Hard agua frescas are here. It was time. Welcome to the Great Harding, frescas.
Mostly, we owe our awareness of agua frescas to street cart vendors. When summer is full throttle, you’ll still find them beachfront, quenching thirsts for pocket change. Many San Diegans know agua frescas as their taco shop go-to. Ernesto Garcia is hopeful this region’s familiarity with these refreshers—and its affinity for craft beer culture—will lead customers to El Puerquito, his hard frescas tasting room shared with Mister G’s Salsa at the Miralani Makers District.
Garcia’s journey to the hard life started in 2015 when he tried his hand at making wine. Prickly pear was his base fruit—cactus wine—and the results trumped his humble expectations. “It was the first wine I ever made,” Garcia explains. “I made it using buckets and watching YouTube videos.” Garcia knew he had a hit, but traditional wine or beer didn’t feel right. While he was born and raised in San Diego, his family is from La Sierra de Zacatecas, and the flavors and aromas of Mexico always circulated his childhood home. Tying his family culture and new hobby together, hard agua frescas felt like the obvious next step.
Agua frescas are a group of fruit-, grain-, vegetable-, or nut-based beverages prevalent in Mexican street food culture. Many variations are made when blended fruit meets water, citrus (typically lime), sugar, and a strainer. Other varieties are prepared more like tea—jamaica, for example, reaches its deep crimson color when dried hibiscus petals are steeped in hot water (this creates a concentrate that’s later cooled, diluted, sweetened, and served over ice).
El Puerquito Hard Frescas are akin to seltzers—crisp and bubbly enough to cut through, say, the richness of a birria. Garcia says the real magic came when he decided not to distill it, which would’ve nullified the refreshing agua fresca mouthfeel.
His jamaica and tamarindo frescas will be available year-round, while others like pepino (cucumber) may hibernate for the winter and reemerge with warmer temps. Additional rousing flavors include spicy watermelon and mojito. And, when possible, El Puerquito’s frescas will use local fruit as their base—the strawberries in Garcia’s strawberry and cream flavor, for instance, come from Carlsbad.
Despite moving into a shared storefront, Garcia added his own flair. “I bring my own diversity to the place: a cantina feel with black-and-white, old-school Mexican movies playing. Mariachi music is [on] in the background. I dress up in boots, I’m in mariachi gear. It’s how I grew up as a kid, [and] it made me who I am today.”
While settling into his new space, Garcia is perfecting his canning method, with an entrepreneurial eye on national expansion.
El Puerquito Hard Frescas is open Thursday through Saturday from 5 to 10 p.m. at 8680 Miralani Drive, Unit 133.