“This is a calming beverage that quenches thirst, facilitates diction, and strengthens the heart and gums. " Hippocrates
Estancos cerveceros, was the name given to places where beer was sold, (essentially beer stores), during the period of the General Captaincy of Goathemala, established after the Viceroyalty of New Spain and prior to the establishment of the Viceroyalty of Peru. It is believed that these shops began selling the beverage produced in an artisanal, small-scale fashion in the early eighteenth century.
The history of beer brewing in America began, when in 1544, a brewery was established for the first time in the outskirts of Mexico City.
During the Colonial period, there were several products subject to the control of royal authorities in order to be sold. Further, they could only be commercialized provided their sale increased fiscal revenues, and were therefore sold at regulated prices. Among the regulated products were aguardiente, tobacco, playing cards, and gunpowder.
In terms of beer in the Kingdom of Guatemala, there is no evidence of any form of authorization given for its production during the first one hundred years of colonial life. It is not until 1729, that the first permit to produce beer is requested from the Municipal Council.
Beer production was a formidable option to other beverages considered intoxicating, which is why the government formally allowed the fabrication and sale of hard cider and beer in 1825. The sale of said products was primarily confined to estancos, in other words, to establishments authorized by one of the crown’s public servants, generally the Corregidor (mayor appointed by the King). It was the duty of royal officials to collect estanco leases. The magistrates and ordinary justices were responsible for punishing those who smuggled, produced or commercialized beverages and liquors without proper permission.
It is unknown how many requests were submitted in order to be able to operate an estanco, and of those, how many were granted. There is mention, however, that the interested parties were western citizens either acting alone or associated with Spaniards. The first documented request and license for beer production was granted to Guillermo Reichenberg, of European descent. Additionally, he was also given authorization to have a vineyard.
It was forbidden to sell liquors, aguardiente and chicha at estancos. Infringement of this law resulted in the shut down of the establishment and the annulment of the patent. Storekeepers that did not comply with the law were considered clandestine and were punished according to indications in the ruling of January 31, 1853. This new ordinance came into effect immediately after being issued.
It is not until 1854, when Rafael Carrera was President of Guatemala that the formal approval of permits for the sale of beer began. During this time, more liquor stores opened which meant an increase in fiscal revenues for the government. It also led to the regulation of beer sales in estancos that had been, up until that point, regulated by a law decree published on September 4, 1856, wherein they were referred to as: estancado de la cerveza del país (beer shops of Guatemala.) With this legal base, six beer shops were licensed, having obtained the annual operating permit through a closing sale, the base of which was the payment of ten pesos payable on a monthly basis to the rent administrator. Over the years, the permit price increased to twelve pesos a month.
The majority of artisanal brewers exercised their right to protest- for only a few sold other liquors- on October 3, 1856, resulting in the decree’s reform. Henceforth, beer businesses began to operate. One such business located on Calle del Incienso, was a shop owned by Herman Bendfeldt from Hamburg, Germany, who had requested the corresponding permit unto the departmental Corregidor in 1856.
The emerging industry advertised in the country’s main newspapers. In this way, the advertisement for Cervecería Inglesa (English Brewery) was published in 1857.
Facsimile of the advertisement published by Cerveza Inglesa in the local newspaper, Gaceta de Guatemala (Guatemalan Gazette), on December 24, 1857. Right, facsimile showing advertisement for beer La Estrella , published in the Diario de Centro América on January 17, 1898.
Another German citizen by the name of Teodoro Kreitz, coming from El Salvador, who was held in high esteem having previously participated on a board to establish the General Hospital, and, who also owned the hotel Alemán in neighboring El Salvador, established his own brewery on January 14, 1858. The event was widely communicated by the newspapers and it promised that his beer -personally brewed by him- would be sold in the estanco.
There is also record of approvals having been granted to an Alsatian by the last name of Raucher and his partner, Miguel González Cerezo (1873), as well as to a person named J.F. Tejada Asturias, José Asencio and another in the favor of Bertholin Hermanos, a French firm headed by Arístides and Alfonso Bertholin that did not function as a corporation.
From that point on, many breweries began to operate in Guatemala, and by 1880, over 180 permits for the production of beer were issued.
The Bertholin brothers were savvy businessmen who diversified their commercial interests: they produced beer, managed the El Globo hotel, grew coffee and produced cochineal. Arístides served as provisionary vice-consul of France in the Guatemalan department of Sacatepéquez, and bequeathed Cervecería Nacional, valued at 18,254 pesos, to his three children Pedro, Camilo and Arístides when he passed away in 1882. In 1864, the rights acquired by his children were later transferred to Café y Cervecería Belga in 1864.
Among all of the taxes paid by beverage manufacturers in Guatemala, beer was the one that contributed the least. In 1868 the contribution amounted to 624 pesos; aguardiente contributed 289,849 pesos, 2 reales and 1 cuartillo, and chicha 102,663 pesos y 3 reales.
The ease with which beer could be produced was a huge benefit over wine making, given that it could be fabricated in someone’s private house. The one true important condition for the state was that there had to be previous authorization and they charged for the rights to operate legalized establishments.
Beer brewing was a task generally reserved for women who were obliged to comply with the law or they risked being sanctioned. They would likewise incur in a crime and be penalized for clandestine production of aguardiente. It is believed that this was a task carried out especially by widows, given the difficulty they had earning a living by other means.
Corn was the basis for the production of this beverage, which lost its dominance in 1875, when barley and wheat were added to the mix. Such grains were produced in Guatemala, even though they lacked the necessary quality to produce a good beer due to climate reasons.
With the different measures adopted by the government, which included the regulation of beer production, they hoped to incentivize the demand for grains and encourage agriculture on a large scale as well as promote the opening of breweries and the increase of wealth and estates.
Opinion in regards to beer changed. It was considered a healthy and nutritious drink, to the extent that lactating women drank it in order to boost their milk production.
Other brewing industries that were later authorized were: Cervecería Inglesa (1875), Cervecería La Estrella of Meyer and Roche (1888), Cervecería Alemana de Haeussler y Compañía, (firm that announced its dissolution in March of 1877, even though it continued to operate under the same name until the early twentieth century), the majority of which were owned by Germans.
Articles regarding beer production were published in the magazine, La Sociedad Económica as early as January 1873, under the Agriculture section, where there were also publications on wine, hard cider and aguardiente. In 1876 a column published in that magazine made the following reference about beer production in Guatemala:
“If the production of beer were to improve, its consumption would progressively increase and, we believe that in the event, less aguardiente would be consumed. However, it must be good quality beer and not like certain qualities that because of budget constraints, are made with too much added raw sugar, and truth be told, are nothing more than half fermented chicha broths.”