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Tijuana’s Cerveceria Insurgente has its brewery back — for now

Baja’s esteemed craft brewer survived with help of a hush hush taproom, and beer friends

Insurgente's Zona Rio brewery and rooftop beer garden, closed two months by Tijuana's city government
Insurgente's Zona Rio brewery and rooftop beer garden, closed two months by Tijuana's city government

On Wednesday, December 18, Tijuana craft brewer Cerveceria Insurgente resumed making beer in its Zona Rio brewery for the first time since October 5, when municipal authorities abruptly closed the property, reportedly at the behest of Baja California’s new governor, whose brother lives nearby and has complained about the noise generated by its outdoor tasting room. Insurgente and its 30 employees were immediately forced to suspend operations at their three-story, urban brewery, and to abandon the beer still fermenting in its tanks.

The unmarked Insurgente taproom on Avenida Revolución

“The city government suspended our license to operate in an illegal way,” contends Insurgente co-founder Ivan Morales. Insurgente has spent more than two months fighting the closure, producing documents to prove the brewery has always been fully licensed and permitted by the city.

For the moment, it’s worked. “We won a suit against the city government late last week that has lifted the suspension they imposed on us,” reports Morales. However, with multiple government entities seemingly intent on finding a reason to keep the brewery closed, he remains wary.

The beer menu of this anonymous Zona Centro taproom reveals its Insurgente beers poured here.

Over the past nine years, Insurgente has established itself one of Mexico’s premier craft breweries. The beer produced in the Zona Rio brewery is shipped throughout Mexico, including Mexico City, as well as to Southern California, Denmark, and Switzerland.

Morales had been reluctant to speak to the press during the first several weeks during the shut-down, or even to promote a new Insurgente taproom that opened in Tijuana’s downtown, Zona Centro, on the corner of Avenida Revolución and Calle Cuarta. “We have all of the required permitting, but that hasn't seem to have stopped them so far against us.” The taproom has been operating for several weeks without any branding, other than a few coasters. The greatest indication it belonged to Insurgente being a beer menu featuring the familiar names of its signature beers, such as its Tiniebla witbier and La Lupulosa IPA.

Along with the taproom, Insurgente has managed to continue selling beers, participating in tap takeovers, wherein local bars on both sides of the border have served all Insurgente beers in a show of support (including a planned appearance at National City’s Machete Beer House scheduled for December 19).

“Fortunately, we have a community in Tijuana that has offered to help us as much as possible during this horrible experience,” says Morales, “That has definitely helped us in keeping afloat during this time.”

It’s managed to distribute mixed twelve-packs of its core beers to stores. Which begs the question: with their brewery closed, where were they making this beer? “ These are mostly composed of the beer we've been making around Baja,” Morales says. Fellow Baja beermakers, including Mamut Brewery Co. and Ludica Artesanal, have welcomed Insurgente brewers to produce its beers at their own facilities. “We have been making our core beers at other breweries over the last two months,” says Morales, adding that in the process they’ve made cobranded collaborations. “The collabs have been another way of making some seasonal beers while having a bit of fun with our brewing friends.”

For the moment, Insurgente and its brewery appear to be back in action. But Insurgente doesn’t appear confident the struggle is over. “Even though we can now operate,” Morales says, “we've had hostilities towards us in the form of additional visits from the city. We're expecting them to keep trying to find ways (legal or illegal) to keep us shut down.”

But with beer community on both sides of the border behind it, Insurgente pledges to keep pressing forward. “As long as it takes,” Morales says, “We're not going anywhere.”

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Insurgente's Zona Rio brewery and rooftop beer garden, closed two months by Tijuana's city government
Insurgente's Zona Rio brewery and rooftop beer garden, closed two months by Tijuana's city government

On Wednesday, December 18, Tijuana craft brewer Cerveceria Insurgente resumed making beer in its Zona Rio brewery for the first time since October 5, when municipal authorities abruptly closed the property, reportedly at the behest of Baja California’s new governor, whose brother lives nearby and has complained about the noise generated by its outdoor tasting room. Insurgente and its 30 employees were immediately forced to suspend operations at their three-story, urban brewery, and to abandon the beer still fermenting in its tanks.

The unmarked Insurgente taproom on Avenida Revolución

“The city government suspended our license to operate in an illegal way,” contends Insurgente co-founder Ivan Morales. Insurgente has spent more than two months fighting the closure, producing documents to prove the brewery has always been fully licensed and permitted by the city.

For the moment, it’s worked. “We won a suit against the city government late last week that has lifted the suspension they imposed on us,” reports Morales. However, with multiple government entities seemingly intent on finding a reason to keep the brewery closed, he remains wary.

The beer menu of this anonymous Zona Centro taproom reveals its Insurgente beers poured here.

Over the past nine years, Insurgente has established itself one of Mexico’s premier craft breweries. The beer produced in the Zona Rio brewery is shipped throughout Mexico, including Mexico City, as well as to Southern California, Denmark, and Switzerland.

Morales had been reluctant to speak to the press during the first several weeks during the shut-down, or even to promote a new Insurgente taproom that opened in Tijuana’s downtown, Zona Centro, on the corner of Avenida Revolución and Calle Cuarta. “We have all of the required permitting, but that hasn't seem to have stopped them so far against us.” The taproom has been operating for several weeks without any branding, other than a few coasters. The greatest indication it belonged to Insurgente being a beer menu featuring the familiar names of its signature beers, such as its Tiniebla witbier and La Lupulosa IPA.

Along with the taproom, Insurgente has managed to continue selling beers, participating in tap takeovers, wherein local bars on both sides of the border have served all Insurgente beers in a show of support (including a planned appearance at National City’s Machete Beer House scheduled for December 19).

“Fortunately, we have a community in Tijuana that has offered to help us as much as possible during this horrible experience,” says Morales, “That has definitely helped us in keeping afloat during this time.”

It’s managed to distribute mixed twelve-packs of its core beers to stores. Which begs the question: with their brewery closed, where were they making this beer? “ These are mostly composed of the beer we've been making around Baja,” Morales says. Fellow Baja beermakers, including Mamut Brewery Co. and Ludica Artesanal, have welcomed Insurgente brewers to produce its beers at their own facilities. “We have been making our core beers at other breweries over the last two months,” says Morales, adding that in the process they’ve made cobranded collaborations. “The collabs have been another way of making some seasonal beers while having a bit of fun with our brewing friends.”

For the moment, Insurgente and its brewery appear to be back in action. But Insurgente doesn’t appear confident the struggle is over. “Even though we can now operate,” Morales says, “we've had hostilities towards us in the form of additional visits from the city. We're expecting them to keep trying to find ways (legal or illegal) to keep us shut down.”

But with beer community on both sides of the border behind it, Insurgente pledges to keep pressing forward. “As long as it takes,” Morales says, “We're not going anywhere.”

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In a US city something like this would have been a major scandal. But in TJ and the rest of Mexico it is business as usual. These guys didn't pay off the right people or were insufficiently deferential to the new 'guv.

Dec. 19, 2019

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