Cucapá Beer: A decade of quality

Success in the national market

Cucapa Mexican Beer Mexicali

Last week, The Real Baja featured an article about craft beer in Baja California. Even though a big part of the recent craft beer boom is thanks to microbrewers (some of them even call themselves nanobrewers), there are some cases of success for established and consolidated companies in both the national and international market. This time, we talked to Carlos Martínez and Mario García, respectively the master brewer and CEO of Cucapá, the most important craft beer in Mexico and one of the pioneers of the movement.

What is the concept of Cucapá beer?

Carlos Martínez: The Cucapá concept is a 100-percent craft concept mixed with a bit of border humor which has gained us great recognition both in the national market as well as the export market.

I’ll tell you some of the history.  Back in 2002, Cervecería de Baja California, one of the first microbreweries in Mexico, opened its doors. A brew-pub — a bar that made its own beer — opened in Mexicali after three years of planning. The concept was simple:  a pleasant ambience with fresh, top quality beer. We now have a somewhat different pub where people can go taste our beers, attend launching parties and get to know the craft beer world.

During these past 10 years, we have been developing drinks that are different from those the consumer can normally get in the national market. In some cases, our clients have liked beer we have created for the season so much that we have had to release them as permanent brands.

Cucapa Mexican Beer Brewery Mexicali

What types of beer do you offer?

CM: Cucapá has ales crafted with the best quality products. We have different “styles” of  beers, classified as ‘permanent brands’, ‘seasonal beers’ and ‘special editions’. Each one of them has its own name.

The ‘permanent brands’ are available throughout the year and there are five different styles: Clásica (Blonde Ale), Obscura (Brown Ale), Honey (Amber Ale), Chupacabras (Pale Ale) and just recently we added Runaway (India Pale Ale), due to its success as a seasonal beer. The beers we call ‘seasonal’ are those that come out at different times of the year: Lowrider (Double Rye), Oveja Negra (Stout), La Migra (Imperial Stout) and our number one beer, Green Card (Barley Wine).

We consider as ‘special editions’ those beers we have elaborated for a unique occasion: La Migra Winter (Imperial Stout), Baja Buggy (Kolsh Style), Imperio (Red Ale), Bracero (Wit), Tequila (Barrel Aged Ale). Anyway, we have a wide variety of styles, as you can see.

What challenges does a local brewer face when trying to produce high quality beer?

CM: There are a few we can mention, one that for me is of great importance is the availability of raw materials; we mostly brew our beers with supplies from the US and Canada.  This factor can make the difference as a brewery known for its excellent quality.

Worthy of mention are issues like the IEPS (which is a special tax on production and services) — a tax of 26.5 percent over your sale (plus VAT); overall, 37.5 percent goes to the tax office’s vault. I think the challenge we face more often is the one regarding sole rights in our country, since 90 percent of the sale permits are granted to Mexico’s biggest companies.

Cucapa Mexican Beer Brewery Mexicali

What’s next for Cucapá beer?

CM: Big projects. Actually, I happily tell you that next year we’ll be changing the Cervecería de Baja California facilities, looking for a 100 percent increase in base capacity.

Ten years ago, we had the capacity of producing around 13 beer boxes by batch; this year we are producing 6,000 boxes a month.

We also have the commitment to our clients of delivering the best quality, working on the basic concepts, uniformity and flavor stability…

It’s very important to mention that we are reinforcing our sales team to get ourselves a place in supermarkets and convenience stores; we think that the market is opening little by little and the clients are every day more willing to taste beers that are different to the ones they are traditionally accustomed to.

Why, for what and for whom is Cucapá brewed?

Mario García: Like good beer lovers, we saw the need to offer craft and gourmet beer to a market that had been dominated for decades by macro commercial beers. The name of this beer would be Cucapá; that was ten years ago.

Cucapá was born with the intention of showing something different to what we were accustomed to. We wanted to show people that there’s a world of styles that are reflected in the color, aroma, body, flavor and other features that make up a craft beer.

This is very different in Mexico since in the beginning it was considered an “elite” beer; in the US is not necessarily about social status, but a lifestyle. Due to the strong relation between craft beers and pairings, some people can consider it like that. But these beers are made for anybody who can appreciate a good beer by itself or paired with food.

In your opinion, what caused the craft beer boom?

MG: I think the influence we have from the United States and Europe has had a lot to do with it, the fact that it is growing so much in these countries has turned it into something very visible in Mexico. Ensenada had the wine boom and Mexicali (if not the whole state) is having the beer boom.

I think that the gastronomic development has also been an important factor since that’s something that constantly asks you to try new ways of prepare food and this extends to the drinks that go with it; before, the pairings were made with wines, now Chefs are looking for craft beers to make this kind of arrangement which has surprised a lot of people outside of this industry, that they would consider a beer like a “gourmet” drink.

Today more and more people appreciate a good beer and they are more willing to pay for quality than for quantity.

What does somebody looking to start in the local craft beer market have to face?

MG: We have a lot of experience in this since we are pioneers in our city. Thanks to the breweries that started this movement, from a couple of years ago the road has been a bit more open for “home brewers”, people who are just beginning to make their own beer.

To people starting in this industry there are different permits they need to be able to send this kind of product.

Cucapa Mexican Beer Brewery Mexicali

Mario García, Cucapa’s CEO. Photography courtesy of Nelvin C. Cepeda/U-T

Does the government help them or doesn’t it?

MG: The state doesn’t really help but there is a lot they could do to help develop this industry. We all know that the main problems for the development are the monopolized permits and their high price.

There is legislation regarding the issue that could help the industry grow, like the effort they have made with wine.

Something that could be done is to eliminate the exclusivities big brewing companies have on public parks and a bunch of other activities. With these issues resolved, a great industry would start growing in our state like it has happened in the rest of the world.

What is next for Cucapá?

MG: A lot of growth. Without a doubt things have changed in these last years, it’s not the same as ten years ago, when we started. We are living a very important moment for this movement and we can proudly say that we have been the pioneers. We are a company oriented to our customers and we have the commitment of delivering the best quality in our beers; that is why we are the number one beer in the country.

As the demand has grown so has our staff, and every area is working with all this development to be better at what it does.

This year we are entering more markets and after a lot of effort we have entered the 7-Eleven chain stores in different places like Guadalajara, Baja California and soon we’ll be in Monterrey and the State of Mexico. We have plans of entering this kind of commercial chains more, something difficult for breweries like ours. We know the market is slowly opening up and consumers are more interested in trying new, different beers.

Original Text: César Faz, Binomio 1+4

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Five Great Things to Do in Mexicali

By Meghan Fitzpatrick

Photo of La Rumorosa by Angel Zaragosa

Unos suben, otros bajan

Mexicali is the capital of the state of Baja California and the northernmost city in Latin America.  Its proximity to the United States has made the city a tourist destination with Americans from Arizona, California and Nevada, and it also serves as a portal for visitors who are heading further south to San Felipe or even over to mainland, Mexico.   So what are the top things to do when you visit this bustling metropolis?

1) Mexicali is famous for its abundance of Chinese restaurants, which resulted from the migration of large numbers of Chinese workers to the area in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Mexicali’s Chinatown, or “La Chinesca,” is home to more than 100 Chinese eateries!  If you’re craving egg rolls or some orange chicken, then look no further.

2) Teatro del Estado is consistently ranked by both visitors and residents in Mexicali as one of the must-see things in Mexicali. The teatro, or theatre, has a 1,100 person capacity and hosts numerous productions, both theatrical and musical, throughout the year in Mexicali. The theatre also has a very popular café, Café Literario, that holds a regular film night, frequented by locals.

3) It is no secret that Mexicans love their beer(s), and that is especially true in Mexicali. The city is home to both Cerveza Cucapá, and to the famed Cerveceria Mexicali which was founded in Mexicali in the 1920’s by a German chemist who wanted to create a beer that would put the city in the international spotlight. Miguel Gonzalez and Heraclio Ochoa were the official founders of the brewery, which was the first-ever brewery in Baja, California. Today Cerveceria Mexicali is the proud producer of what is proudly called “Great Mexican beer.” Their motto?  “Complete Beers:  No Lime Required.”


4) Casa de la Cultura is a beautiful and historical landmark in the city of Mexicali. Formerly, this landmark was the Catedral de la Virgen de Guadalupe, a significant religious point of interest in Mexicali. Today the structure is simply referred to as Casa de la Cultura and is the host to regular art exhibitions in the city. This beautiful neoclassical structure is a must-see if you are visiting Mexicali.

Humberto Montemayor

Humberto Montemayor pitcher of Aguilas de Mexicali baseball team

5) Sports in Mexicali are very popular all year round. Mexicali boasts their own baseball team, “Aguilas Pacific Mexican League,” (aguila means eagle in English) and they have their own stadium with a 19,000 person capacity. The stadium hosted the Caribbean baseball series in 2009. Mexicali also has its own basketball team, The Soles de Mexicali. In the fall, head to Plaza de Toros Calafia (toro meaning bull) to see some traditional Mexican bull fighting. The nearby mountains, Cucapá and El Mayor, as well as the Mexicali Valley and Rio Hardy Valley all offer great hunting grounds for those so inclined. This area is especially noted for its dense population of pheasant – a favorite for hunters. Finally, if you are slightly more low-key and golfing is more suited to your taste, Mexicali is the home to the full 18-hole Club Campestre golf course.

So, now you’re in the know…why not go? For more information on activities in Mexicali, check out the Mexicali activities directory. is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula, supported by a full-service tour operator staffed by Baja locals (our “Baja Travel Savants”). We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurants, hotels and vacation rentals, as well as guides, maps and articles about events, sports and activities. We provide bilingual customer support, information and sales seven days a week, 365 days a year.

Chefs Set to Deliver a Range of Flavors in Mexicali this May

Baja visitors and residents are invited to a unique culinary and dining experience in Mexicali and Valle de Guadalupe this May, as three chefs together present dishes that will represent a range of flavors and influences.  Chefs Pablo Salas, Diego Hernandez, and Esteban Lluis will cater events on two dates: May 17 at Restaurante Mediterraneo in Mexicali at 7:00 pm, and May 19 at Corazon de Tierra in Valle de Guadalupe at 6:00pm.

Please refer to the event flyer for more information, or view the event on Facebook.





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Is Mexico Safe?

Keeping Travel Safety in Perspective: USA vs. Mexico

There’s been a lot of news coverage about violence in Mexico, very little of it bothering to note that Mexico is a huge country with thirty-some states and that a) almost all of that violence is narco-related and b) you can count the number of tourists affected on one hand.

Meanwhile, according to the FBI, “An estimated 15,241 persons were murdered nationwide in 2009″ in the United States of America.

Officially, 111 U.S. citizens were killed in Mexico last year, a third in just two cities. Almost all of them were involved in illicit vocations, usually the trafficking of guns, drugs, or people across the border. This is 111 out of close to 8 million visitors, with nearly 1 million of those being part- or full-time residents choosing Mexico over the U.S. or Canada.

You know who else had 111 murders in one year recently? Boston. And Las Vegas. And Orlando. Are any tourists scared of going to those places?

Meanwhile, almost 1,000 U.S. citizens died in Puerto Rico. Nobody running the news desks cares about Puerto Rico or has an incentive to make people scared of Puerto Ricans (by nature, they can’t be “illegal immigrants”), so this isn’t widely reported.

Then there’s the U.S. proper, which can’t get a State Department travel alert because it’s, well, not a foreign country. How’s your city doing in comparison to Mexico when it comes to the annual numbers?

Atlanta  - city, 80 murders. Atlanta MSA (metropolitan statistical area), 325 murders
Baltimore – 238 city, 298 MSA
Boston – 50 city, 111 MSA
Dallas/Ft. Worth – 210 city, 310 MSA
Detroit – 365 city, 447 MSA
Houston – 287 city, 462 MSA
Indianapolis – 100 city, 111 MSA
Jacksonville, FL – 99 city, 120 MSA
Kansas City – 100 city, 163 MSA
Las Vegas – 111 city, 133 MSA
Los Angeles – 312 city, 768 MSA
Miami  - 59 city, 377 Miami to Boca Raton corridor
New Orleans – 174 city, 252 MSA
New York City – 471 city, 778 MSA
Orlando – 28 city, 111 MSA
Philadelphia – 302 city, 436 MSA
Phoenix – 122 city, 302 MSA
San Francisco – 45 city, 292 MSA
St. Louis – 143 city, 210 MSA
Washington, DC – 143 city, 325 MSA

To put things in perspective, the murder rate in the Yucatan state of Mexico is 2 per 100,000. That’s about the same as Fond du Lac, Wisconsin or Evansville, Indiana. Mexico City’s is 8 per 100,000. Despite being one of the most populated cities on the planet, that’s on par with Albuquerque, NM. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never felt scared in Albuquerque…