It’s no secret that America’s craft brewing industry is not very ethnically diverse, so it’s refreshing to hear about a Latino-led new brewpub called Xicha Brewing coming to Salem, Oregon. Xicha Brewing could help fill a growing demand for craft beer in our state’s capitol, as well as much needed cultural diversity and options beyond the standard brewpub pub grub. Opening in West Salem, Xicha Brewing will be a family-friendly cultural environment that highlights fresh Latin American food and traditions and house-brewed European ales and lagers.
Salem appears to be the most booming new beer city of 2017. In addition to Xicha Brewing, there is the new Victory Club taproom, along with the recently announced Vagabond Brewing expansion and Salem Ale Works expansion. As Xicha co-founder Ben Mendoza confirms, “Xicha is a play on the word chicha,” a South American fermented corn beverage brought to the mainstream by Dogfish Head and as seen in the brief season 1 of Brewmasters. Xicha Brewing hopes to expand on a little known beer and instead “to creatively highlight several aspects of that culture, and how we integrate into the established culture,” adds Mendoza.
Xicha Brewing comes from four founders: Ricardo and Maggie Antunez, Matt Dakopolos, and Ben Mendoza. Principal financier, chef, and restaurant manager Ricardo Antunez may be best known for his McMinnville restaurant Pura Vida Cocina. Atunez worked as a sous chef in Belize for 4 and 5-star resorts like Cayo Espanto before moving to McMinnville to help open notable high-end restaurants like La Rambla. Working closely with the wine industry, he became a chef at the acclaimed Paulee in Dundee and developed relationships with local producers like Fire Mountain Brew House. In Salem, Atunez helped open restaurants La Capitale and Andaluz Kitchen. After learning that Fire Mountain Brewhouse would become one of Oregon’s half dozen brewery closures in 2016, he began negotiations to acquire the brewhouse and leverage his experience and connections for an expansion of his Pura Vida concept in McMinnville.
Ben Mendoza was hired by Antunez as a line cook and also took the role of Chef de Cuisine at La Capitale in Salem. He had a background in digital strategy and went on to become a marketer for a local health care system and also start his own marketing consulting company. After earlier establishing a relationship with Antuniez, Mendoza helped create Pura Vida Cocina’s digital media presence and strategic and marketing moves. Coming from a business admin, branding, analytics background, Mendoza is now a partner and valuable asset to the upcoming Xicha Brewing.
Matt Dakopolos is a Salem local who will head the brewing operations for Xicha Brewing. He began as a homebrewer taught by his father, and continued formulating and brewing his own recipes as an undergrad at the University of Portland. While studying for a double major in German Language and Environmental Policy in Austria, he soon discovered the country’s famous beer halls and continued his international pursuit of language and communication perhaps best shared over a history of beer and brewing. Perhaps it’s his study of history that leads him to specialize in European beer. Though Xicha and Dakopolos are Latino, when asked why diverge from that route on the beer, Dakopolos said, “first and foremost, they taste outstanding paired with chef Antunez’s menu. Secondly, because some European beer styles impacted the local Latin palate with a lasting influence. Xicha appreciates this intersection of global history with personal history, where cultural lines come in and out of focus. We hope to push on those lines with our offerings and can’t wait to share it with you.”
But what about the brewery’s namesake, the fermented corn beverage known as chicha? “We plan to have chicha available and we are currently testing some different recipes. Ultimately Salem will help us decide how frequently chicha should be served. You will also be able to find a limited wine selection and cider on tap when we’re open.”
Dakopolos has found the various brewery trade organizations, a strong Salem community and experience helping brew at Fire Mountain Brewhouse to be valuable getting Xicha off the ground. Considering Xicha Brewing will be operating the 15bbl brewhouse from Fire Mountain, there is a level of first hand experience that should help the jump from homebrewer to probrewer.
Xicha Brewing is a welcome new concept, but some might wonder if Salem’s rough brewing history will embrace an unusual new idea such as theirs. Ricardo Antunez points out, “If you look at Eugene for example, population totals are pretty similar to Salem, but the community supports more than twice as many breweries per capita.” Excellent point, and the four founders have done their homework. Antunez continues, “when we started developing this project we looked hard at the numbers, Salem’s projected growth, and how our brand might contribute to the craft segment. The market research supported the idea of a brewpub and our Latin flavors, which has really informed how the project developed and we are excited to see how Salem responds.”
And we are excited to try it.
future home of Xicha Brewing
Xicha Brewing hopes to be open in Summer of 2017 with a full menu and beers to choose from at 576 Patterson St NW Suite 140 Salem, OR 97304