Text: John R.P. Del Rosario
Like many great American stories, El Paso Brewing Company’s story is one of passion and opportunity.
The 5 partners that helped bring the brewery to life crossed paths in the world of, you know, biodiesel. “Originally, I started a biodiesel plant here,” said one its owners Carlos Guzman. “When we were starting it, it was just my business partner Larry Walter and myself. We are not engineers and we needed some engineering know-how, so my uncle Jorge relocated from Puerto Rico to come help us. As I found out in about a year of doing this, it’s not as easy opening up a brewery as you might think.”
Guzman said the biodiesel plant was much easier to open than the brewery punctuating the point with, “…and everything in there is flammable!”
Guzman, Walter, Norma Reed, Evelyn Vigo and his uncle Jorge Guzman round up the owners of the place. Vigo met the other 4 through the refinery sciences company she worked for as office manager. They were renting out office space next to Guzman’s biodiesel plant.
An army brat from Puerto Rico (Guzman and his uncle are also Puerto Rican) Vigo lived a good part of her life in the Virgin Islands and then Miami, FL for 10 years. “Miami is a nice place to visit, but there’s a lot of road rage and a lot of crime,” she said. Noticing how close the crimes would hit in the city, she wanted to move somewhere safer to raise her daughter. “Somebody I know said to come to El Paso. ‘You’re either going to love it or you’re going to hate it.’ There’s no in between. I got out here and I loved it. I fell in love with the people in El Paso.”
Vigo falls in the 80% of the partners that don’t actually drink beer often. The other 20% would be Guzman who not only drinks, but is one of 2 brewers who currently handles all the brewing. Living in Augusta, Georgia in the 90s, Guzman and his family were driving back up from Florida (after visiting Disney World) when he saw signs for a nearby Budweiser plant with tours and free samples. “I took the tour, saw the industrial process and saw that it really wasn’t that difficult,” he said. “It’s a matter of following a recipe. I’ve worked in a laboratory for cellular and molecular biology for many years. I’d done similar things, just not with beer. So when I got home, we got a homebrew kit and the first 2 or 3 were okay, and they just kept improving. A lot of what you’re drinking here comes from tinkering with those early batches.”
The results fill the tap room with a good mix of styles. From a rich, flavorful Belgian Dubbel (Mammoth Rock) to a malty, well-balanced IPA (Wicked Felina) to a darker, more complex version of a typical American Lager (Thunderbird), these beers are a great starting point for those new to craft beer. “I most definitely think our beers are a little more approachable,” said tap room manager Lorenzo Zavala, Jr. “Everybody in town can try these beers across the board.”
Zavala and the brewery’s only other brewer, Johnathan “Jono” Gaytan, both bring a level of local cred in their experiences from being in El Paso’s beer scene through previous jobs at other bars. Gaytan, himself, is one of the local Borderline Brewers and has been home brewing for years. The 2 have found a home at EP Brewing, and Jono speaks lovingly of the city and its beer scene not being too saturated.
“El Paso is like your mom,” Gaytan said. “Sometimes people here say, ‘I’m going to move out’ and move to some place like Austin. Then they come back and they’re like, ‘I didn’t make it in Austin like all these other people.’ The people back here aren’t like, ‘Oh, you didn’t make it?’ They’re like, ‘Oh, it’s good to have you back!’ It welcomes you. It gives you so much…so, I do think it’s cool that there are only 4 breweries. You don’t want to overload your mom with too much stuff that she can’t handle because then she’s like, ‘Ay, mijo. Again?’”
The love for the city can be felt from the brewery’s locally-derived beer names and its zealous staff, but perhaps the biggest tribute to the city is in its deceptively simple name: El Paso Brewing Company. “It represents the pride that we have in this city,” Vigo said. “I’m Puerto Rican, so is Carlos and his uncle. Larry and Norma are Caucasian, but we all have the distinct pride of and in El Paso.”