- FROM PALLETS TO PALATE Peter Lopez started his career in a winery warehouse before discovering his passion for craft beer.
To many, Santa Rosa is the microbrew capital of the country, a constant fixture on top 10 lists thanks to the quality and sheer number of local breweries in the area.
Another significant figure in Santa Rosa is the number of Latinos who make up the city's population, accounting for nearly 30 percent overall, second only to Santa Rosa's white majority population.
With the craft beer market and the Latino population thriving in such close proximity to one another, it's a wonder that the two have yet to brew up more of a collaboration.
Peter Lopez, 38, owner and operator of Santa Rosa's Juncture Taproom, believes young Latinos will change the industry's complexion by assuming a majority role in craft beer's future. "It's just a matter of the next generation," he says. "The seeds have already been planted, and you're going to see those flowers bloom really soon."
Lopez, the son of immigrant parents, got his start in the wine industry at age 19, working in a wine-distribution warehouse.
"I had no palate for wine. The only pallet I knew was the one we were putting boxes on," Lopez says.
Lopez has climbed the wine and spirits ladder, and says he met skepticism that came with being a Mexican-American in a Caucasian-dominated industry.
"When I worked in the wine industry," says Lopez, "clients would always tell me they wanted to speak to the person in charge of wine recommendations. When I said that person was me, they almost wouldn't believe it. It's been an uphill battle for sure."
Inside Juncture Taproom, the reaction is quite different. The beer bar hosts a loyal, tight-knit community of local supporters eager to enjoy one of the 20 rotating beers on tap and chat with the affable Lopez, who possess an impressive knowledge of craft beer.
"When you're an immigrant or the son of an immigrant, it can be off-putting to be considered a beer snob," Lopez says. "The idea of this pretentious world that exists in beer culture now—that used to be wine snobs; now it's beer drinkers."
Lopez sees the aversion to the "beer snob" and the Latino community's general lack of interest in craft beer fading away with coming generations. "There are a lot of people home-brewing right now who are Mexican," he says, "so that's something we are going to see in the future."
Mexican-style lagers have recently grown popular in the craft-beer world, something Lopez considers the "first step in change." The beers are a clever way for an industry eager to connect with the largely untapped Latino market.
"Anderson Valley was actually one of the first brewers to start the Mexican-style lager trend with their Summer Solstice release," Lopez says. "The beer said 'cerveza crema' on it, and it was pretty much made for their friends in the Latino community working in the fields."
Lopez takes pride being the only Latino to own and operate a taproom in Sonoma County. "I love being a part of breaking down some of those barriers for Latinos," he says. However, the son of Jalisco-born parents makes it a point to honor his family's heritage.
"Each night when we close the taproom we always listen to one mariachi song. It's tradition," Lopez says. "My father passed away before he could see Juncture, so it's a way to honor him."
In addition to opening the Juncture Taproom, Lopez created NorCal Beer Geeks in 2012, which started as a Facebook page for local craft beer enthusiasts. The group, which began with 12 members, now numbers more than 1,800.
One NorCal Beer Geek is Roseland native Noel Pesqueda Lemus, who goes by the Instagram handle "@roseland_bg" ("bg" for beer geek). Operating an Instagram page devoted to craft beer is nothing new, though Lemus' account, which has more than 3,500 followers, is significant in that it's run by a Mexican-American millennial.
"Being Mexican-American, we grow up seeing our families enjoying cheap, light beer, especially at family gatherings," Lemus says. "These beers always make it to the party: Corona, Modelo, Pacifico, Coors Light and Bud Light. You get a lot of beer without breaking the bank. When you have a large family, I guess it has to be quantity over quality."
Currently, Lemus' Instagram is like a highlight reel of the latest flavors and styles concocted by breweries across the country, with a local focus on Sonoma County. In Santa Rosa's Roseland area, the options for craft beer are limited.
"I would love to see a brewery in Roseland. I know it would get a lot of support from myself and the locals," he says. "It will help the area financially because it will bring in a lot of people, like the Mexican restaurants and markets do."
Juncture Taproom, 4357 Montgomery Drive, Santa Rosa. 707.293.9702.