Jeff Smith 2:30 p.m., June 26
Small beer big in TJ
"Artisanal" beers explode in our sister city. Best place to find them? A tiny triangle
On Agua Caliente Boulevard, 9:00 p.m.
Rubbing my eyes.
Because in front of me, here beside where the old bullring used to be, is a tiny red and black triangle with a big sign.
I’m standing outside El Big (TJ’s famous Big Boy restaurant, where rancho owners, power politicians and – back in the day – bullfight fans too, have always come to chat and eat).
I look across the traffic river of Agua Caliente Boulevard. Artesanal beers? Gotta check this out.
Takes me a long time to make it to the other side (it’s always worth humping it to the nearest set of lights here). I take a few steps up Miguel Aleman, the side street that angles off Caliente, turn left into a door, and wow...
...this tiny triangular space with one wall packed floor to ceiling with bottles. Beer bottles. None that I recognize.
There are two coolers, and right beside them, a beautiful woman.
“Hola!" she says. Gabriela. "The left cooler has international artisan beers, the right one has Tijuana artisan beers,” she says. “We have about 20 artisanal breweries in Tijuana now.”
Labels you've never heard of...
Three men sit on stools against a small window counter, sipping from bottles. A fourth drinks from a glass mug. That about fills the place.
“It's ‘Bipolar,’” says the guy with the mug, when I ask. “The house beer. Made in Tijuana. Suitable name for a border beer, don’t you think? There are really excellent beers being brewed here now. It’s quite the revolución.
He can’t use his name because he works for the US Consulate here. But you can see he knows his cervezas. He paid about $5 for this. Most expensive is a New Zealand stout called Moa (after their giant extinct bird). That runs 160 pesos, about $14.
This place is “La Tasquita,” ("The Little Pub"). It's at Calle Miguel Aleman (which, if you pronounce it wrong, seems just the right name...) #2612, next to Agua Caliente Boulevard, Colonia América, Tijuana).
“This is a little spin-off from our main place on Calle Sexta, near Avenida Revolucion, La Tasca,” says Gabriela. “We champion artisanal beers. It can be hard here because the big breweries make it difficult for bars and cafes to stock any beers that aren't their brands.”
But these guys did a deal with Grupo Modelo, which is Mexico's biggest brewer. (It has brands like Corona and Pacifico. This year Anheuser-Busch InBev paid about $20 billion to completely own Grupo Modelo). The deal these guys did? If they agree to sell, say, Negra Modelo here, they can stock any small brewery beers they want.
“We provide an outlet for new brewers. It’s very exciting,” says Gabriela. “A new micro-brewer pops up every day. It’s really happening all along the border.”
And now, cheve! (It's slang for cerveza.)
All I've gotta do is choose...