By Greg Niemann
The most ubiquitous symbol in Baja California is undoubtedly that of Tecate Beer, the “cerveza” that is a source of pride to Bajacalifornios. The familiar red and gold symbol is seemingly everywhere, huge signs above every bar, restaurant, and market where the product is sold.
Card tables, umbrellas and white plastic chairs are emblazoned with the logo and provide an obtrusive backdrop for many functions, even weddings, graduations and quinceñeras (a girl’s 15th birthday coming-out celebration). The Tecate logo is almost always visible whenever you rent party equipment.
But most party attendees could care less, in fact many love it. They grew up with Baja California’s most popular product and consider Tecate to be Mexico’s best beer, if not the world’s best.
It started in 1944 when Alberto Aldrete took over an old brick building in the Baja border town of Tecate that had been producing vegetable oil. Aldrete was operating a small malt factory in town and had been brewing a beer as a sideline for over a year. He named his new brew after the town and it became the first maquiladora in Baja California.
In 1954 the Tecate Brewery was sold to Cervecería Cuauhtémoc Moctezuma, a major brewery based in Monterrey, Mexico. Founded in 1890, Cervecería Cuauhtémoc has been producing Bohemia and Carta Blanca beers.
In 2010 the entire Cuauhtémoc operation, including Tecate, was acquired by the estimable Dutch conglomerate Heineken International. The Cuauhtémoc brewery continues to produce Bohemia, Carta Blanca, Superior, Sol and Dos Equis in several different locations. Today Tecate, Tecate Light, Tecate Titanium, and Tecate Michelada Cocktail are produced in the Tecate Brewery. Tecate is sold in both distinctive red and blue aluminum cans and in twist-top bottles. Tecate Light came out in 1992, and in 2013 Tecate Titanium, which contains a greater amount of alcohol, was launched.
Tecate Light has just 110 calories, 3.9 percent ABV, and 7 IBU (compared to Tecate Original’s 141 calories, 4.5 percent ABV, and 13.5 IBU). The company states that the Michelada Cocktail is made with Tecate beer, tomato juice, salt, lime, and “a little extra spice.”
The Tecate beer that is exported is of a slightly lesser alcohol content, but that doesn’t make it any less popular north of the border. Tecate has the highest canned beverage sales of any import to the U.S. While available in the U.S. for years, in 2017 Heineken announced that Tecate would be exported worldwide.
Tecate’s international acceptance goes beyond North America. It has garnered prizes in competitions in Madrid, Rome and Paris. The mother brewery Cuauhetemoc is the only Mexican company to earn the distinguished ISO 9002 international designation based on the consistent high quality at its seven production plants.
For decades, Tecate beer was one of the major sponsors of the SCORE Tecate Baja 1,000 off-road race and the Rosarito-Ensenada 50-Mile Bike Ride, and many other promotions throughout Baja California. It’s also sold at Padre’s games in San Diego and has become a tradition at many other Southern California sporting events.
Tecate is “the official beer of boxing.” It has financially supported the sport since 2007, when it sponsored the Oscar De La Hoya-Floyd Mayweather fight. It also endorses individual fighters.
Marketing the Tecate Brand
For years, Tecate’s advertising was aimed at men. For example, note this ad: “Unmistakably bold, Tecate is the #1 preferred beer in Mexico and is now enjoyed in 16 markets across the globe. A true champion of men, Tecate encourages fans to always be bold. How bold? You take it from here.”
To help broaden the appeal, in 2017 Heineken USA promoted Esther Garcia Martín to Tecate Vice President of Marketing. Garcia said “Joining a brand that stands for masculinity both in Mexico and the U.S. — it was cool, it was a challenge.”
Originally at Heineken Spain, Garcia was later the Innovation team leader at Heineken USA where, among other projects she helped introduce the new Amstel XLight. She is known for partnering Heineken with the Champions League, a soccer league that counts more than 4.2 billion fans globally.
As Tecate VP, she touted the Tecate brand across genders and cultures, emphasizing its versatility at family meals and its low-calorie appeal. She solidified Tecate’s reign in the world of boxing, and increased market share in soccer. Garcia has a history of affinity for boxing and soccer, and that personal passion increased Tecate’s presence in major sporting events
Her involvement in boxing and soccer on both sides of the border made her, as AdWeek announced, “One of the most powerful women in sports.”
After over six years with Heineken/Tecate, Martin returned to Spain to oversee communications at L'Oréal, a European company specializing in beauty products around the world.
Visit the Brewery
In 1994, to celebrate its 50th anniversary, Tecate Brewery opened a small beer garden on the premises. I stopped for a visit back then and noted bright white chairs and tables with the familiar Tecate logo scattered about in a pleasant garden setting where a bartender poured samples.
In December 2018 the current Tecate Beer Garden (Jardin Cerveza) opened to the public. The new modern Beer Garden offered an inside bar area, ample seating, outdoor patio on main floor and upstairs balcony terrace with tables. There is a gift shop to purchase caps, shirts and anything else you might want with the Tecate logo.
The Brewery Tours
The brewery, only seven blocks from the International border crossing in Tecate, began offering guided tours in small groups. Most tours are on Saturdays but special groups can make arrangements for tours during the week.
The brewery tours feature 24 large 250,000-gallon tanks which produce 5 million gallons of beer each month. The product takes 25 days from start to final packaging. Once in the canning facility, 4,000 cans per minute can be processed. The cans themselves are manufactured by a subsidiary company, Ensenada’s Fabrica Famosa, and shipped 70 miles to Tecate. Every effort is made to recycle (cardboard boxes, etc.) or reuse (bottles are sterilized and reprocessed) materials generated by the company.
Note: The brewery suspended tours during the COVID pandemic, and as of June 2022 have not resumed tours. Please check before going.
From San Diego you can get to Tecate via public transportation and walk across. The bus from the El Cajon Trolley Station goes to the Tecate border eight times a day.
One used to be able to arrive by train. Unfortunately, due to a collapsed tunnel, the nostalgic 15-mile train ride from Campo, CA through hills and wooded valleys direct to Tecate has been suspended. According to the Pacific Southwest Railway Museum Association, there are no immediate plans to resume that service.
Brewery tour notwithstanding, Tecate, one of Mexico’s charming Pueblos Mágicos, is a great place to visit. At 1,770 feet elevation, Tecate is in a picturesque valley near the base of Mount Tecate (Mount Kuchumaa to the indigenous locals) which straddles the international border. You can hike to the summit up a nine-mile dirt road gaining 2,000 feet more elevation and a magnificent vista.
Tecate is also home to the world-class spa Rancho La Puerta, a relaxing retreat nestled among the oaks on the slopes of Mount Tecate. For a more in-depth knowledge of local history, a visit to the Museo Comunitario Kumiai in Tecate is worthwhile.
Many head to Tecate just for the food. The highly regarded (5 Star) Restaurante Amores offers contemporary dishes with a varied menu. And then there’s El Mejor Pan de Tecate, one of Baja’s better bakeries.
Or you can just join the locals relaxing in the inviting Parque Miguel Hidalgo, a tree-shrouded plaza in the heart of town.
The city of about 120,000 also hosts the annual Tecate-to-Ensenada bicycle ride, with thousands of cyclists from both sides of the border participating. The city also hosts a two-week celebration in July that features dance groups, crafts, food concessions, and exhibits (Los Encinos Park).
However, the name Tecate is most often identified worldwide with that ubiquitous Tecate beer, whose distinctive logo is a cultural icon.
Those cans often get a second life too. It seems that whenever you drive the Transpeninsular highway and come across a stalled truck, or an accident, or construction, that the shiny bright red and glimmering gold Tecate can is so often used as a highway flare.
(For a couple of great books set in Tecate I recommend any of Daniel Reveles’ books, including Tequila, Lemon and Salt, or Enchiladas, Rice, and Beans. While Reveles passed away in December 2019, his insightful glimpses of life in Tecate live on.)
Greg Niemann, a long-time Baja writer, is the author of Baja Fever, Baja Legends, Palm Springs Legends, Las Vegas Legends, and Big Brown: The Untold Story of UPS. Visit www.gregniemann.com.
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