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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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