Tijuana - Part I is the previous stop on this tour of Baja’s craft brewing culture.
The following is the second in a six-part series about that adventure, which yielded some good beer and a good deal more.
A place considered at the current forefront where beer is concerned is Baja Craft Beers. Known around TJ as BCB, it’s a large, damn-posh beer bar with a plethora of draft and bottle offerings from breweries in Mexico, the U.S., Belgium, and more. The night I was there, I was floored by the mostly Southern California beer list. It was better than most of the bars on our side of the border. There were tons of India pale ales, including more than one triple IPA, special edition brews, and some rare imperial stouts. Sourcing is sketchy, since few Baja business owners feel comfortable disclosing how they get so much good product, but whatever the means, the end is incredibly sweet.
Even sours are commonplace at BCB, along with some seriously decadent pub grub (burgers, thick-cut fries, pizzas, and a beefy sandwich that almost tempted me to pass up street tacos…relax, I said almost). But it’s not all about gut-bombs and imports (that said, an entire wall is outfitted in wooden crates emblazoned with logos from notable beer countries across the globe, and kegs from Karl Strauss Brewing Company and Sierra Nevada Brewing Company make for fun hanging light fixtures). Baja brews, including some mostly mild house-brewed beers, are on tap. I checked out an IPA from Mexicali’s Cerveza Fauna and an interesting Bourbon barrel-aged porter from Muñeca Prieta Cerveza Artesanal that was served on nitro. Neither set my taste buds aflame with desire, but their sheer existence shows just how inventive and ambitious Baja brewers are. If you are headed to TJ to check out the craft beer scene, this is a must-visit place.
The same goes for Border Psycho Brewery. Though it doesn’t yet have a tasting room, visitors should seek out their product, which was among the best beer I sampled during my three days in Baja. In fact, La Perversa, a double IPA rich with citrus fruit flavors from Simcoe, Columbus, and Centennial hops, was much harder-hitting compared to other Baja IPAs and my absolute favorite beer of the trip. Also impressive was Border Psycho’s roasty Porter, which was layered with flavors of cocoa, coffee, dark berries and even something akin to juniper; a cream ale infused with amaranth and orange peel; and Brutal, an imperial stout that’s the company’s top seller behind big anise and bitter chocolate flavors.
The three-year-old, fast-growing brewery is situated in a refashioned red house in a residential area. They currently brew on a 10-barrel system made up of a repurposed vegetable steamer and dairy equipment. While that may sound like small doin’s to San Diegans, Border Psycho is considered a large operation, just under TJBC and Insurgente. They are well known and hope to expand brewing capacity while getting a second-story tasting room built. Their beers are primarily sold individually in 12-ounce bottles. According to brewer Ramon Cruz Fonseca, bombers and growlers haven’t caught on and the beer-drinking public gets a bit nervous about committing to large quantities of craft beer, which is still very new and foreign to them.
Border Psycho uses water from a company in Tecate, but their yeast, like the organisms used by most Baja brewers, comes from San Diego’s own White Labs. That’s not the only local connection I learned of during my time in Baja. Ryan Brooks, the head brewer at Coronado Brewing Company, provides Border Psycho with the California ale yeast they use to ferment several of their beers. Brooks was also mentioned by numerous brewers in Mexicali who say he has provided them helpful advice and participated in several beer-related events. Then there’s La Belga Sicotica, a black saison, the name of which translates slangily to “psychotic dick.” That beer is a version of a Belgian farmhouse-style ale originally brewed with Larry Monasakanian who, at the time, worked at Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits’ Home Brew Mart. He’s since moved on to rep Firestone Walker Brewing Company, but this recipe lives on in onyx form as one of Border Psycho’s year-round offerings.
When talking about TJ’s artisanal renaissance, locals say the forward-thinking, regionally inspired, elevated edible and quaffable fare being fashioned by local talents really started coming into its own and becoming more prominent around 2008, about the time the dark days brought on by drug lords and similarly terrifying factions came to an end. Tijuana has come a long way since that black smear on its historic record, thanks in large part to patriotic artisans determined to create the very best they could as positives with which to collectively raise the quality, reputation, and consciousness about their homeland. This place is back in a big way, and getting better with each sustainable dish, craft ale, and lager.
Valley de Guadalupe - Part I is the next stop on this tour of Baja’s craft brewing culture.