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Welcome to Amazing Tap Handles - The Tap Handle Museum. Here you will find photos of the Museum's collection of beer taps, along with brewery info. Have a look around the Museum, and use the contact form in sidebar to leave me feedback about the site, talk about taps, or if you have a rare tap handle you'd like to sell to the Museum. I'd love to hear from you! Please, no inquires about buying taps - they're not for sale.

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Thursday, September 11, 2014

Tap Handle #427: Aztec - Chipotle Ale

Tap size:  10.5"
Rarity:  Very Rare
Mounting:  standard 3/8" ferrule on 5/16" anchor bolt

As a history buff (as if you couldn't tell from all these posts about brewery history), I really wanted this tap that pays homage to a lost civilization, and was thrilled when it arrived in my hands at last. The amount of detail is fantastic, with sculpted Aztec symbols, a sundial, and a stone Aztec that is holding a beer in one hand and giving a thumbs up with the other hand. Although it's not as colorful as some other taps, that doesn't lessen its attractiveness one bit - it actually makes it more unique and desirable, and really does achieve the look of carved stone. Besides, the label has plenty of color and is quite beautiful. This tap is very rare and commands a high price in the secondary market.

Click through to read more about Aztec Brewing Company, their Chipotle IPA, and to see more photos of this classic tap...

Aztec Brewing Company was founded in 2008 in Vista, California by John Webster and Claudia Faulk. Webster learned about the historic Aztec Brewing Company while researching old California beer brands for a line of t-shirts he was designing. Recognizing the potential the name and historic brand had in the San Diego area, he secured the U. S. trademark rights and set about reviving the brand as a modern craft brewery. In 2011 they opened a small production brewery with tap room in the Vista Business Park, also home to Iron Fist Brewing Co. and Latitude 33 Brewing Co.

What Webster had discovered was a company that traced its roots back to the Prohibition era. In 1921, San Diego businessmen Edward P. Baker, Herbert Jaffe, James Crofton, and brewing engineer William H. Strouse were instrumental in starting Cervecera Azteca, SA, in Mexicali, the capital city of the Mexican state of Baja California. It was a smart business plan since beginning in 1920, no alcohol was being manufactured, sold or transported in the United States due to Prohibition. Mexicali is located on the border with good railroad links that allowed easy distribution of the product throughout Mexico and easy importation of raw materials such as grain and hops. The brewery was destroyed by an earthquake and fire a few years later, but was soon rebuilt at the same site. Jaffe had studied brewing in Czechoslovakia, while Crofton was a major partner in the Agua Caliente Hotel and Casino in Mexico.

During the 1920s, Aztec competed with Cerveceria Mexicali (Mexicali Brewery) for market share in Baja California, especially in Tijuana where thirsty Americans were flocking during Prohibition. Aztec’s flagship brew was Famous A.B.C. Beer, a pale lager. The company also brewed a dark beer. A.B.C. Beer won a gold medal at the Exposición Ibero-Americana (Ibero-American Exposition of 1929) in Seville, Spain. This led to the inclusion of the word "Famous" in the name. Strouse was later chief engineer for the San Diego Brewing Company, and was also instrumental in founding, with Alberto V. Aldrete Sr., the Tecate Brewery in Tecate, Mexico in 1943. Strouse later returned to the Aztec Brewery until his death in 1944.

With the end of Prohibition in 1933, a new brewery was built in San Diego and the entire operation moved to the new location soon afterward, using the headline "San Diego Brew Flowing Again!" The building was a former plant for the Savage Tire Company. Approximately $450,000 was spent in purchasing the property and remodeling the building so that it could be converted into a brewery. It had a 100,000 barrel per year capacity and a refrigerated cellar with capacity for 4,000 barrels. It also had one of the largest bottling plants of its kind at the time with a system that could wash, rinse, sterilize and fill 100 bottles per minute. Although the main brand, A.B.C., was kept, it was reformulated by then brewmaster A. Bud Daniels. The word “Supreme” was added to the label. Former workers of the company later stated that the reformulation was necessary and that the original beer had a “skunky” flavor. The label continued to refer to the beer as “Famous” even though it was no longer the same recipe that had won the gold medal.

They built out a tasting room, where San Diego residents sipped local brews around hand-carved tables and chairs. The owners dubbed their tasting room a "rathskeller," invoking the German word for a basement watering hole. Stained glass windows and murals imbued the walls with color, many of them painted by a cultural emissary sent to the United States, renowned Spanish artist Jose Moya del Piño, a colleague of Picasso. King Alfonso XIII of Spain had sent Piño on a tour of the U.S., but by the time he got to San Francisco, the government in Spain had collapsed, drying up the money for his tour. He began painting portraits to pay the bills. He painted murals for the Coit Tower and a brewery and post offices in San Francisco. Pino's work caught the eye of the Aztec brewers in San Diego, who commissioned him to paint the murals, which were vibrant and exotic, depicting themes and images from Aztec and Mayan eras, some hewing to Spanish colonial styles and others reflecting both the '30s-era Mexican and U.S. mural movements. One centerpiece mural behind the tiled serving bar showed the ancient Aztec ritual of human sacrifice, a priest extracting a man's heart. Pino also oversaw the rest of the rathskeller's decoration, which included painted and carved tables and chairs and ceiling beams, chandeliers, tiled mahogany cabinets, stained glass windows and doors, and a 9-foot replica of the Aztec calendar. The logo of the company was the Aztec sundial.

Aztec Brewing grew quickly. Within three months, it went from seventeenth place to third place in sales west of the Rocky Mountains. Aztec began producing beer in cans in 1936. The early conetop cans from the 1930s and 1940s are highly sought after by collectors today, as are other products from the company. Edward Baker also purchased a stake in the Arizona Brewing Company of Phoenix in 1934, but the two companies were never merged. The brewery soon had a new rival: the San Diego Brewing Company, which had originally opened in 1897, but had closed in 1920 for the duration of Prohibition. It reopened in 1935, with Strausse leaving Aztec and assuming engineering duties at SDBC, which only lasted 7 years until 1942. That brewery should not be confused with the current San Diego Brewing Company brewpub that opened in the 1990s.

Keeping track of the number of beer brands Aztec made is difficult, because with a minimum order of 500 cases, the company would put any label on its bottles for the customer. But some of the surviving examples of labels for the company include A.B.C., A.B.C. Bock, A.B.C. Old Ale, A.B.C. Old Stout, A.B.C. Pale Ale, Associated, Aztec, Black Eagle, Bulldog, Casa Mia, Del Mar Pale Ale, Dutch Lunch, Excel, Great Seal, Majestic, Old Coin, Old Dutch Ale, Red Spot, and Spotlight. A.B.C. Beer’s primary markets were San Diego, Los Angeles, Long Beach, and parts of Arizona. However, the beer was also distributed to New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon and Hawaii as well.

In 1948, Aztec was purchased by the Altes Brewing Company of Detroit. Altes had originally been the Tivoli Brewing Company, but was renamed after its most popular beer. Edward Baker remained at Altes as a director of the new company. For whatever reason, Altes did not continue brewing the popular ABC Beer. Altes instead focused on its own brands: Altes, Altes Brisk, Altes Golden Lager and 7-11. Instead, they sold the Famous ABC Beer brand to the Maier Brewing Company of Los Angeles and brewed there until at least 1957. Altes was bought by the National Brewing Company of Baltimore, Md., which closed the San Diego Aztec brewery in 1953. The building was subsequently used by Rohr Aircraft Corporation and later by Dorman’s Tire Company.

The building was torn down by the city of San Diego in 1989 when it was deemed the building was unsafe by earthquake standards. However, the murals and other items from the Rathskeller were saved from destruction thanks to the efforts of local artist Salvador Torres. Deemed by the community as valuable historical items, the city of San Diego had them removed and stored for future display in a project in the neighborhood. With the closure of the Aztec Brewery, there was no local commercially brewed beer in San Diego County for the next 36 years.

The new Aztec Brewing Company specializes in California style beers and ales, using choice malts and high quality hops. Aztec currently brews eight varieties of beer that include El Dorado Blonde, Hibiscus Wheat Beer, Amber, Cacao Porter, Chipotle IPA, Sacrifice Red IPA, Noche de los Muertos Imperial Stout, and seasonal and specialty brews. In addition to the San Diego region, Aztec beers are distributed in Los Angeles, Orange County, the Inland Empire, Maryland, and New York, and now Aztec is making a triumphant return to its country of origin, shipping beer into key markets throughout Mexico.

Chipotle IPA is a spiced American IPA with smoked jalapeño peppers (known as chipotles) which add a smoky kick without excessive heat. It gives this beer a complex, lingering lightly spicy finish. Cascade hops provide a clean, firm bitterness, to balance the sweet malt character. The brew has hoppy but clean citrus/grapefruit nose. Recommended food pairings are Mexican cuisine, BBQ, spicy deserts like ginger bread, pepper jack, mild blue cheeses, gorgonzola, or smoked cheeses.

Ratebeer weighted average:  3.4 out of 5
Beer Advocate:  84 out of 100 (good)

Aztec Brewing Company
2330 La Mirada Dr. Suite 300
Vista, California 92081

Source Material
Aztec Brewing website

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