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Surreal suds at Mexico's epicenter

Craft beer fests explode in the warm desert nights of Mexicali

Newcomers Cervecería Macho brews a Vienna-style dark lager.
Newcomers Cervecería Macho brews a Vienna-style dark lager.

A couple of years ago, Mexicali’s craft beer culture consisted of loosely associated biannual affairs drawing on the region’s growing collective of home brewers.

Today, you can’t toss a handful of hops without hitting a beer fest or two, which have become so prevalent that satirical Mexicali website La Irónica recently posted a tongue-in-cheek news piece about a bar called Beerfest, which is only open on Saturday, charges 150 pesos (100 presale) for entry, and changes locations every week.

Another piece jokes that a local brewer was excommunicated from the craft beer community and stripped of his beard after being discovered drinking a Tecate Light in the parking lot of Baja Beer Fest.

With over 20 established microbreweries, another 30 or so homebrewers, and at least five dedicated artisanal beer bars, Mexicali is quickly establishing itself as the craft beer capital of Mexico.

Tijuana electro cumbia outfit Sonidero Travesura plays to a full festival grounds.

Last month was exemplary of the outright explosion of beer fest culture in Mexicali, when two fests ran simultaneously across town from each other and, astoundingly, both saw over a thousand in attendance.

While Celsius, organized by microbrewers TresB, packed Parque Vicente Guerrero with 20 brewers and live music, Mexicali Beer and Music Festival posted in Misión Dragón, a Chinese garden and event space.

My first stop at Misión Dragón is 2-14 Brewing Company, which moved to Mexicali from Baltimore last year. A 12 ounce cup of their experimental English pale ale, like most other beers at the fest, goes for 30 pesos (about $2). An herbal bite of rosemary dominates its profile, but it finishes creamy and refreshing.

Across the grounds, Once Perros serves their Golden Retriever Kölsch, the ultimate summer beer made divine by El Nino night heat and looming hints of Halloween. The brew is light yet flavorful, suggestive of late autumn leaves.

Both Mexicali beer fests on October 17 saw about 1000 in attendance.

Cervecería Urbana’s Crossover IPA, which took gold for best IPA in Mexico City’s craft beer competition, is still one of my favorite Mexicali offerings. It’s crisp, clean, and bursting with hops without blowing out the palate.

As the venue begins to fill and the music kicks off on stage, the unbelievable women of Mexicali mill about laughing and taking selfies as a thumbnail moon lounges between palm fronds.

A pizza oven fires up a bit after sunset, and a stray cat follows the scent trail, sauntering behind white popup tents. I follow his lead and have a slice of cheese ‘za to temper the beer, which is quickly smearing grins across the happy masses in the food court.

I return to one of my favored Mexicali brewers, Puerco Salvaje, and sip on an IPA, which sings of bitter hops before ending with a smooth, almost delicate coda. The pale ale is even more pacifying and I feel myself rapidly falling in love with Mexicali’s warm nights and people for the umpteenth time.

Cervecería Macho is so new that all they brew is their XXX dark lager, a style that commemorates the Vienna-style brew of Austrian monarch Maximilian I, who reigned over Mexico City briefly in the late 19th century. The taste is much like Indio minus the uninvited syrupy finish, and it’s a most welcome companion to the Muse cover band which now takes the stage. Everything feels surreal, which is not an unfamiliar sentiment to these otherworldly cachanilla midnights.

Mexicali’s exuberance for craft beer and festivals is unmatched anywhere in Mexico, if not beyond. Just a few hours drive east of San Diego, one would be remiss to procrastinate on what is undeniably the epicenter of Mexico’s craft beer movement.

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Newcomers Cervecería Macho brews a Vienna-style dark lager.
Newcomers Cervecería Macho brews a Vienna-style dark lager.

A couple of years ago, Mexicali’s craft beer culture consisted of loosely associated biannual affairs drawing on the region’s growing collective of home brewers.

Today, you can’t toss a handful of hops without hitting a beer fest or two, which have become so prevalent that satirical Mexicali website La Irónica recently posted a tongue-in-cheek news piece about a bar called Beerfest, which is only open on Saturday, charges 150 pesos (100 presale) for entry, and changes locations every week.

Another piece jokes that a local brewer was excommunicated from the craft beer community and stripped of his beard after being discovered drinking a Tecate Light in the parking lot of Baja Beer Fest.

With over 20 established microbreweries, another 30 or so homebrewers, and at least five dedicated artisanal beer bars, Mexicali is quickly establishing itself as the craft beer capital of Mexico.

Tijuana electro cumbia outfit Sonidero Travesura plays to a full festival grounds.

Last month was exemplary of the outright explosion of beer fest culture in Mexicali, when two fests ran simultaneously across town from each other and, astoundingly, both saw over a thousand in attendance.

While Celsius, organized by microbrewers TresB, packed Parque Vicente Guerrero with 20 brewers and live music, Mexicali Beer and Music Festival posted in Misión Dragón, a Chinese garden and event space.

My first stop at Misión Dragón is 2-14 Brewing Company, which moved to Mexicali from Baltimore last year. A 12 ounce cup of their experimental English pale ale, like most other beers at the fest, goes for 30 pesos (about $2). An herbal bite of rosemary dominates its profile, but it finishes creamy and refreshing.

Across the grounds, Once Perros serves their Golden Retriever Kölsch, the ultimate summer beer made divine by El Nino night heat and looming hints of Halloween. The brew is light yet flavorful, suggestive of late autumn leaves.

Both Mexicali beer fests on October 17 saw about 1000 in attendance.

Cervecería Urbana’s Crossover IPA, which took gold for best IPA in Mexico City’s craft beer competition, is still one of my favorite Mexicali offerings. It’s crisp, clean, and bursting with hops without blowing out the palate.

As the venue begins to fill and the music kicks off on stage, the unbelievable women of Mexicali mill about laughing and taking selfies as a thumbnail moon lounges between palm fronds.

A pizza oven fires up a bit after sunset, and a stray cat follows the scent trail, sauntering behind white popup tents. I follow his lead and have a slice of cheese ‘za to temper the beer, which is quickly smearing grins across the happy masses in the food court.

I return to one of my favored Mexicali brewers, Puerco Salvaje, and sip on an IPA, which sings of bitter hops before ending with a smooth, almost delicate coda. The pale ale is even more pacifying and I feel myself rapidly falling in love with Mexicali’s warm nights and people for the umpteenth time.

Cervecería Macho is so new that all they brew is their XXX dark lager, a style that commemorates the Vienna-style brew of Austrian monarch Maximilian I, who reigned over Mexico City briefly in the late 19th century. The taste is much like Indio minus the uninvited syrupy finish, and it’s a most welcome companion to the Muse cover band which now takes the stage. Everything feels surreal, which is not an unfamiliar sentiment to these otherworldly cachanilla midnights.

Mexicali’s exuberance for craft beer and festivals is unmatched anywhere in Mexico, if not beyond. Just a few hours drive east of San Diego, one would be remiss to procrastinate on what is undeniably the epicenter of Mexico’s craft beer movement.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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