The legend of the Three Sisters is well known amongst the indigenous people of North America, with each tribe and territory holding on to a slightly different version of the story as part of the native folklore.
In the legend, the three sisters are represented by the ancestral culinary staples of corn, beans, and squash. Each vegetal sister is headstrong and independent, growing up as best as they can on their own, until one day they realize how much better they can be together. If planted in the same mound, the corn grows tall and provides a stalk for the bean vines to climb.
The beans provide nitrogen to the soil, feeding the corn and the squash. And the broad, spiny leaves of the squash protect all three plants from predators, weeds, and the heat of the sun. Three independent sisters come together to provide what the others are lacking, and in turn, receive important gifts to help them thrive. This legend has been utilized as both agricultural advice to farmers (past and present) as well as a spiritual lesson for the community.
Plant these crops together in the same field for the best yields for each. Rely on one another for assistance and support in ways that better us both.
The spirits of the Three Sisters were most certainly present in Tucson on Friday, August 26 for the collaborative brewing of Las Hermanas — a west coast IPA in its second year of specialty release production by Borderlands Brewing Company. The first brew was in 2019, and then the project was halted due to COVID-related travel restrictions.
Las Hermanas, which is “the sisters” in Spanish, was dreamed up and brewed by Hispanic female brewers hailing from both sides of the U.S./Mexico border in a celebration of solidarity, diplomacy, and cerveza. The same original recipe is being brewed again in Mexico City. Leading the collaborative brew events are Ayla Kapahi and Savanna Saldate of Borderlands Brewing Company in Tucson and Marianna Dominguez representing Cerveceria Morenos in Mexico City.
“What’s incredible is that there’s been increasingly more Latinas involved in craft beer, especially in production in Mexico over the last five-plus years,” said Kapahi, head brewer at Borderlands Brewing Company. “So, we’re seeing those numbers grow which is really inspiring and empowering.”
The brewing collaboration is in essence, planting your corn, beans, and squash in the same mound. The “sisters” have plenty to learn from one another and bring back to their home breweries, creating a crop of Latina women in craft beer that is stronger together than on their own.
“The idea behind it is to raise awareness, education, and to get women collaborating,” said Saldate, Borderland’s lead brewer. “It’s actually my favorite time of year and favorite project we do.”
Visit Tucson, the Consulate of Mexico in Tucson, Yakima Chief Hops, and Country Malt Group are also supporting partners in this collaborative event.
In addition to the brew day itself, Borderlands Brewing put together a free day-long technical conference for the visiting and local brewers to collectively learn more about the key ingredients for a good brew, barley, and hops.
Yakima Chief Hops hosted a presentation about survivable compounds, the chemical compounds in hops that need to “survive” heat and fermentation in order to produce the characteristically hoppy aroma and flavor profile the brewer is aiming for. The Country Malt Group put on a grain sensory tasting and analysis seminar. The demonstration taught brewers to discern overt and minimal differences between their brewing grains, and then to pinpoint hidden sources of off-flavors in their raw materials.
“The number one request from people all throughout Mexico is that they want formal workshops because they’re always held outside of Mexico,” said Kapahi. “It’s never in their country, and it can be difficult to sometimes go to these educational workshops to revamp their skill set and continue along with learning and growing.”
When it comes to brewing craft beer and being a Latina woman in the brewing industry, there are notable differences in training and resources on either side of the border — another reason why this type of transnational collaboration is so mutually beneficial.
Since the inaugural Las Hermanas project in 2019, Kapahi and Saldate have met many Latina brewers from across the border, and have found themselves continually impressed by the formal brewing education that their counterparts in Mexico bring to a brew day.
“We started talking to more and more to these women and learned that most of them have their master’s degrees in fermentation sciences,” said Kapahi. “Many of them have completed internships in Germany, Belgium, all throughout Europe, and we’re just blown away by that consistency. It wasn’t like we were just in one area, one city where that happened. It’s a lot of brewers that we’ve met who have undergone a lot of formal and classical training. It’s remarkable.”
Kapahi explained that in contrast, most brewers (of all genders) in the U.S. don’t necessarily have a formal education in the brewing sciences. Also, if they are lucky enough to get an entry-level brewery job, training is generally hands-on in the brewhouse.
“We have so much to learn from these women brewers in Mexico and from the Mexican craft beer industry,” said Kapahi. “And you know, there are a lot of stereotypes about Mexico and Mexican craft beer. We realized the U.S., in a lot of ways, is very behind in much of what they do.”
Another notable difference between brewing in the U.S. and Mexico has to do with resource availability.
“There are certain supply chain issues that even before COVID were very difficult to handle and manage,” said Kapahi. “So, if you are a smaller brewery in Mexico, it is less likely you’ll get access to the brewing ingredients of your choice. That is honestly something we don’t have to struggle with as brewers here in the U.S.”
In collaborating and learning from one another, brewers on both sides of the border hope to lessen the impact that scarce resources and limited educational opportunities may have on their breweries and on the industry in general.
“For us, we feel so honored to be here with these women and for all of us to share our practices and ideas so that we all become better brewers,” said Kapahi.
The fewer barriers to a great brew day, the better the beer. And for women in this historically male-dominated beer industry, every opportunity to break down barriers (and lift up your sister while you’re at it) is a worthwhile endeavor.
Unfortunately, women in the industry on both sides of the border still face discrimination, harassment, and sexism in their jobs. To be Latina and a woman in the beer industry adds yet another degree of difficulty to the daily challenges of supply chain and training that every craft brewer faces.
Collaborative events like the Las Hermanas brew are occasions for solidarity, encouragement, and support between women in the industry, which is a resource as valuable as any proprietary hop variety or artisanal malted grain.
“It’s just really cool to be a part of this project with so many people from both sides of the border,” said Alex Norman, brewer at Barrio Brewing Company. “Also, it grows every single year as well. It’s great to see some old faces and to meet new people, too.”
With good reason, the Three Sisters legend has persisted for generations in the collective folklore of the indigenous people of the U.S. and Mexico. It resonates with a basic truth about the strength that comes with leaning on one another and pooling our resources to strengthen us all. The women of the collaborative brew embody this story beautifully — a sisterhood working together for the betterment of the whole.
In a poetic twist, this beer will become just like the Three Sisters tale itself, an allegory adopted and enjoyed by people otherwise separated by distance and dialect. Pints of Las Hermanas IPA will be raised in both the U.S. and Mexico, forging a connection between the brewers who made the beer and those who enjoy it — no matter how far apart they may be.
My Las Hermanas toast is simple:
May the seeds we sow, the beers we brew, and the stories we tell serve to connect and strengthen us all.
Las Hermanas IPA will be ready to pour by mid-September and will be available on draft and in cans at the Borderlands Brewing taproom and in bars and bottleshops across town. To celebrate, Borderlands Brewing is hosting a public release party on Friday, September 16 from 5 – 8 p.m. to commemorate the tapping.
The proceeds from the sales of Las Hermanas IPA will go toward encouraging and enabling women on both sides of the border to participate in more brewer exchanges and future collaborations.
Borderlands Brewing Company is located at 119 E. Toole Ave. For more information and to stay updated on the collaboration brew, visit borderlandsbrewing.com or follow Borderland Brewing on Facebook and Instagram.
Jessie Jean Mance was born in Tucson and never met a riparian area she didn’t like. She is a lover of lightning, sunsets, mezcal, music, and other intoxicating experiences. Mance resolutely believes that fresh air is medicine, burritos are the...