in Mexico, and then became part-owner of the first yeast factory for bread in Mexico. He went on to become co-founder and major stockholder of Celanese Mexicana in 1944 and a director of Banamex, one of Mexico’s largest banks,

Diez Fernandez kept Modelo a private company that financed its expansion into producing malt, bottles, bottle caps and corks, and cartons through earnings rather than borrowing. He also acquired the regional breweries producing Victoria (1935), Estrella (1954), and Pacífico (1954). Modelo spent heavily on advertising during the late 1940s and early 1950s, much more so than its rivals. By 1956 it was the leading brewer, passing Cerveceria Cuauhtemoc and Moctezuma, with 31.6 percent of total beer production in Mexico. Modelo established plants in Ciudad Obregón (1960), Guadalajara (1964), and Torreón (1966) and created a national distribution network. Antonio Fernández Rodríguez, also Spanish-born, succeeded Díez Fernández as director general of the firm in 1971. Under his leadership, Modelo’s share of the Mexican market grew from 39 percent in 1977 to 45 percent in 1985.

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A statue of Pablo Díez Fernández in his hometown of Vegaquemada in Spain.

Visual Poetry: Let’s Have A Beer

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So this post will be chiefly for the literary, and especially poetry lovers, among you, a small subset of beer lovers who also enjoy art. Visual poetry is “a development of concrete poetry but with the characteristics of intermedia in which non-representational language and visual elements predominate. In other words, it was experimental or avant-garde poetry in which the arrangement of the text also was a part of the poem’s meaning, which was communicated both visually and through the text itself.

Two Mexican poets in the 1920s, José D. Frias and José María González de Mendoza were both expatriates living in France and became friends, later exchanging humorous letters between themselves and their literary friends. Today is Mendoza’s birthday, which is what reminded me of this.

In 1923, the pair wrote a letter from Paris to fellow poet Francisco Orozco Muñoz that included four visual poems. They were based on the work of French poet Guillaume Apollinaire, who a few years before wrote a book of visual poetry entitled Calligrammes: Poems of Peace and War 1913-1916. They also were influenced by Japanese Haiku, which had become popular at the time in their literary circles, as opposed to Apollinaire’s more cubist or l’esprit nouveau poetry.

Three of the visual poems were written by Frias and translated visually by Mendoza. But the fourth poem was done entirely by Mendoza, and it’s the one below. All four poems contain witty references to the fact that Muñoz was living in Brussels.

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The text is in the shape of a mug of beer, sitting on a table, and reads, according to several books on visual poetry, “Let’s Have a Beer” followed by “The Sun Has Already Set in Flanders.”

The First Brewery In The Americas

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While I don’t have many specific details, the first Western-style brewery in the Americas began today when Don Alfonso de Herrera was granted permission to build a brewery on December 12, 1543. He built it near Mexico City the following year, opening in 1544.

Although the story began at least three years before, the specific details vary widely depending on which source you look at, I’ve done my best to piece it together as best I could.

Hernán Cortés was a Spanish Conquistador who led the expedition that led to much of South America and Southwestern North America being conquered by Spain. Cortes arrived in what today is Mexico in 1519. They found that the native population enjoyed traditional fermented drinks such as pulque, zendecho (pulque corn), izquiate, and pozol (or pozoles), chinguirito, tepaches, mesquite wines, chicha, the zambumbia and tesgüino. Initially, beer brewed with barley was produced in small quantities by Cortés’ soldiers, but it was very limited due to the lack of supplies.

On August 23, 1541, Don Alonso de Herrera, from Seville, Spain, submitted an application to the Spanish government hoping to receive royal authorization to build a commercial brewery in New Spain, which is what Mexico was called at that time. His application was debated in Madrid by the Council of the Indies, which Charles V, King of Spain and the Holy Roman Emperor, used to administrate his North American territories. The following year in the city of Nájara, on either June 6, 1542 or July 6, 1542 (sources vary), either Alonso de Herrera signed a contract with the Crown or Emperor Charles V (who apparently loved beer) signed a decree (or Royal Charter) giving him permission to establish his brewery in the New World (again, there is conflicting information about this).

Whichever is correct, the deal with the crown was this. Alonso de Herrera received a license to brew beer in New Spain (the “Indies” apparently was what was written on the agreement) exclusively for a period of twenty years. “He was liable to pay one third of his profits in tax, supervised by the Viceroy, Antonio de Mendoza. The price of beer was estimated at 6 reales (20.1 g or 0.7 oz of silver) per arroba” (a unit of measure equal to 25 pounds or 11.5 kg in Spain).

The Crown, in return, made him Corregidor (district governor) of an area of the valley of Mexico inside what is now Mexico City where the hacienda (estate) “de El Portal,” the site of the brewery, was situated. This allowed him, among other privileges, imports free of excise duty.

The agreement also stipulated that he was also permitted to manufacture other goods, such as “naveta oil, soap and blonde.” I think naveta oil is possibly shipping oil but I have no idea what they meant by “blonde.” But he had one more hurdle to get over, and that involved getting permission (probably a formality) from the Viceroy of New Spain, who at that time was Don Antonio de Mendoza. On December 12, 1543, Mendoza formally granted him permission, issuing him a permit to build his brewery, and he began at once. He also granted Herrera “land to grow hops and other necessary plants.”

Alonso de Herrera hired Flemish brewers, who brought “tackle, boilers, and other equipment necessary for brewing.” According to the terms of the deal, the Crown had also agreed that Alonso de Herrera would bear the costs on the workers he took with him. But he also received an exemption from the payment of any import tax on what was transported to and from Spain, and was also given two hundred slaves from Portugal, Cape Verde and Guinea, which would be used for the building of the brewery.

Apparently things didn’t go all that well for America’s first commercial brewery.

Herrera’s brewery struggled during its first years, as alcohol consumption was highly regulated by authorities, and the new brew had to compete with native beverages. It was also more expensive due to the lack of ingredients. However, the beverage caught on, as it was drunk by colonial authorities, leading others to want it as well. Herrera worked to expand his brewery and the land on which wheat and barley were raised. In the long run, Herrera’s brewery did not survive, and the production of European-style beverages such as beer and wine were heavily taxed and heavily regulated by Spain to protect home markets. The purpose of this was to make colonials import these products from Europe.

Herrera also sent lavish gifts to Emperor Charles V, and Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza was supplied with all the beer he could drink, which must have helped grease the wheels. Because wine was scarce, beer did become more popular, although the price did rise to more like 8 reales, mostly die to shortages of wheat and barley. Beer was sold primarily in the markets, plazas, and in a tavern Herrera built. “Beer production suffered ups and downs,” and he even had to stop production briefly when “some of his brewers decided to return to Flanders, and others chose to work in the mines of Mexico to make good money. However, from 1549 production increased: 1,158 pounds to be made between 28 January and 25 October 1549-an average of 128.6 pounds per month- and reached 4,192 arrobas between the last date and 8 May 1552, which places the monthly average in about 246.5 pounds, as noted by Emilio Luque Azcona.” The fate of the brewery is not known with any certainty, although it appears to not have survived Herrera’s death, although I’ve been unable to find when that was exactly. The last mention of it in the historical record appears to be in 1552.

While El Portal is thought to be where the brewery was built, its exact location is unknown, but it is thought to have been located in the south of Mexico City (where Metro Portales is today) or in Amecameca, Mexico State. Another source puts it “near the so-called Paso de Cortés.”

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Portrait of Alonso de Herrera, by El Greco.

Beer In Ads #1546: Tecate’s Three Amigos


Tuesday’s ad, for Cinco de Mayo, is for Tecate beer, from 1988. The cartoon art was created by Leslie Cabarga and used by Tecate in a series of ads that summer, and was even made into a poster. Showing two Tecates, a bottle and a can, though the can is clearly the leader, along with a bottle of Chihuahua (which I recall selling at BevMo for $2.99 per six-pack), making an entrance into a wild west saloon. Notice the can has a bottle of salt and a lime in his holsters. It’s a pretty cheesy ad, but this was also the same time 7-Up was advertising using a spot with arms and legs, and California raisins were similarly animated, so maybe it was popular.

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Modelo Agrees To Reduce Its Tied House Monopoly In Mexico

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I know governments have become increasingly beholden to business interests in my lifetime, but the idealist in me is unable to just be okay with that. It’s certainly true here in the U.S., where politicians are bought and sold, and the interests of ordinary folks rarely count for much in political decisions. And that’s unlikely to change while corporations are essentially immortals with all of the rights of people and none of the consequences or responsibilities, and whose profits have been declared free speech that can be used to influence our politics. Apparently Mexico’s government is similarly business-oriented. According to a story in today’s Wall Street Journal, “Mexico’s top brewer said Thursday it reached an agreement with the country’s anti-trust authority to limit its sales exclusivity contracts with corner stores, bars and restaurants, allowing more room for craft brewers and other players in a lucrative market split by Anheuser-Busch InBev’s Grupo Modelo unit and Heineken N.V.’s Cerveceria Cuauhtemoc Moctezuma.”

In a world where people mattered, a government would tell companies what the rules are and expect them to follow them. Negotiations would be, and frankly should be, unnecessary. But that’s not the way the world works anymore, if indeed it ever did.

More from the Journal piece:

Modelo said in a statement it would cap such agreements to no more than 25% of its points of sale, with the aim of reducing that number to 20% by 2018. The brewer said it would also allow craft brewers to sell their beers in bars and restaurants where Modelo has locked in exclusive pouring terms.

The Mexican beer market, the world’s fifth-biggest according to Euromonitor, is a virtual duopoly, with Modelo brands like Corona claiming around 58% of the 67 million hectoliters of brew sold in Mexico each year, while Cerveceria Cuauhtemoc brands like Tecate account for 41%.

Around half of the beer sold in Mexico each year is channeled through small convenience stores, many of which agree to sell only one of the two brewers’ brands in exchange for branded awnings, signs or refrigerators, as well as discounts on beer purchases, credit and even assistance with local permits.

The country is Heineken’s largest market, accounting for about 16% of sales, while it represents around 13% of AB InBev’s pro forma sales, according to Credit Suisse.

Nice that Modelo will “ALLOW craft brewers to sell their beers in bars and restaurants.” How magnanimous. While the Wall Street Journal, itself as pro-business as they come, ignored the reasons for Modelo’s change of heart, Beer Business Daily reveals why they’ve agreed to soften their monopoly. It’s because the Mexican Federal Competition Commission ruled, 4-1, “that future exclusive contracts that Cuauhtemoc and Grupo Modelo have with retailers be limited in nature.” If they don’t, they could be fined up to 8% of their total income. According to Harry, currently the two biggest Mexican brewery’s “exclusive contracts with retailers account for about 85% of total volume.”

More from Beer Biz Daily:

The CFC ruled that craft brewers (such as Cerveceria Minerva and Primus) that manufacture beer in Mexico (under 100m hectos a year) should have unfettered access to restaurants, bars, and cantinas, and that big brewers’ exclusive contracts with accounts should not exceed 25% of the total outlets they do business with, which is reduced to 20% over five years. Current contracts are allowed to continue in effect without change until they expire.

I find it odd that Heineken apparently responded with a press release saying “that it will abide by the new rules and ‘standardise and simplify some of our future contracts with customers.'” How nice that they let us know they’ve agreed to follow the law. That’s what drives me crazy about the large multinational corporations with economies bigger than many nations. But at least it’s some good news for Mexico’s smaller breweries and their burgeoning craft beer scene.

Beer In Ads #880: Viva El Gran Sabor


Today’s ad is a holiday ad for Cinco de Mayo, for Miller Lite, though I don’t believe it’s very old. The model reminds me of Sofia Vergara from Modern Family, though my wife assures me it’s not. Viva El Gran Sabor translates as “experience the great taste.”

Given that the holiday commemorates the Battle of Puebla, where Mexican forces defeated Napoleon III’s French army in 1862, it’s odd how America has turned it into such a party holiday. Business Insider has an interesting take on How Beer Companies Turned A Minor Holiday Into America’s Favorite Mexican Drinking Day. And while it may be a relatively minor affair in Mexico, here in the States it’s actually an “official” holiday, at least since 2005, when in June of that year, the U.S. Congress sent a proclamation to the President for him to sign “calling upon the people of the United States to observe Cinco de Mayo ‘with appropriate ceremonies and activities.'” Certainly this ad shows the amount of reverence we tend to show for what should be a more solemn holiday. Maybe that’s what Congress meant by “appropriate ceremonies and activities.”

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Mexico Beer

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Today in 1810, Mexico gained their Independence from Spain.

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Mexico Breweries

Mexico Brewery Guides

Other Guides

Guild: Asociacion Nacional De Cervez Mexico; Beer Manufacturers Association

National Regulatory Agency: Ministry of Health (Secretaria De Salud)

Beverage Alcohol Labeling Requirements: Labels must include the following information: Name or commercial trademark of the product; Name and address of importer; Net contents (in metric units); Country of origin; Alcohol content by percentage of total volume; Date marking, if applicable; Special instructions for use, storage, or handling, if necessary

Drunk Driving Laws: BAC 0.08% Note: Foreigners with recent (in the past 10 years) drunk-driving criminal convictions are generally refused entry at the border. Mexico’s Immigration Act section 36 considers any foreign drinking and driving outstanding charge or conviction as an Indictable offense (similar to a felony).

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  • Full Name: United Mexican States
  • Location: North America, bordering the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, between Belize and the United States and bordering the North Pacific Ocean, between Guatemala and the United States
  • Government Type: Federal Republic
  • Language: Spanish only 92.7%, Spanish and indigenous languages 5.7%, indigenous only 0.8%, unspecified 0.8% [Note: indigenous languages include various Mayan, Nahuatl, and other regional languages]
  • Religion(s): Roman Catholic 76.5%, Protestant 5.2% (Pentecostal 1.4%, other 3.8%), Jehovah’s Witnesses 1.1%, other 0.3%, unspecified 13.8%, none 3.1%
  • Capital: Mexico City
  • Population: 114,975,406; 11th
  • Area: 1,964,375 sq km, 14th
  • Comparative Area: Slightly less than three times the size of Texas
  • National Food: Mole poblano; Tacos
  • National Symbols: Golden Eagle; Dahlia; Ahuehuete (Taxodium mucronatum); Our Lady of Guadalupe, Castillo de Chapultepec, Teotihuacan, el Zocalo, sombrero, chocolate, mariachis; Eagle, snake and cactus
  • Affiliations: UN, OAS
  • Independence: From France and the UK, January 1, 1960

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  • Alcohol Legal: Yes
  • Minimum Drinking Age: 18
  • BAC: 0.08%
  • Number of Breweries: 34

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  • How to Say “Beer”: cerveza
  • How to Order a Beer: Una cerveza, por favor
  • How to Say “Cheers”: Salud
  • Toasting Etiquette: N/A

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Alcohol Consumption By Type:

  • Beer: 78%
  • Wine: <1%
  • Spirits: 21%
  • Other: 1%

Alcohol Consumption Per Capita (in litres):

  • Recorded: 5.02
  • Unrecorded: 3.40
  • Total: 8.42
  • Beer: 3.96

WHO Alcohol Data:

  • Per Capita Consumption: 5 litres
  • Alcohol Consumption Trend: Stable
  • Excise Taxes: Yes
  • Minimum Age: 18
  • Sales Restrictions: Time, places, specific events, petrol stations
  • Advertising Restrictions: Yes
  • Sponsorship/Promotional Restrictions: Yes

Patterns of Drinking Score: 4

Prohibition: Zapatista Communities will often ban alcohol as part of a collective decision. This has been used by many villages as a way to decrease domestic violence and has generally been favored by women. However, this is not recognized by federal Mexican law as the Zapatista movement is strongly opposed by the federal government.

The sale and purchase of alcohol is prohibited on and the night before certain national holidays, such as Natalicio de Benito Juárez (birthdate of Benito Juárez) and Día de la Revolución, which are meant to be dry nationally. The same “dry law” applies to the days before presidential elections every six years.

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