Courtesy of Cevecería Insurgente
Teorema/Lúdica Co-Tasting Room
Just when you thought craft beer couldn’t get any cooler, Tijuana joined the game.
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Ever since the San Diego microbrew scene started to develop in the mid-1990s, aspiring brewers south of the border have been quietly drinking, watching, and learning. After years of study, Tijuana’s craft beer movement has finally taken off—and shows no signs of slowing down. The local brewers are forthright about the fact that they learned from the best in neighboring San Diego (dubbed the craft beer capital of America), but it was only a matter of time before the infamous border city developed its own unique style. The hops and malts for Tijuana brews may come from the States, but it’s the local ingredients that really make them sing. (Think honey mandarin ales, coffee-and-cacao stouts, and piloncillo coconut porter.) In fact, the scene itself is a heady reflection of Tijuana: full of interesting quirks and contrasts and heavily influenced by food.
One of the biggest differences between the two cities’ brew cultures is in the attitude. Ivan Morales, head brewer of the wildly popular Cervecería Insurgente says, “Brewing projects in San Diego usually start with a higher budget, but here we focus on smaller brewers. Our taprooms are more like bars and have become the place to go out in Tijuana.” In these more-intimate operations, the line between bartender and brewer gets blurred, and many tasting rooms end up looking more like laboratories. Barrels emitting billowing steam and the strong malty odor of beer “cooking” can be a bit intimidating at first, but top-notch, friendly service takes the edge off quickly.
“We are really trying to make tourists feel welcome,” says Giovanni Brassea, a chef and owner of the food truck HUMO, who regularly collaborates with craft breweries. “Before, Tijuana had a bad reputation. It was a party town, and in some ways it still is, but now it’s also a foodie town. The types of tourists coming through lately are noticeably different.” And Tijuana’s service industry is giving the tourists what they want.
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“Tijuana is full of people who have immigrated in search of new opportunities,” says co-owner and ex-engineer Ernesto Felix. “As a result, we have a lot of risk takers here, which makes the recipes we come up with unique.” The peanut butter cinnamon milk porter on Vibra’s menu attests to that.
A stroll around the plaza brings drinkers to the infamous Border Psycho, where the taps are modeled after dildos, the small-but-mighty Fauna, where plants pay homage to the name, and finally to the slick Insurgente where a handsome, hipster bartender serves up award-winning IPA and good conversation.
Sitting at the bar is Emiliano Hernandez, a 27-year-old Tijuana native enjoying a pint. “Because of the hot weather, Mexicans have traditionally drunk lagers, and added salt, lime, and tomato juice,” he says. “This idea of drinking beer just to drink beer is new, but it is catching on, and so are other trends.” Hernandez and his girlfriend, for example, recently started their own kombucha company, called Karla’s Kombucha. They were inspired to do so when the kombucha he brought back from San Diego did not suit his girlfriend Karla’s taste. “We make it sweeter than what you find in the States because you know, Mexicans love things sweet.” And this is exactly what Tijuana has been so successful at: learning from its neighbors north of the border and then tweaking to suit the Mexican palate. So far, it seems to be working out just fine.
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