Baja Beer Makers Tap Into Burgeoning Craft Brew Movement
Mexico’s heritage of brewing great beer goes back centuries, with most of the influence coming from Germany, which accounts for the pleasingly high hop profile in many of its beers. But, up until now, almost all of the country’s brews have been mass produced by large corporate entities such as Tecate and Modelo.
Over the past few years, however, Ensenada’s Baja Beer Fest has become one of the most significant events in northern Mexico showcasing artisanal breweries. This year’s judging panel was comprised of both professional microbrewers from north of the border and by Mexican BJCP judges. The purpose of the international Beer Judge Certification Program is to promote beer literacy as well as the appreciation of ‘real beer’. The organization evaluates individual tasting skills by ranking and certifying BJCP applicants through a rigid examination and monitoring process.
Small microbrewery operations continue to expand in the region, with over 100 now located in and around Ensenada alone. And over 40 of them offered up their wares at this year’s brew fest, along with a wide variety of food vendors who represented some of the city’s most popular eateries.
Just prior to the event, Baja’s secretary of tourism, Juan Tintos, expressed how important he feels Baja’s fledgling beer industry is in helping to entice even more visitors south of the border, and offered his enthusiastic support to the various breweries, business and organizations promote this annual event and make it possible.
For a fixed price of about $25.00 (U.S.) this year’s attendees were able sample products from dozens of vendors, including established regional brands like Cucapa (Mexicali), Kudos (Tijuana) and Zombie (Ensenada). There were also a few of the operations, such as Wendland and Old Mission Brewery, who also run their own adjoining restaurant.
The largest of these is the Old Mission Brewery, which relocated from Punta Banda to 645 Avenida Castillo in Ensenada’s downtown business district a little over a year ago. It is owned by master brewer Paul Woronicz and his wife, Karla, who also run the onsite wood fire pizza restaurant.
The couple has spared no expense by importing the latest and most sophisticated brewery hardware all the way from Germany, as well as many of the specialized yeasts that are necessary to create the finest of hand-crafted beers this side of Bavaria. As a matter of fact, some critics opine that the superlative products made by this local biermeister may also be some of the finest on the entire Baja peninsula.
Nonetheless, the size of a brewery need not necessarily define the quality of its products. Some of the tastiest beers, ales and porters are often brewed by operations generating less than 50 gallons of product per year.
But for those who relish the rich flavors, colors and textures of finely crafted brews, there are very few opportunities available to taste as many variations on the theme in a single place as can be found at Ensenada’s annual Baja Beer Fest.
By Tom Gatch
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