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November 07, 2019

Suds Up: El Centro Poised for First Microbrewery

July 18, 2019

      With the Imperial Valley summer ensuring plenty of hot weather ahead, the operators of El Centro’s first microbrewery are hoping the timing is right for those seeking another option to cool off.


     Mexca Brew Co. that would operate in conjunction with the Strangers West restaurant at 612-14 Main Street earned a permit July 9 from the city planning commission. Now just a business license is between Ernie Quintero and girlfriend Jessica Delgado adding their own craft beers to their menu.


     "We want to create all different styles of beers; there'll be something for everybody," said Quintero. "We'll be constantly brewing, never stop at a set list. We'll try to keep something on tap according to customer feedback but also maintain favorites."


     An admitted fan of India Pale Ale, Quintero assured there will be plenty of those. However, customers can count on ales, stouts, lagers and "crazy stuff" for the beer geeks such as sours (aged longer) and hybrids with experimental ingredients.


     "We'll definitely launch this summer but do a slow roll out to make sure everything is done with the highest quality," said Quintero. "If something is off, we'll dump it because we definitely don't want to sell something we don't approve of."


     Quintero and Delgado have hired two experienced brewers and they will look to expand the restaurant staff as the brewery ramps up.


     Mexca Brew Co. hopes to attract more business to downtown El Centro, which Quintero has done with Strangers West and the original Strangers bar at 115 N. Fifth St. Initially sales will be just in the tap room yet they hope to sell soon to other restaurants and bars.


     "We'll have special releases--one-off batches of beer," said Quintero. "And we'll do a membership program where members can get a special release not available at the brewery. Also, beer at Mexca will be available in cans or draught."


     Strangers West is open for dinner Wednesdays and Thursdays from 5:30 p.m.-10 p.m. On Fridays it is open 6-10 p.m. Meanwhile, Saturday hours are 7-11 p.m. Recently, it started opening for morning coffee with a modest menu and for times patrons are asked to check Strangers West Facebook and Instagram pages.

     Transferring from just serving beer to brewing it likely tests entrepreneurial fortitude. The current operation has a Type 41 license, selling beer and wine at an eating establishment. Brewing requires converting to a Type 23 license, a small beer manufacturer.


     The brewing room will be modest--a 117-square-foot space in back of the current Strangers West kitchen. It will have a one-barrel electric brewing system equal to two full-sized kegs per batch.


     "It's a passion, and we talked about doing this for years," said Delgado. "It's really the only way we can grow for now. We don't see us getting another location. We already have alcohol and food. But we don't anticipate getting a full liquor license, even though you can make more money. But it's also more drama."


     Quintero's inaugural business launch was the Strangers bar on Fifth Street. It is low key and a bit hidden so patrons need to seek it out. It is next door to the popular Discordia, a record shop selling retro and new vinyl, and the Imperial Valley Kayak Club, a gallery featuring original art from local talent.


     July 20 will mark Strangers’ seventh anniversary and the celebration will include a glass give away. The bar usually has nine draught beer lines and between 20 and 30 revolving cans and bottles.      Patrons can also order a slice of either vegetarian- or meat/combo-topped pizza along with chips or beef jerky.


     "If you want a bar that doesn't feel like a bar, it's Strangers," said Quintero. "It's really chill. We don't have a juke box or sports. For a wide selection of beer, cider or kombucha, a fermented tea, you can find it here."


     The new brewery will latch on to the microbrewery phenomenon that has steadily reached Imperial County, noted Delgado.


     "Mexca is aimed to build what Humble Farmer (Holtville), Calexico Brewery and Pentagonal (Imperial) is already doing," she said. "We'll add to the growing mix of the brewing community. And we're looking forward to collaborating with the others."

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