Suddenly, Mexican beer is tasting different. The cerveza offerings coming out of Baja are turning the perception of Mexican beer on its head. Not only that, these new beers and brewers reflect Mexico's heightened awareness of environmental issues and desire to be "green."
In the past five years, craft brewing in Baja has exploded into a vital business. In Ensenada, alone, what was once a handful of artisan brewers has become more than 100. Most of these are still working in the home-brew stage, but some are creating honest nano-breweries (less than 43 gallons) and others are on their ways to creating microbreweries.
One such brewery is Cerveceria Agua Mala. Spearheading the Baja brew movement, Nathaniel Schmidt started like most other brewers in the kitchen, until being kicked out by his wife. This might have been the best thing that ever happened to him. He started to grow and produce some of the best beers in Baja, everything from a crisp lager to an assertively hoppy IPA. The name Agua Mala is a play on words in Spanish, meaning jellyfish or bad water. Based on unbiased reviews, it is anything but!
As Carlos Cohen of Cerveceria Marinera puts it, "The key to good beer is to have a desirable product and to always be consistent."
This goal of consistency is true for most trades, but it is very difficult to achieve in the nano-brewing industry, especially in Baja. One of the hurdles the Baja brewers face is having to import almost all of their ingredients and equipment.
According to Agua Mala's Schmidt, who currently has to drive to San Diego, California from Ensenada each time he needs products, "It's difficult to be "green" when you have to drive two hours each way for all of your raw materials." His dream is to eventually create a beer that is 100 percent organic and locally sourced. He even wants to mastermind a gluten-free beer. Schmidt notes that he hopes to build his microbrewery in 2013, making it completely environmentally friendly, utilizing solar energy, and re purposing water used in the beer production process for the family garden as well as using waste grain products for composting.
Another issue to maintaining consistency is that brewing is a quantity business; it costs less to brew large batches of beer than to brew small amounts. To do that requires a large investment in larger equipment, so it's a vicious circle. As Cohen points out, "It's harder to produce a consistent product when you are trying to recreate it one small batch at a time." Even so, Cerveceria Marinera seems to have done a fine job on creating consistent quality in their beers (try their honey ale if you can find it).
Mexican taxes are also a factor for beer sellers. Forty percent of the purchase price goes straight to the government, and the permits to produce and sell beer are very hard to get and expensive. Even with all of these obstacles, great beers are still in the making.
As Roberto Albarran from Border Psycho brewery in Tijuana says, "We started brewing for our love of beer and food." Border Psycho currently produces 50 BBL's (brewers barrels), which is equivalent to 1500 gallons of delicious craft brew on a small three-barrel system, which is no small feat.
Cerveceria Fauna from Mexicali is not yet on the market, but much like the other brewers, they are meticulous about their recipes and want to make sure they produce a consistent and exceptional product. They are focusing mostly on Belgian style brews - the expectation is that we can anticipate great things to come from this brewery.
Ensenada has an excellent Baja Beer Fest that occurs once a year usually in the month of March. This past year, more than 40 small breweries participated. The only sad note to this beer revelry is that none of these beers are currently available in the U.S., so I recommend you choose your beers wisely as you can only take home about three bottles per person across the border.
Where can you find these beers in their local habitat?
Here is where you might find some of northern Baja's favorite beers, in restaurants and pubs throughout the region. For more information on any of these, visit the Ensenada and Tijuana restaurants director.
Agua Mala: Ophelia's, Corazon de Tierra, Laja, Flor de Calabaza, Wendlandt, La Contra, Pelicanos Gastropub, Beerbox La Paz, Muelle Tres
Marinera: Laja, Beerbox La Paz, Distrito Bar, Pelicanos Gastropub, Flor de Calabaza, La Cava de Marcelo, Wendlant
Border Psycho: BeerBox TJ, la Tasca, Wendlandt, La Tasquiota, Distrito, Pelicanos Gastropub.
Fauna: currently at a Baja Beer Fest near you.
So, if you're looking for something familiar, go ahead and have a Corona. But if you want a little extra personality in your pint, try something different south of the border. Be one of the first to find out about Baja's new take on cerveza.
Many of the local brewers are happy to offer tours and personal tasting by appointment. Contact info for the breweries mentioned:
Cerveceria Agua Mala: Nathaniel@aguamala.com.mx
Cerveceria Marinera: Cerveceriamarinera@gmail.com
Cerveceria Border Psycho: Psychobrew@gmail.com
Cerveceria Fauna: Nahual@fororeptiles.org
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