It wasn’t so long ago that almost all of the beer sold in Baja California was mass produced by the likes of Tecate and Modelo. The south of the border beer scene has undergone a profound transformation in recent years, however, and there are now over 100 craft breweries located in major hubs around the peninsula.
One of the oldest of these may be found in Baja California Sur. Inspired by a passion for beer and love of Los Cabos, the original vision for Baja Brewing Company began shortly after the founder, Jordan Gardenhire, relocated from Colorado to Cabo San Lucas in 2006. Nearly a decade later, BBC has become one of Baja California’s premier breweries, and their three restaurants in the Los Cabos region offer first-class beers available in bottles or on tap, as well as gourmet dining options and consistently outstanding live music.
Despite Baja Brewing Company’s success, the preponderance of the peninsula’s microbreweries are located in Baja California Norte, and the majority may be found in the cities of Tijuana and Ensenada. Cerveza Tijuana has established a solid reputation over the years, and produces their beers under the old German brewer’s law known as Reinheitsgebot, which states that only barley, pure water, hops and yeast are allowed to be used in the making of beer. This is a time tested standard that consistently renders a product with handcrafted quality.
Situated within 100 yards of the Pacific Ocean on the rugged coast near Ensenada, Agua Mala is a small microbrewery that is rapidly gaining a strong following among Baja beer lovers. They now produce seven distinctly different brews to tantalize the taste buds, and have created a delightful witbier in partnership with Drew Deckman, one of the best chefs in Baja California.
Old Mission Brewery relocated from Punta Banda to 645 Avenida Castillo in Ensenada’s downtown business district, and is owned by master brewer Paul Woronicz and his wife, Karla. 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 artisanal beers this side of Bavaria. They also provide delicious wood-fired pies at the onsite pizza restaurant.
The size of a brewery need not necessarily define the quality of its products. Several of Baja’s tastiest ales, pilseners and porters are brewed by operations generating less than 50 gallons of product per year. A few of these fledgling operations — including Cucapá in Mexicali, Kudos in Tijuana, and Zombie Brew Labs in Ensenada — have become formidable players in this highly competitive market, and the latter even hosts those who would like to try their own hand at the brewer’s art.
A good example are the cervezas produced by Tres Brewjas, a trio of expat ladies living in the Ensenada area. The women teamed up a little over a year ago, and with the assistance of Zombie Brew Labs created their own signature beers. Tres Brewjas’ efforts received rave reviews at a recent Baja Beer Fest sponsored by ACABC, the Baja Association of Craft Breweries.
Of course, it would be challenging if not impossible to attempt to sample all of Baja’s best microbrews, but if you would like to give it a shot, take a few trips to the Baja Craft Beer Tasting Room in Tijuana. The brewery style restaurant is owned and operated by one of the city’s largest distributors of craft beer, and has 42 beers on tap and about 300 more in bottles. Their menu items are also quite popular, and include margherita pizzas, savory currywurst and fries, pork belly sandwiches, and fantastic rib-eye hamburgers.
After a representative sampling of the suds at BCB Tasting Room, we think you’ll agree that some of the tastiest and most innovative craft brewed cold ones can now be found in Baja California!
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Images courtesy of Baja Brewing Company, Cervecería Agua Mala, and Cerveza Cucapá.
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