Travel: The Shopping Forecast

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Journey to the source

Number 8: Sol

If you want more than two minutes of fun in the sun this summer, you'd do well to catch a plane to Mexico. For sun overhead and a cool bottle of beer in the hand, head to Monterrey, third-largest city in the country and worldwide headquarters of the Cervecera Cuauhtemoc Moctezuma, brewers of Sol (meaning "sun" in Spanish) lager since 1899. This is the perfect place to toast the company's centenary - or the eclipse.

Cervecera Cuauhtemoc Moctezuma sounds Aztec in origin, but was in fact created in 1890 when two German-Mexican brewers, Radke and Hesselbart, joined forces with the locals Don Isaac Garza and Don Jose Caldern (owners of the only ice machine in Monterrey) and began importing Schnaider beer from St Louis, Missouri.

Joseph Schnaider proposed the creation of a "modern" brewery in Monterrey and, in 1890, Cervecera Cuauhtemoc was born. In 1985, the brewery joined with Cervecera Moctezuma to form one of the largest beer-producing companies in the world; these days, it generates about 90,000 jobs.

The pale golden nectar is known for its gleaming clear glass bottle. Jauntily engraved with a label that is designed to "transmit the genuine traditional image of Mexican values" - sunshine and beer presumably - the contents are said by some to be best gulped chilled with a slice of lime squeezed into the bottle's neck, though this practice is virtually unknown in the country of origin.

If you are going down Mexico way, the chances are that there will be a Cuauhtemoc brewery near you. There are seven in all - at Orizaba, Monterrey, Toluca, Veracruz, Navojoa, Guadalajara and Tecate - and, together they produce prodigious quantities of Mexican beer from Bohemia and XX Lager to Carta Blanca and, of course, Sol.

Each of the plants is open to visitors and tours are free (call 00 528 328 5703 for details and to check timings) but, to get really close to the source, you'll need to start at the Cuauhtemoc Brewery in Monterrey. The Monterrey plant is not only the oldest brewery in the company, but also the oldest brewery in Mexico, and the 112,000-square-metre site produces an impressive annual volume of 660 million litres of beer.

The brewery is at Avenida Alfonso Reyes, 2202 Norte, Monterrey, close to Metro Central, and is open for tours from Monday to Friday from 9.30am to 3.30pm and on Saturdays from 9.30am to 1pm. The brewery grounds include the Monterrey Museum, exhibiting just about everything from a Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame to modern art displays, but if you're feeling thirsty, stick to the brewery. Once you've seen how Sol is made, appreciate how it tastes with a small bottle or two of beer - handed out free in the gardens. If you want to buy while you're here, it'll cost you around 10 pesos (70p) per bottle. Since a bottle of Sol from your local branch of Oddbins (0181-944 4400) will cost you pounds 1.09, buy 1,138 bottles in Monterrey and flog them back home to pay for a pounds 444 flight to Monterrey on Continental via Houston with South American Experience (0171-976 5511). That way you can come back to do a sunny tour of the other six breweries, happy in the knowledge that beer is good for you.

According to the Sol website (www.f, the beer contained in one 325ml bottle "has an equal nutritious value to 58g of beef, three- and-a-half tortillas, or 90g of beans" and is also a rich source of B vitamins, "necessary energy for everyday activities" such as eclipse- watching.

Gadget of the week

The aluminised Mylar eclipse viewer

If you're planning to look skyward on 11 August, make sure your luggage includes an eclipse viewer. Made from aluminised Mylar and aluminium, the "glasses" help to reduce the intensity of the sun to a safe level, thereby protect-

ing your eyes while you wait for the eclipse.

Get a pair free with your comprehensive Guide to the 1999 Total Eclipse of the Sun (pounds 5.99 from the Royal Greenwich Observatory, 01223 374000 or e-mail: eclipse99