At the Chihuahua Cerveza taproom on the Balboa Peninsula, a “beer wall” is set up to offer as many as seven different Mexican lagers for diners to pour for themselves, making it easy for patrons to try all the varieties the young brewery offers. That's because Chihuahua Cerveza President and Co-founder Phil Jamison '97 (MBA) likes to give people “an opportunity to touch, feel, and taste the beer.”
While the Chihuahua Cerveza taproom is temporarily shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic, the company's products are luckily also in stores and other locations across Southern California and Florida. Jamison, who earned his MBA at the University of Redlands Riverside campus, launched the company with a financial partner in October 2017. They presently brew at two locations: Buellton, California, and Lakeland, Florida. In 2019 alone, they sold an impressive 80,000 cases.
Jamison started his career at Anheuser-Busch when he graduated in 1990 with a B.S. in business from California State University, San Bernardino. He spent 17 years with the largest brewer in the world in various capacities learning everything he could about the business of beer, and he was an integral part of the success of its various brands. Anheuser-Busch also helped pay for Jamison’s tuition at Redlands, where he wrote his master’s thesis on the global beer industry.
Choosing a Mexican lager for his own entrepreneurial endeavor was a natural for Jamison. “I lived in Rialto most of my life, and my best friends and the community surrounding me were Hispanic,” he says. “Throughout Southern California, there is a complete integration of Mexican-American culture with food, people, and everything else.
“We wanted to create a company that would blend the two cultures because that’s what I grew up with.” That’s where the name, “Chihuahua,” came from: The Aztec word means “where the waters of the rivers meet,” says Jamison, and he feels it’s an apt metaphor for SoCal’s Mexican-American culture.
Mexican beers are lagers generally made with pilsner malt and Vienna malt, he says. “That’s the basic build-up that all Mexican lagers use—it’s the same for the five leading Mexican beers, Corona, Modelo, Dos Equis, Pacifico, and Tecate. Lagers are a light, refreshing beer and go with everything, but they actually take a long time to brew.
“For comparison, India pale ales brew in about 10 days, and lagers traditionally take 25 to 30 days to brew.”
In the Southland, Chihuahua Cerveza, which has about 26 employees on the brewery side and 20 in the Balboa taproom when it's operational, are available predominantly in Stater Bros. grocery stores. In Florida, the brews are sold at Publix supermarkets and their smaller convenience stores. They have also started distribution in Georgia and Arizona and have plans in the coming months for Texas. The five-year goal is to “cover the southern United States from California to Florida,” says Jamison.
Chihuahua Cerveza has already won a dozen accolades, including top honors at the 2019 Australian International Beer Awards, the San Diego International Beer Competition, and the South American Copa Cerveza de America. And the company is sponsoring both the Inland Empire 66ers and Lake Elsinore Storm minor league baseball teams.
While it’s a mammoth task competing with the well-known brands such as Corona and Modelo, Jamison believes Chihuahua has an edge: “The reason we brew the same style of lager that’s imported from Mexico is that we can do it on a scale that gets the beer to market more quickly, and that means it’s a fresher beer.”
Going toe to toe with these leading imports has also created new meaning to the company’s name: The Chihuahua dog has become a David-and-Goliath metaphor. “No one competes in the Mexican import market because those breweries are huge companies, and it’s tough,” he says.
“We are very proud of our beer, and not only is “Chihuahua” a blending of cultures, it’s a small dog with a big bite fighting against the big guys.”
Learn more about the Master of Business Administration program at the University of Redlands.