Maybe it’s the wide-open taproom or maybe it’s the noon-time pints or maybe it’s the fully seeded jalapeños on these bánh mìs seeping into our temporal lobes, I do not know. But the conversation George Esquivel and I happen into on a blazing hot Thursday feels like it’s about something just a bit more than beer.
In July, Four Corners Brewing Co., the beer company created by Dallas local Esquivel and his partners, who grew up in Oak Cliff, was bought by Constellation Brands, the third-largest beer company in the U.S. After the news broke, I called Esquivel to see if he’d have lunch with me, suggesting we sit down at his year-old taproom in the Cedars. He said sure and suggested I bring over Sandwich Hag, a nearby bánh mì spot.
“What we’ve been able to do is monetize a concept,” Esquivel says, over the ruffling of our sandwich wrappers. “And they bought into the concept.”
Back before the American craft beer movement had really blown through North Texas, Esquivel and Steve Porcari used to play music at the Flying Saucer. You frequent a beer mecca like that, you start to get hooked on the good stuff. Their beer journey reflected any other’s, sending Esquivel and Porcari as far away as possible from the watery lagers of their college years. They developed an appreciation for old world beer, but the innovation was happening at the American shops. “Breweries, to us, became rock bands,” Esquivel says. “What are they about? What’s their attitude? What do they do well? What’s their signature stuff?”
Porcari and Esquivel figured the wave was headed for Dallas. They’d been experimenting with home brews, and decided, why not us?
Four Corners made its first sale in 2012, starting with four beers: Local Buzz, a golden ale; Super Bee, a saison; El Chingon, an India pale ale; and Block Party, a porter. That’s all they made, for years. There were no imperial stouts you’d still be feeling Monday morning, no quadruple IPAs, nothing sour.
“There’s this community, and it is diverse, and we’re going to embrace that.”
Porcari and Esquivel and their third partner, Greg Leftwich, had sat at the original Gloria’s Latin Cuisine location in Oak Cliff, over what were then cheap margaritas, trying to figure out what to call their beer company. They saw Bolsa across the street, a farm-to-table concept with high-end cocktails. They saw Tacqeria El Si Hay, a walk-up taco shack. They saw a tire shop, its impact wrenches firing. “If we’re going to reflect anything, we’re going to reflect this,” they decided, as Esquivel recalls. “There’s this community, and it is diverse, and we’re going to embrace that.”
Esquivel talks about what it means to be a bi-cultural brand: “It’s one thing for Pitbull to be, with a Bud Light in his hand, going, ‘Come on, let’s all get Latino,’ It’s another thing to be Latino, to be bi-cultural. The emerging consumer base in Texas and across the Southwest is a really dynamic consumer.”
Four Corners will soon find out, having gone from four distributors to 14 in the last 20 months, how far it can take its concept. The pairing with Constellation Brands, which brews Corona and Modelo, will help—although Esquivel says he and his partners hadn’t been actively seeking a buyer. “It was one of those things where we were introduced, super flattered they would even talk to us, and soon figured out that they were really serious,” he says. “We felt it was a bit premature, but when the dance partner you want asks for a dance …”
Esquivel doesn’t expect much to change with the new resources. During the past year, the team has been experimenting with some new and occasionally weirder stuff in the taproom. Their top sellers ferment in larger batches, same as always, across the parking lot in a reformed warehouse that could support growth to 75,000 barrels a year. (Four Corners did 11,000 in 2017.)
To get there, customers will have to buy into the what they’re doing. Esquivel sees two sides of the equation: craft beer, all about flavor and adventure, and Mexican lagers, built on heritage and authenticity. “Can a brand be both?” he poses. “That’s the Four Corners proposition.”