Luis MelgarejoAugust 19, 2022
Hopportunity Awaits is a brew on a mission to help highlight careers in craft beer, and inspire more of us to hold the door for the unique talent among us, creating more pathways for diversity, in every sense, across every role. Partial proceeds will benefit Craft x EDU as we work together to launch an educational grant for emerging professionals in craft beer.
On the cans, you will meet 10 industry professionals who are ready to tell their remarkable stories of how they got their start and paved their own path in craft, rules be damned. Without further ado…
Meet Luis Melgarejo, owner of Tepeyolot Cerveceria fusing Mexican cuisine with beer for a focus on community.
How did you discover the world of craft beer, or what inspired you to join?
It started with a Sam Adams Cherry Wheat, believe it or not haha. From there I found out homebrewing was a thing and one Christmas and homebrew kit later everything snowballed from there. Personally, I’ve always enjoyed being in the kitchen and appreciate playing around with ingredients plus being hands-on, which is craft beer in a nutshell, in my opinion.
Tell us how you started Tepeyolot and your inspiration behind it
The traditional Aztec pronunciation is Tepeyollotl, meaning “heart of the mountain,” but we try to make it a little more people friendly with “Tepeyolot” or “Tepe” for short. I wanted the brand to reflect what I enjoy and care about. I wanted to touch on my Mexican roots, my love of experimentation with flavor and food, and my love of community.
Due to the pandemic, we actually started the brand as a food truck while we constructed the brewery. This allowed us to start our social media, start to get a little bit of a following, and let people know that the brewery was coming. A year later or so, we opened our doors and were serving both food and beer.
Now we just celebrated our one-year anniversary! Right now we have about three tanks and focus on lagers, given that they go well with Mexican food and we’re in Florida where it’s hot ten months out of the year. I hope to dive into more styles for unique beer and food pairings. There are so many different flavors in Mexican food and I think a lot of people just know the surface level of it.
I grew up in Mexico; I was six when I moved here, and I really want to combine the two. Craft beer is really taking off in Mexico and a lot of southern countries. I think we can incorporate a lot of those flavors, spices, and regional foods that are used in their cooking, into our beers. We might make a dish and start spitballing what style of beer would go well with it or we may make a beer and think this sauce or this dish would really highlight its characteristics.
What people typically know of Mexican cuisine is Tex-Mex, but we’re trying to bring Mex-Mex and authentic Mexican flavors to the front. It’s more than tacos, burritos, and nachos. Mexico is a lot like the U.S. where the food can be very regional. There are different plates that are specific to different regions of the country.
Atole is one that comes to mind that I would like to translate into a beer format. It’s a rice drink that you typically drink warm during the winter months. Rice, cinnamon, sugar, piloncillo which is like brown sugar, and a couple of other spices. So I think that in a wheat beer maybe or a white stout.
Mole, which is like a chocolate sauce, has 20+ different ingredients. We made a beer last year for New Year’s inspired by mole. The flavors are so complex just like the sauce itself. It’s kind of wild. Jícama, hibiscus, or tamarind are some ingredients.
Here in Florida we’ve created a trend for heavily fruited Berliner Weisses and dubbed them the ‘Florida Weisse.’ So that would be cool to fuse with the idea of Mexican ‘Aguas Frescas’ which is like a lemonade or fresh water drink. Marrying the two together could create something with a lot of good fruit and sweetness that’s easy-drinking and crushable.
What are some challenges you faced along the way?
Every day. It’s crazy to think that we’ve been open for a year. It feels like we just opened yesterday and it feels like we’re still learning and figuring everything out. Though it was kind of a blessing that we were able to open the food truck before the taproom and brewery, even though that’s not how we had planned it to be. There were a lot of logistics to figure out because honestly, it’s like running three different businesses at once.
I couldn’t do it without our amazing staff. They’re been a huge part of our growth. We started running the kitchen and the brewery with just nine people and it was a steep learning curve. But having people who are there for you, able to pivot, and see the passion behind the food and beer makes all the difference.
What do you love about the craft beer community? Where would you love to see it grow or improve?
The innovation of craft beer and the support for their local communities. I think one of the best aspects of craft beer is how creative craft breweries are with their recipes, their processes, and in general, using what they have and making it work. Personally, part of the reason I wanted to start a brewery was to be involved with my local community and give right back to the community that supports us.
I think the craft industry could be more consistent with quality. As we are going through it, smaller breweries don’t have the ability to control quality as well as larger breweries. But I do think putting out sub-par beer hurts the industry as a whole as well as the individual breweries. Wines, for example, can set a quality level if they meet certain specs.
It would be great to see the craft beer industry do the same thing where if breweries can meet certain specs they get a similar “seal.” I see a lot of inconsistent ‘Best By’ dates. Some breweries use them or use a ‘Package Date’ system instead. If I’m a consumer, how do I know what I’m drinking and what is fresh? I would like to make a Jacksonville, FL Brewers Guild where our immediate community ties can uphold each other. I think when we can come together we can eventually create change.
What types of skills have helped you personally succeed in this industry?
Being adaptable and quick thinking, along with my passion are all things that have gotten me where I am. My passion took me into the beer industry which eventually took me to Asheville, where I pursued craft beer jobs, which eventually led me to Jacksonville where I took my found knowledge to start my whole endeavor.
Unfortunately, when I decided to do so was also when the peak of COVID hit. So I shifted gears and started a food truck to begin drawing revenue as well as creating some buzz about our brewery before we even started construction. I was always planning on having food, and opening a food truck was not the original plan, but you gotta figure out ways to make it and keep on course.
Who in the craft beer industry do you admire?
I really admire Ken Grossman. What brewer/owner does not dream of opening a brewery and having it grow into one of the biggest names in the industry, while keeping his ownership and integrity of the whole process? Ken was able to do all of it starting from a garage, to a regional brand, to a national brand with two large locations on opposite sides of the country and a respected reputation throughout the industry.
If you could do a collaboration beer with Sierra Nevada, is there a certain beer style you would champion?
I would jump at any opportunity that they would give me. But if I had a choice, given my background, a Mexican lager or Vienna lager would make sense. Highlighting complexity of a lager vs the stigma that people think it’s light and has no flavor.
What is the most memorable brew you’ve ever had?
On a homebrew scale, I’d say my first all grain brew, which was an IPA, of course. Transitioning to all-grain and starting to deal with water chemistry, to me, felt like making beer 100% from scratch. Then on a commercial scale, I’d say my first batch on our 5bbl. That gave me the feeling of accomplishment and feeling that I have almost made it. Or at least started the foundation to what I think will be something great.
If you told yourself 10 years ago that you created the brand you have today, would you have believed yourself? And would you have said anything to younger you?
I would believe myself. I am very determined. Experimenting with food and beer, along with caring about my community and culture always spoke to me.
I would tell myself to start raising capital earlier. As a small business, having more money can go so long. Pinching every penny you can, trying to make things work and things better with what you’re given. I thought I predicted well, but there are always unforeseen things that come up. Luckily, everyone is always willing to help and I’m always learning something new from others.
Click here to meet more of our talented rule-makers and read their remarkable stories. Once you hear what they have to say, you will realize that yes, you can brew it too.