Brewing Local Pride

Cadejo is a new brewery in El Salvador ... but it's about more than selling beer. It's about creating pride in something local.
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Cadejo is a new brewery in El Salvador ... but it's about more than selling beer. It's about creating pride in something local.

On a muggy Friday afternoon in the hot Salvadoran summer, David Falkenstein sits at a small table on the tasting terraza of Cadejo Brewing Company, the brewery he co-founded in San Salvador, El Salvador.

It had been just over a month since Cadejo's opening, the culmination of more than three years of careful planning and research.

Cadejo currently brews two beers: WAPA, a wheat American pale ale with a "citric hops" flavor, and Roja, an American red ale combining German malts with American and British hops.

WAPA is "loosely inspired" on the Kalamazoo, Mich.-based Bell's Two-Hearted Ale, Falkenstein says, as it is brewed with the same Centennial hops. "We're taking craft beers and tropicalizing them."

The brewery does have plans to offer seasonal beers, such as a pumpkin ale in October or a porter or stout, but Falkenstein emphasized the importance of making a couple beers very well before expanding farther.

But when they do expand, customers will be ready for it. Cadejo provides their own taps to restaurants and bars serving Cadejo beer, and there's room for four brews. The company also provides their own refrigerators and handles all deliveries in a refrigerated truck.

Apart from the brewery's tasting terraza, the beer can be found at 15 restaurant and bar locations around San Salvador, including Republik, Zanzibar, Tony Roma's, Bennigan's, Buffalo Wings, Buffalo Pizza, La Ventana, Yemaya and Sushi Lounge.

Taking Things Farther

Falkenstein, who is from El Salvador and whose family is of German and Spanish descent, moved to New York to study electrical engineering Cornell University and lived in the United States for 17 years before returning to his home country in 2008.

"I knew I always wanted to come back to El Salvador," he said.

"I've always been a beer drinker," says Falkenstein, who, with his wife Shannon, eventually started home brewing with friends. "Then I had the opportunity to take the beer farther."

His friend and business partner Mariano Salazar, who owns the Irish-themed bar Republik in San Salvador's popular Zona Rosa district, asked Falkenstein whether he would be interested in brewing beer for the bar. That conversation in early 2010 didn't go anywhere at the time, but the seed had been planted.

Falkenstein travels to St. Louis, Mo. every summer to visit his in-laws. And that particular summer, he also spent a lot of time researching beer, visiting different breweries and talking to brewers themselves.

"It was one year of refining the idea," he said.

"It started out as making beer for Republik, but given the economies of scale, it's not worth it" unless you are going to mass-produce beer," Falkenstein says. "It takes 40 man hours to make one gallon of beer or 1,000 gallons of beer."

Two years ago, Falkenstein, Salazar and two other partners formed Cadejo Brewing Company.

Letting the Dogs Out

The cadejo is a mythical dog from Latin American folklore. The legend varies from country to country, but generally the white cadejo represents a good spirit and the black cadejo represents an evil spirit. Some versions of the story say the spirits appear to travelers at night -- the white to protect them and the black to harm them; other versions say they appear to drunk people.

"It's just something ... local," Falkenstein says after a pause. "It's fun and irreverent, which fits in with our company ideals."

In El Salvador, there is a word for the mindset that things from the outside -- such as imported beer, international styles or other foreign-made products -- are better: malinche.

Cadejo Brewing Company is about creating pride in something local.

When asked whether the Cadejo Brewing Company dog is the white cadejo or the black cadejo, Falkenstein takes a moment to ponder the question.

"We're going to have both," he says finally, explaining that although the company adheres to a "not-too-serious, not-too-corporate" business model, they didn't want to go too crazy with the launch. "The dogs are going to come out soon."