Once upon a time in Mexico, beer options were limited to the big breweries: Modelo and Cuahtemoc. Despite slight variations in color, Mexican beers like Indio, Sol, Tecate, León, Victoria, and Corona taste pretty much the same. They're simple, drinkable beers that cost you about $1.50 and are available everywhere.
Then, a little over 15 years ago, pockets of home brewers started to pop up in Tijuana, Guadalajara, and Mexico City like patches of wildflowers. Fast forward to 2013; business is booming! That handful of home brewers, testing out their creations on unsuspecting friends at backyard barbeques, have turned their hobby into established breweries, producing toasty brown ales, hoppy IPAs, and creamy, complex stouts.
In 2007, brother and sister team Alejandra and Andrés Cruz wanted to take a gamble on beer. Urged on by their chemical engineering parents and bouyed by rave reviews from friends, they launched the Cervecería Pública Condesa and bottled their first brew, Poe – a nutty brown ale with hints of coffee, chocolate, and caramel – in 2009.
Their story is typical of the first generation of Mexican craft brewers. They were inspired by what they tried abroad and purchased their first kit from foreign brewers who passed on lots of tips and advice.
“Our brewery is called Cervecería Pública Condesa because we wanted to honor our neighborhood ... and because some of our favorite places while traveling were public libraries. You find lots of different kinds of people from all over, it's super democratic and we thought that eventually that's what we wanted – to create a different beer for every kind of personality,” Andrés said.
The democracy of beer came up in more than one conversation I had with beer makers.
Rodrigo Hernández of the Big Bad Brewing Company used to be in the wine business in Baja California. He describes a kind of elitism within the wine-drinking community and when he switched to beer making he appreciated the openness of the drinkers and brewers.
“We can all afford to buy a beer,” he said, “and we're all friends. We help each other out and are honest with our critiques.”
The Tres B, as his company is called in Spanish, is part of a close-knit group of craft beer breweries in Mexicali and across Baja California. They produce seven styles of beer including their most popular – Strong Ale and Hefeweizen – all of which they are working to distribute throughout the country.
Although Mexico City is their biggest market by volume, Hernández explained that regional beer culture in Baja is one of the strongest in the country.
Next, a look at the emerging beer market in Ensenada...