The following is the fifth in a six-part series about that adventure, which yielded some good beer and a good deal more. Valle de Guadalupe - Part II is the previous stop on this tour of Baja’s craft brewing culture.
“Why didn’t they just build this place on the surface of the fucking sun?” This graceful line comes from the '90s rom-com Fools Rush In, wherein a supporting character references the ultra-hot desert Mecca that is Las Vegas. I think I finally have the answer to his question — because that fiery patch of real estate was already taken up by Mexicali! Before departing from Valle de Guadalupe, our driver, whose humor was as dry as the Baja desert, jestingly told us he was taking us to “Hell.” What he lacked in marketing-driven tact, he made up for in honesty. Mexicali is hot as hell, but so, too, is its fledgling craft brewing scene.
My tasting tour of Imperial County’s southerly neighbor began at 7 p.m. and roughly 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Fortunately, the majority of Mexicali’s indoor spaces are air-conditioned, as was the craft beer-centric BC Gastro Bar at Hotel Calafia, where I was hosted by Juan Gonzalez, someone who sees the worth of craft beer and distributes brews from San Diego businesses Coronado Brewing Company and Green Flash Brewing Company in Mexico. I’ll admit, it was nice to have a brief taste of home in the form of the World Beer Cup-winning Coronado Islander IPA, but his mission in hosting the tasting was to show off his local brethren. And he did a fine job.
First up, was a clean, toasty red ale called Carrito Rojo from Juguete Cerveza Artesanal, a fledgling operation helmed by a brewer producing 25 gallons at a time out of three styles from the friendly confines of his house. Domestic brewing on a professional scale sounds odd to Americans who are used to a regulated industry where brewing commercial beer at home is against the law, but in Mexicali, it’s the norm. So, too, are plastic kegs. Only two operations (Cerveza Urbana and Cerveceria Fauna) have enough money to get their hands on the steel variety. And in Mexicali, brewery owners simply hand the beer straight over to the accounts that want to carry it.
That night, I had the privilege of trying the first beer from a brand new home-based interest called Cerveceria Faisan. Helmed by Mexicali’s youngest pro brewer, Hector Padron Osuna, it’s literally a new kid on the block operation. His first draft had been on a little more than 24 hours, and the freshness showed. A textbook porter with good roast in the finish, it was my favorite beer at the tasting and one that’s stuck in my flavor memory since returning to the States. Also impressive was Fauna Lycan Lupus, an IPA that was probably the most widely available beer of my three-day stint in Baja, and a rye IPA from Amante Cerveza Artesanal. Gentle but fruity in its hop character, it could probably still benefit from an increased dose of rye. Then again, perhaps I’m just too accustomed to the incredibly spicy, bready rye beers that are the norm in San Diego.
In addition to pouring the aforementioned beers, Gonzalez rounded up a gaggle of local brewers so they could explain the brews, their businesses, and their brotherhood. The latter, like that Islander IPA, made me feel like I was home. When San Diego brewers are asked how their county became so highly regarded for its craft brewing prowess, they typically bring up the deep-seated camaraderie that has existed between the area’s brewing professionals almost since Day One. They talk about the rising tide and how it floats all ships. They talk about it so much that it comes across to us industry veterans like the overplayed lyrics to “My Heart Will Go On,” but they repeat it for a reason — it’s absolutely true. San Diego’s brewers owe much of their mutual and individual success to one another. Through all the highs and lows, most notably in the face of great success—something that generally erodes one’s will to cooperate, collaborate, donate, assist, and help out what are, essentially, one’s competitors—they’ve stuck together, and the region as a whole is all the better for it.
That would have been a lot to glean from a simple one-hour tasting in a loud, crowded bar, but fortunately, I was granted much closer access to Mexicali’s almost familial cadre of brewers when they extended an invitation to a special party happening just down the street. And that’s when things got really interesting!
Mexicali - Part II is the next stop on this tour of Baja’s craft brewing culture.