“It started to rain!” commented Andrés “el Andy” Rodríguez, beertender and brewer at Madueño Brewing Co. I was perplexed. It didn’t rain in Tijuana or Playas the night before.
“Not real rain, it started to rain sweat! Nos bañaron de sudor,” Andrés pointed at the canvas on the vendor tent and flapped it to show how sweat was dripping on their bar.
More than 20,000 people attended the 8th Expo Cerveza Artesanal between Friday, June 1st and Saturday, June 2nd at the bullfighting ring just below the border wall in Imperial Beach. I was one of them.
I was the only one that boarded the free bus from downtown Tijuana to the beer festival at 4:00 pm. The bus went to pick-up more people in Plaza Río, doing two full loops of the area. Due to Tijuana weekend traffic, it took almost an hour to pick-up six more people. I didn’t make it to the festival until 6:00 pm.
Sigh... A taxi de ruta would have charged me less than a $1 and it would have taken me less than 20 minutes.
Workers were still fixing minor details at the entrance of the festival. I scurried to find the press pass I was promised though I messaged them last minute about my attendance. Tickets were going for 350 pesos at the gate (around $20). The festival had two very popular Mexican ska bands headlining each night, Panteon Rococo and La Maldita Vecindad.
Past the welcoming gate, the festival greeted me with a dozen or more food vendors, many of them grilling meat. Baja BBQ Pit grilled exotic meats like alligator, moose, ostrich, wild boar, and lion. Yes, you read that right. Lion.
Inside a massive circus tent, there were over 60 brewery vendors and a big stage. Most breweries were selling tasters of 3-4 oz for fifty cents or a buck while full pints were going for around three dollars. Indio, Heineken, and Tecate beers were also available for half the price. A couple dozen of porta-potties were allocated on the side.
As a follower of Baja’s beer movement, I noted familiar faces behind several booths. Luis Larios brewer of Cervecería Fauna in Mexicali served me the first beer, an American Pilsner that had a nice slightly sweet cereal flavor to it. El Andy of Madueño served me two versions of their Berliner Weisse, with and without berries. The pink version with berries named “Panty Dropper” had a sharper fruitier taste.
Agua Mala brought to the festival their usual line of beers and just one new one, a Tepache Sour, winning me over. Ivan Maldonado of Thr3e Punk Ales and Silenus recommended a Tripel beer by Cerveza Cardera from Ensenada. Not the usual type of beer I go for, but Maldonado’s suggestions are not to be ignored. The Tripel had banana and clove notes while keeping under control the alcohol and overly sweet taste that I dislike about the style.
Several more beers followed: Kaminari delivered puckery sour ale and a salty Gose, Ley Seca served me a hoppy double IPA properly named Hopperhead, and Baja Brew Pub gave me a hoppy pale ale named “May 16th” (which happens to be my birthday).
Around dusk, after waiting in a long messy line for Baja BBQ Pit, I asked for the lion meat burger. The lady receiving orders warned me that it was 400 pesos (around $24 USD). I opted for the moose burger instead at half that price. It was a simple burger that showcased the lean and gamey meat flavor.
At around 8 pm the festival started to get very crowded. I got my last beer at Norte Brewing Co and left the festival before Panteon Rococo took the stage, leaving a sea of people behind me. As I was leaving, thousands of people were walking in, drinking Tecate Lights and pachitas de tequila in the parking lot.
Saturday was a repeat of Friday, except the expo started to get very crowded in the early afternoon. I also heard more English and noticed more Americans on Saturday afternoon. I avoided the familiar breweries to try new beers. I wasn’t very impressed by any of them but Cerveceria Insania (Tijuana) with three great IPAs. Hairy Nose Brewery (Tijuana) also had a Brett IPA that was perfection and Puerco Salvaje (Mexicali) delivered a Cucumber Sour that was better than some that I’ve tried from north of the border.
Again, I left the beer expo before the masses arrived.
In the Facebook forum TJ Beer Friends, a group of brewers and drinkers, consumers complained about the large crowds that were there for the concert and not for the beer. Brewers, for the most part, seemed happy that they sold a lot of their beer.