The beer board at Cerveceria del Valle in Valle de Guadalupe
The following is the third in a six-part series about that adventure, which yielded some good beer and a good deal more. Tijuana - Part II is the previous stop on this tour of Baja’s craft brewing culture.
Agua Mala pilsner Sirena served up at Fuego, the fine dining restaurant at Hotel Boutique Valle de Guadalupe
Beautifully cooked octopus from Fuego at Hotel Boutique Valle de Guadalupe
After spending an entire day (and one hell of a night) soaking up Tijuana’s craft brewing culture, it was time to make a southerly progression to Valle de Guadalupe. Situated roughly 40 kilometers north of Ensenada, “The Valle” has been the subject of much attention from travel, food, and wine media over the past couple of years. Inventive, modern, and locavore restaurants like Laja and Finca Altozano have set the tone for an artisanal culture that is truly top tier. I’d experienced the thoughtfulness and precision behind the latter earlier this year. The hype is justified. And on this trip, I was treated to an amazing lunch at Fuego, an upscale rooftop restaurant overlooking the expansive green grounds of Hotel Boutique Valle de Guadalupe. The meal was fantastic and included such delicacies as Bluefin tuna belly, quail, more octopus, local wines, and even a pilsner from Ensenada’s Agua Mala Cerveceria called Sirena. Even so, that culinary tour de force was the day’s second-best experience.
The best was less expected and, given the circumstances leading up to it, seemed highly unlikely. I’ve always been a sensitive passenger on long car rides. (Read: I get very car sick very often.) The road from TJ to the Valle is scenic, giving way first to views of the Pacific Ocean and, later, a fertile valley, but it’s winding as all get out and traverses multiple altitudes. I didn’t make it very far before I found my head getting deliriously swimmy. Packed in a van with my travel companions, fighting for the meager bit of air blowing through the ceiling vent and downing as much bottled water as I could stomach, I was an utter mess. By the time our two-hour trek had concluded, I sprang from the vehicle and into the 100-plus-degree heat, where I found a fence to lean against as I wished my motion sickness away.
A tree grows in Valle de Guadalupe...amid numerous beer bottles
As I waited for my nausea to abate, my eyes settled on a young tree sprouting from the sandy earth. Around it, presumably as a defense mechanism (or maybe just as a unique form of planter border) was a ring of upturned 12-ounce beer bottles dug into the ground to form a shallow wall. Having plenty of time on my hands and zero desire to move, I examined the labels and was surprised to see the familiar sculpin and calico fish from Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits along with the likes of Chimay and other well-known brands. While the thought of a beer at that very moment wasn’t all that appetizing, this somehow comforted me.
Fifteen minutes later, feeling shaky but a big more sure-footed from a gastrointestinal standpoint, I accompanied my party into Cerveceria del Valle, a combination brewery (although, during the hot season, they brew elsewhere) and bar with a simple yet stylish covered porch outfitted with wooden communal tables, a bar, and a large chalkboard stocked with the names of roughly 20 beers. Again, there were beers I recognized, both from home — numerous Ballast Point offerings, including newer varieties such as Grapefruit Sculpin IPA — and from the previous day’s Baja beer explorations. But, for the most part, the monikers were new to me — Wendtlandt, Marinera, Picachos. The first two are based in Ensenada, the last in Mexicali.
From the moment the place opened, a steady flow of people began arriving to taste their way through the beer list. There were some very impressive selections, including Astillero, a sharply bitter IPA with big orange and peach character that won a silver medal at the 2013 World Beer Cup. That beer is also from Agua Mala and is a major talking point for the region. There were numerous other IPAs and pale ales available, along with a multitude of lighter, session beers. According to Cerveceria de Valle owner Cristian Bautista, there isn’t much demand for porters, stouts, and other dark beers in the Valle due to the consistently high temperatures.
Bautista would be the sole source for customer feedback on craft beer in Valle de Guadalupe. Before he established the region’s eponymous ale and lager business, there was no local spot devoted to showcasing craft beer in this manner or magnitude. So, he decided to create it himself.
Valley de Guadalupe - Part II is the next stop on this tour of Baja’s craft brewing culture.