Being as keyed-in to the brewing industry as I am, I’ve been aware of the fact that there is a burgeoning craft beer scene in Baja, California. Unfortunately, keeping as keyed-in on the brewing industry as I am takes lots of time, affording me little to spend getting outside San Diego County to investigate cultures beyond our geographic boundaries. So, when the opportunity to embark on an excursion to the three hottest craft brewing communities in Baja presented itself, I snatched it up. The following is the first in a six-part series about that adventure, which yielded some good beer and a good deal more.
Two years ago, I had my first on-site exposure to the lively brewing spirit and almost surprisingly impressive beers being produced in Baja. The scene of those early sips was Tasca de la Sexta, a bona fide craft beer bar (consider it the O’Brien’s Pub of TJ) on the avenue replacing Revolución as Tijuana’s “it” street for fun and abandon. The local brewery that left the best impression on me that evening was Cerveceria Insurgente, an operation by Baja natives looking to expand San Diego's craft brewing revolución southward. They are considered the most prominent artisanal TJ brewing company (though Tijuana Brewing Company is the largest, production-wise), and their product was available all over Baja, including one of my first stops, La Caza Club, a farm-to-table eatery focusing on all things indigenous, including craft beer.
It was there I learned that Omar Monroy, the architect and entrepreneur I was sharing conversation with over a dry, earthy, overtly citrus Insurgente Tiniebla witbier (and later an oatmeal imperial stout with chocolate milk-like character called L'Agrimas Negras from Cerveceria Ramuri), was behind Tasca de la Sexta. In La Caza Club, he’s developed something totally different, but every bit as impressive. The place is sleek yet inviting and reminiscent of numerous trendy San Diego spots in its open kitchen, vintage book- and taxidermy stag-adorned, reclaimed chicness (consider it the Craft & Commerce of TJ).
A salad of seasonal veg sang with natural sweetness, pork from Sonora was beautifully caramelized, and the first of many plates of octopus I’d consume on this trip was perfectly cooked. All tasted spectacular and conveyed the “Baja-Mex” ethos driving the kitchen. It’s phonetically close to “Baja-Med,” a style of cuisine fusing the ingredients of Baja with Mediterranean cooking styles and preparations. The latter was made famous thanks to well-known Baja chefs such as Miguel Angel Guerrero and Javier Plascencia (whose U.S. eateries include Bonita’s Romesco and Little Italy’s upcoming Bracero), but is viewed as a bit more highbrow. Monroy and his partner Gabriel Herrera say La Caza Club is meant to bring cutting-edge Baja cuisine to every class of diner. They say local, seasonal, and sustainable is “normal” in San Diego, and it’s for everybody, so they strive to provide the same.
Monroy has also installed a modern, cozy, outdoor patio-equipped coffee house atop La Caza’s dining room. And next door, he’s added a craft beer repository so rich with local brews and Southern California core and special release imports, I nearly felt as though I was back home. He likes the idea of a venue with taps installed at tables, but isn’t ready to move on it just yet, but across the street, he’s put in a whiskey and cigar bar. It has yet to take off, but is swank, cutting edge, and the sort of place I can easily envision being noted as an early center for innovation several years down the road.
Tijuana - Part II is the next stop on this tour of Baja’s craft brewing culture.