Two immigrants from Mexico and Costa Rica have launched the United States' first Latino-run microbrewery in this midwestern city, quickly building a loyal customer base.

"We compete with domestic and international brands that dominate the market; our product is geared to the tastes of Latinos and their desire to accompany their meals with the right beer," 28-year-old Isaac Showaki of Mexico, co-owner of 5 Rabbit, told Efe.

Customers can opt for a range of beers that were developed with particular dishes in mind.

The fruity and spicy 5 Rabbit variety is intended as an ideal complement for stuffed chiles, Veracruz red snapper, fried fish, grilled chicken and pizza, while the 5 Lizard, a wheat beer made with a hint of lime and Colombian passion fruit, goes perfectly with ceviche, grilled shrimp, green tamales and crab cakes.

An amber-colored ale known as the 5 Vulture has a pinch of toasted sugar and roasted ancho chile and is best suited for dishes such as mole, grilled beef and hamburgers.

And with the arrival of autumn and lower temperatures in Chicago, a slightly heavier, German-type beer, but with a touch of Argentine caramel and Oaxacan pepperleaf, is a popular option.

"The people's response has been amazing," Showaki said about that latter brew, noting that they had "never tasted anything like it before."

The Mexican immigrant founded the company with Costa Rican Andres Araya, 32, assisted by 55-year-old American Randy Mosher, a veteran on Chicago's microbrew scene.

Mosher was initially hired to design the logo, the labels and packaging but he later became a partner and took over responsibility for the creative development of the craft beers.

Showaki and Araya met each other six years ago, when they worked for a consultancy that was advising a major Latin American brewery.

Looking to start their own business in the United States, they conducted market research, drew up a business plan and chose Chicago as the best place to begin.

"We wanted a city with a microbrewery market and young, growing Hispanic customer base. After touring a number of places in California, Texas, Florida and New York, we decided on Chicago," Araya said.

His wife came up with the name for the company, 5 Rabbit, one of a group of Aztec dieties - along with 5 Vulture, 5 Lizard, 5 Grass and 5 Flower - that symbolized excess and over-indulgence.

The first beer, 5 Rabbit, was launched in May at a gala dinner at the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago and was completely sold out in three months.

Showaki said the production volume at a rented factory fluctuates monthly but remains small, adding that the idea is have their own plant in operation by August 2012 and then set their sights on expansion beyond the Windy City.

The different 5 Rabbit beers are sold at Chicago bars and eateries, as well as at the Whole Foods Market stores and Binny's Beverage Depot, Illinois' largest liquor store chain.

 

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