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New breweries make Tijuana unrecognizable from 10 years ago

From dark corners and alleys to shipping containers, from Revolucion to Playas

Everything that Insurgente does is usually of superb quality, so everything is recommended.
Everything that Insurgente does is usually of superb quality, so everything is recommended.

Baja’s beer scene has grown exponentially since I first wrote about it for the Reader six years ago, and I’ve been obsessing over it ever since. Back in October of this year, at the most recent Copa Cerveza MX, Mexico’s most important beer competition under the Beer Judge Certification Program guidelines, Baja’s craft beers were awarded 36 medals. Bosiger Brewery and Kaminari Brewing tied for the best small brewery in Tijuana with three medals each, while Ensenada, led by Cerveza Cardera and Bruer Cervecería (both in the same location), hauled a total of 22 medals, 8 of them gold.

Six years ago, Plaza Fiesta was the mecca for Baja’s burgeoning craft beer scene. Over 20 taprooms from different breweries filled the plaza, and you were free to roam around clutching a cerveza artesanal (or two) while bouncing from spot to spot. But then bars with extremely loud music and cheap liquor invaded the plaza and turned it into a frat party scenario, a place people went to drink just to get wasted. One by one, the taprooms started closing and moving to other locations — primarily to downtown Tijuana. Now, this is how you do beer in Tijuana. Almost all breweries have their beers bottled, canned on the spot, or give you the option to fill growlers. These downtown locations are listed geographically from North to South. Most breweries charge from 60 to 100 pesos ($3-5) per pint.

Border Psycho Cantina

Border Psycho has been in the beer scene since 2012, brewing from a spot in Colonia Independencia. They used to have a taproom in Plaza Fiesta. Those days are gone, and the glass dildos that decorated the beer taps are now situated in what used to be “La Ballena” in downtown Tijuana. Your first stop on your Tijuana beer hopping experience, Border Psycho usually has a handful of guest beers as well as 10+ taps of their own beer, which is characterized by going heavy on the ABV (like their Brutal Imperial Psycho). Food offerings tend to change frequently; on my latest stop, I got a pizza topped with beef birria accompanied with a consomé and three 10 oz. beers for 260 pesos (around $14) on a Sunday special promotion.

Mamut Brewery

Mamut is the oldest brewery in downtown and it is located in one of the oldest buildings, the Foreign Club. Back in the 1930s, hotel lobbies were decorated with a chapel, which is now the hub that welcomes you to the brewery. Mamut’s beer quality has behaved like a rollercoaster, but for the past few years, they have been cruising in the right direction, delivering beers of all styles — including what became my favorite, a berry sour called “Meta Pink Skin” that makes my mouth pucker by just typing the name. They recently won a gold medal with their Bandido beer, an American porter. The food menu is extensive with some hits and more misses, but extremely cheap (go for the pizza). My only wish is that they could only fix their slow service.

Two pints of Hazy IPAs by Madueño Brewery (the hazy master).

Mamut “Classic” Pasaje Rodríguez

Mamut didn’t start in that big building, but on the second floor of a small art gallery in Pasaje Rodriguez. They soon moved to the Pasaje (and eventually to the aforementioned space). This space is tiny — just enough room for for five small tables, two kegs, and a fridge filled with freshly canned brews — but it’s where it all started. The food from upstairs is available in the alley. Chilling in the artsy hipster space of Pasaje Rodriguez feels like the most downtown Tijuana thing you can do (and the service is better).

República de Hops

To find this brewery, you have to go through a semi-hidden narrow corridor known as Pasaje México. The corridor expands to an underground two-floor space filled with curio shops, art galleries, cafes, a bakery, bookstores, and concepts that come and go. The space used to host a handful of tiny breweries, but now there’s only this one. The brewery’s original name was Corsario, but a different brewery (Lúdica) already had a beer with that name. Head brewer Isaias Medina had to scramble for a different moniker and landed on República de Hops, a Spanglish name for a Spanglish region (“hops” in Español is lúpulos). But don’t let the name fool you: Isaias brews all sorts of beer, and not only hoppy ones. I found all of them to be on point. The art style for his labels and the surrounding area were done by an artist known as “Moser” — drawings as great and creative as the beers.

Norte Brewing Co.

The views. The magnificent views. This was the spot that was on the cover in 2016; it was brand new then, and it has only gotten better since. When taking tourists to this hidden brewery, I often pretend as if I have made a mistake along the lines of, “I forgot something in my car, please accompany me to this parking lot.” Then they have their minds blown when I show them our destination: Norte is hidden inside the 5th floor (soon to include the 6th) of the “pyramid” parking lot, and it offers some of the best views of the city. What used to be a strip club has been transformed into a neat brewery with classic styles and a simple pub menu of wings, nachos, and burgers (check out the three-cheese burger). Get there at sunset for maximum enjoyment.

Chicken Sandwich by PeeWee’s inside of Madueño Brewery.

Cerveza Insurgente

Clausurado! The government shut down one of Tijuana’s most popular breweries a couple of years ago over some silly drama, and to this day, they are still closed. But fear not, Insurgente opened a taproom on 4th Street (Calle Cuarta) in what used to be the short-lived Cervecería Tijuana taproom. Fear yes, they are very popular; on the weekends and during events, expect delays to be seated and some kegs to be dry. The kitchen is handled by José Figueroa of La Carmelita with a project he calls El Casimiro. The menu includes fresh seafood (try the ceviche tatemado), chicken sandwiches, and more; it rotates regularly and guest chefs make appearances frequently. Everything that Insurgente does is usually of superb quality, so everything is recommended.

Mexica Cervecería Artesanal

Mexica Cervecería used to be Azteca Brewery, hidden in a corner of Pasaje Gómez. The original brewery was led by the late José López, and is now headed up by his successors, the sister team of Ximena and Karla López. They relocated to 4th Street, right below Insurgente’s taproom and rebranded to Mexica. Their new spot has exposed brick, tall ceilings, cute cacti, and Mexican-themed decorations. There’s an open alley with a few tables that could be expanded to a larger venue. The menu seems to change every time I visit, but it’s decent quality with creative ideas — like their porter beer popsicle.

Cervezartistas

Brewhouse

Genaro Valladolid, a city broker and promoter of Tijuana, started giving beer tours to his friends in 2015 through a WhatsApp group he called Cervezartistas. The group grew slowly to include more beer aficionados. In 2017, Genaro met brewer Rudy López, who inspired Genaro to start a brew project of his own with his friends. Spearheaded by Genaro and aided by the power of friendship and beers, Cervezartistas is now a collective of 15 partners, all chipping in to create beers under brewers Rudy López and Ricardo Rodríguez of Cervecería 5 & 10 (Cinco Y Diez). “Our motto,” says Genaro “is successful men united by the love of beer, the good life, and the common good.” A simple citra smash-style IPA is their only constant offering, while the rest rotate from being great hits or slight misses. Cervezartistas joined the gang of breweries in downtown opening in late 2019 with 16 taps; usually, four are from the house, while the rest showcase the best of the region, handpicked by Genaro.

Madueño Brewing Co.

Madueño was one of the last breweries to leave their cave-like spot in Plaza Fiesta; it later opened on the popular and renewed 6th Street (Calle Sexta). That spot was briefly a strip club in 2013, then turned into “Praga Cafe second edition,” then later, to “Mamut party edition,” and finally, to Madueño’s main drinking spot, featuring PeeWee’s Ribs and Wings. There is some nerdiness to Madueño; his brews’ names are usually a play on words with pop culture references. If you are a fan of the hazy trend of beers, then you’ll love Madueño. I gave him the nickname “the hazy lord master” for a reason. The other styles of beers are of great quality, though I find his darker beers overwhelmingly sweet. As for the PeeWee’s food, the cheese sticks breaded with Ruffles de queso and their boneless wings are what I would go for.

Cheeseburger, a pint, and sunset in Norte Brewing Co is a winning combination.

Kaminari Brewing

Kaminari is a concoction of family names — the wife and kids of owner and brewer Carlos “Charlie” Navarro — and is the latest to leave the Plaza. His spot was a hidden terrace with a carne asada grill overlooking the human zoo that the plaza became. When Insurgente left the plaza, Charlie took the spot, and began selling cheap shots to please the masses. But he has now joined the downtown gang of cerveceros on a tunnel-like spot right below his old neighbor Madueño (in a place he shares with Mestizo Bar). Kaminari hasn’t been in the new location for long, so there are plenty of adjustments to be made. But knowing him from his previous setup and many beer festivals, I know that Kaminari’s beers are on point. And he is one of the only brewers in Tijuana who constantly slings quality sours. Kaminari won two gold medals with Guayabo Tree, a Catharina Sour (Wild Ales), Malt Seltzer (Experimental Beers), and a bronze medal with Sour Gozala Mojito (Berliners). Charlie teaches workshops on how to make homebrew.

Silenus Cerveza Artesanal

Not much remains of what used to be the “legendary” bar Mous Tache. Just the bigote on the awning of the entrance. I saw countless bands from all over the world perform in the improvised venue on the back patio. Silenus Brewery, which used to have a taproom in Plaza Fiesta, took over, and gave it a fresh look. All the grime that the punks left behind has been replaced with a colorful patio decorated with pretty plants. What used to be $2 for spoiled Negra Modelo has been replaced with $4-5 pints of Silenus craft. What used to be a Chinese lady yelling “Chun Kun” to sell her egg rolls for $1 has been replaced with solid choices of Japanese-style sandos by Etéreo Panadería (grilled cheese, salami, and on my visit, steak).

Bajer Brewing

Speaking of removing punk grime, Mi Pueblito Bar is no more. That place was so dirty, it was common to see heroin needles near the garbage couches (your only choice of seating). It has been replaced by Bajer, a love story turned brewery. Fernando Saspe, a Tijuana local, and Pia Feddersen from Denmark met in Berlin, fell in love, and combined their passion for beer and travel to establish a brewery in downtown Tijuana. Bajer opened in 2019 with experimental beers and avant-garde art by Fernando’s mother. It was closed all of 2020, but opened late in 2021. During covid times, it was a common sight to see Fernando and Pía supporting local breweries as they talked about their upcoming plans, such as a speakeasy in the back, hidden behind a mirror. (“Bajer” is a slang term for beer in Danish, just like “cheve” is the slang term in Mexico.)

Medley of seafood plates by chef José Figueroa (of La Carmelita) and a pint of Insurgente on special Sundays.

Teorema Cervecería

From love, we move to divorce. The shared taproom between Teorema Cervecería and Lúdica Cervecería is now all Teorema. Lúdica has gone, seeking greener pastures over at Valle de Guadalupe, while serving at their brewery near El Mercado de Todos. Teorema holds their main spot in “Revu” as Tijuana’s tallest downtown building gets built next to them. Most of their beers are named something eloquent. It’s all about math, geometry, balance, and other dimensions for this brewery (Teorema translates to “theorem”). They are now serving cheesy melt sandwiches on toasted buttery bread with hints of oregano.

1993 Beer / Cervecería 1993

One of the newest breweries by one of the youngest brewers in town, Abraham “el Ham” Rodríguez. He previously brewed with Mamut, and I partially credit Ham for fixing their brews and setting a quality standard. Now he has co-founded (and is the head brewer for) a new brewery, with colorful cans and art by the tattoo artist known simply as “Shemo.” 1993 started serving their beers at “Omerta Cafe,” a classy coffee shop at the end of Revu in what feels like colonial Mexico instead of the dirty old Teejay. In the late summer of 2021, they opened their taproom, which functions as a restaurant and club (one with an undisclosed dress code — this writer was rejected for having a backpack, others have been rejected for wearing sandals or shorts).

Beer Boutique & Licores Cactus

Crossing the border back and want to take some beer with you? You are allowed only one liter of alcohol or one six-pack of beer, and these two spots are the best for taking some beer home. Beer Boutique (at the edge of downtown) is exactly what it sounds like, a place with a lot of beer to go that acts as a restaurant and a taproom. I enjoyed a large plate of shrimp and octopus aguachile there with a couple of flights of beers. Licores Cactus (on Calle Sexta) has the best variety and price of beers in the region. It wasn’t always that way; once, it was just like any other liquor shop in town. But craft beer’s popularity has transformed it into a must-stop for beer lovers, as their fridge is constantly updated to offer the latest of the region and more. (Note: imported beers are marked up a lot.)

A pint of Silenus Session IPA and steak sando by Etereo Panadería.

Etc.

It’s not only breweries that have been moving downtown. Upscale restaurants, third-wave coffee shops and roasters, boutique stores, trendy barbershops, and more have opened there, converting downtown Tijuana once again into something unrecognizable from the previous decade. Though, of course, dive bars, clubs, brothels, and street tacos remain as one of the main attractions of downtown. Here are a few alternative places that feature craft beer. Winchester: A British-inspired pub with Asian-inspired dishes featuring fish & chips, ramen, and more. It is hidden down some stairs in an alley known as Pasaje Gómez in what used to be “Cafe La Especial.” Verde y Crema: The original location was in Colonia Cacho, but Green and Cream has been downtown since 2019. The second floor acts as a quiet restaurant area, while the third floor boasts a large bar with great views of downtown and an ample selection of beers, wine, and mixology. Caesar’s: Everybody knows about the legendary place that invented the caesar salad (if you didn’t, now you do). Besides that, and their ample menu, Caesar’s has their amber ale, crafted by Cervecería Olvera. Zebra Pub: Situated on the corner of Sixth and Revolución, this place mostly sells liters of commercial beer for cheap. They have craft beers at a low price and bar food that I recommend only if you are drunk. Barrica 9: Colectivo 9 shut down during the pandemic. Restaurants that were there disappeared, but the bar remained the same. Beto the bartender is very knowledgeable about craft beer and will match your palate to whatever he has available. Octhanos: Surf and skate enthusiasts vibin’ for a good time enjoying local coffee and showcasing their favorite beers of the area is what this spot is all about. Estación Central: A marble entrance with gold finishings and everything fancy you can imagine is what Central provides. It’s a fine dining establishment at San Diego-like prices, but they have craft beers at the right Tijuana price.

Elsewhere

The rest of the city has breweries and taprooms opening everywhere — from just a few steps away from the border to areas of Tijuana into which most tourists will never step. The city grows endlessly, expanding not only in size but up to the sky, as more than 20 new buildings have been erected in the last couple of years. It seems craft beer is easy to find in every corner now. Even the supermarket chain, Calimax, now offers freshly canned local beers and a big walk-in beer fridge in two of their stores. Let’s explore, shall we?

Silenus, in what used to be Mous Tache Bar.

Bosiger Beer Brewery

The only one to stay behind in Plaza Fiesta after the exodus was Bosiger Beer Brewery. In contrast to most of the brewers in Baja, who are influenced mostly by San Diego beers, Demian Bosiger (owner and head brewer) is influenced by his dad, who is from Switzerland (and the owner of Sotano Suizo, a Swiss-inspired bar and oldest establishment in Plaza Fiesta). “I was in a supermarket in Playas when I yelled an audible ‘Woohoo!’” says Demian, recalling the moment he found he had won medals in the beer competition, including best small brewery in Mexico. Demian started homebrewing in Playas de Tijuana not far from the border wall, more than twenty years ago. While other brewers fled the Plaza, Demian moved his brewery right across from his father’s bar. Sticking to his European roots, Bosiger’s beers stick to traditional styles of clear lagers, porters, and stouts, perfecting a New Zealand lager gave Bosiger the gold medal. But Demian likes to dabble with experimental beers, such as a curry porter concoction and the silver award-winning Guayaba Catharina Sour.

Chabarri Cerveza Artesanal

When I was putting together my first Reader cover on beer, there were a group of kids brewing experiments in a dark basement in downtown Tijuana under the name Baja Brew Labs (where Republica de Hops is now). The team was led by brothers Adrian and Luis Echavarria; Chabarri is a way to say their last name. The young team included Eduardo Quezada, who is the assistant brewer for Bosiger. “We brew wherever they let us brew,” says Luis of Bosiger, which is where they brewed their latest batch. You can find their “Pax” series (American IPA, British stout, and a dry hoppy “Roman” lager) in different bars and beer shops while they jump from brewery to brewery doing collaborations and limited series. If all bodes well, I expect them to have a taproom of their own in the upcoming years.

Cervecería Lírica

The most popular and replicated food court in Tijuana, Telefónica Gastro Park, is home to Cervecería Lírica. The brewery sits in the middle of the dozens of restaurants that form the park. The visible beer fermenters have names of musicians like Bowie, Marley, and Madonna; you can watch the team of brewers at work. The names of the beers have musical connections. Domo Arigato Mr. Roboto is a crisp rice Japanese lager. Or try Rocket Man imperial porter. It is led by brewer Josue Davila Crespo, who used to be the brewer for Mamut in its very early stages. Josue jumped from brewery to multiple projects until finally settling in Teléfonica, where he has been brewing the best of his work.

Madero Tasting Room

This is not a place that brews its beers, but a small taproom in Colonia Madero (nicknamed Colonia “La Cacho”). The taproom carefully selects the best beers in Baja, as chosen by experimental homebrewer and beer enthusiast Alberto Tello. It’s a place where beer aficionados gather to talk about the latest releases. New releases, special collaborations, or rare beers from the region (and beyond) are usually available at Madero, either on tap, or in cans or bottles. The kitchen is handled by Porcino, and offers homemade sausages, birria and cochinita pibil tacos, chicharron en salsa, and more things pork. Think Bar Sin Nombre (in Chula Vista), but in uptown Tijuana in a neighborhood that keeps growing and reinventing itself every time I visit.

Demian Bosiger showing off his award-winning beers and trophy for Mexico’s best small brewery.

Public House

My first apartment in Tijuana in early 2012 was situated in “La Cacho.” My rent was $350 for a decent one-bedroom, and craft beer was nowhere to be found. That rent is now $750 for the same apartment. There wasn’t much back then besides a row of street taco shops known as “Las Ahumaderas,” made famous by a visit from Anthony Bourdain. But “La Cacho” has now evolved to become one of the trendiest neighborhoods in Tijuana, and now there’s a taproom and restaurant right in front of my old apartment in what used to be an abandoned house. Public House has 12 beers on tap with a rotating variety and features a pub menu with pretzels, hotdogs, burgers, sandwiches, and killer grilled potatoes.

Sci-Hop Brewing Co. / Abary Game Bar

Brothers Juan Carlos and Jorge Bucío and his partners were the ones who started the trend of opening taprooms in Plaza Fiesta back in 2016, in what used to be El Tigre Bar. Sci-Hop Brewing started in said Plaza, but when all breweries left, they moved their taproom to a different part of the city in a spot called 1994 Bar (an area known as La Recta). That bar recently got renamed once again to become Abary by Sci-Hop, a barcade packed with retro and modern videogames. Sci-Hop most recently opened the doors of the place where they brew their beer in Colonia La Juárez, next to the giant Mexican flag. Chelito the alien welcomes you to the new galaxy of beers featuring a neon green lager, a sweet blueberry blonde, and wild experimental beers that are out of this world.

Lúdica Cervecería

Established in 2014 under brewers Gustavo del Castillo and Ivan García, Lúdica won the best small brewery in Mexico back in 2019 (the same title that belongs to Bosiger in 2021). They closed their taproom in downtown Tijuana and opened the doors to their warehouse, where they brew in a residential neighborhood situated near ‘El Mercado de Todos’. This hard-to-find space leads to a warm open picnic patio; there, you can find their award-winning line of beers (Session IPA, single hop pale ale, Baja Lager, stouts, and more) as well as their rotating experimental beers. The food is managed by Tombo, featuring tacos, tostadas, and other Mexican goodies, plus brunch, while their coffee is done by Occvlt Café. Lúdica opened a taproom in the middle of Valle de Guadalupe surrounded by wineries. Their slogan reads: “Our beers have a slice of what life in Baja is all about: optimistic, free, and spontaneous.”

Shrimp aguachile tostada by Tombo Restaurante inside Lúdica Artesana.

BCB Baja Craft Beer

Compared to the rest of the city, not much has changed with BCB since they started in 2012. They still claim to offer 42 taps and over 300 beers, though you’ll find many missing. They recently added mixology to their menu, but it remains the same place, with exposed brick, barrel lampshades, and the a popular bathroom for selfies, thanks to its triple mirrors. It was one of the first bars in Tijuana to feature a plethora of craft beers, and it continues to be exactly that. There are plans for BCB to open a downtown location with over 100 taps.

Cervecería Rámuri

Founded by gastronomer Sergio Michel, Rámuri is one of the oldest breweries in Tijuana. Like many others, Rámuri had a taproom in Plaza Fiesta that is now gone. Their new tasting room is located near the end of the city, at the skirts of Cerro Colorado, in a spot they share with Three Brothers BBQ (a kitchen endeavor by chef Giovanni Brassea). The logo (a foot with wings) and name Rámuri come from Tarahumara natives from the state of Chihuahua: the Rarámuris (“rara” — foot, and “muri” — run). Their imperial cacao stout, Lagrimas Negras, was one of the first heavy beers introduced to the area, and remains a favorite amongst locals, while their lager, Diablo Blanco, became one of the first craft beers for commercial palates.

Cervecería Paso

If you thought some of the previous places were hard to find, Paso Cervecería (with Singolo Pizza) is inside a house hidden in one of Tijuana’s many valleys (Google Maps tends to be unreliable). Just a block after passing Hotel Flamingos, take a right and look for a door in between brick walls and a small sign for both the pizzeria and brewery. After climbing stairs surrounded by vegetation, you’ll find the place opens up to a beautiful patio with a big tree and picnic tables overlooking Fundadores Boulevard and the Tijuana hills. On my visit there, the beer didn’t leave a lasting impression, but the potential for growth and what might come in the future did.

Singolo Pizza and a pint of Paso Beer Co somewhere near Flamingo’s Motel.

Etc.

Just as downtown has more than just breweries dedicated to craft beer, so does the rest of Tijuana. There are so many places that keeping track is next to impossible. These are a few that I know of. Casa Prado: Similar to Public House, Casa Prado is a regular house converted to a craft beer bar with 15 taps. But instead of being located in Colonia Cacho, this house is by the Xolos soccer stadium. República Malta: This spot is a fifteen-minute walk, less than a mile away, from the pedestrian border. The place is a collective of breweries and restaurants (that come and go) in refurbished shipping containers with a stage in the middle for live music and other events. As you might at a carnival, you have to purchase tickets to buy beer or food. Nonis Bar: You rarely find me in Otay (east Tijuana), but if you do, you’ll spot me at Nonis Bar. It’s a loud bar with live music for university students, but they boast a great collection of craft beers (at student-affordable prices). Playami by Border Psycho: Playas de Tijuana is not known for its bar scene, but as a quiet place for families and (many) Americans who want to live near the beach. However, there is demand for day drinking craft beer, and that’s what Playami provides. Border Psycho teamed up with four other big breweries from Baja (Insurgente, Fauna, Agua Mala, and Wendlandt) and coffee shop Sur a Norte to provide a spot for thirsty Playas residents and visitors in refurbished shipping containers. Mamut Playas: Following the success of Playami, Mamut’s latest move is to Playas de Tijuana with a replica of their food menu and beers, in a spot that uses shipping containers. The demand for beer in Playas is there; as for Mamut’s survival, time will tell. Social Beer Party: While finalizing this text, I found out about the first beer by a new project headed by Ejival (music promoter) and Jonathan Sales Ramírez (photographer and brewer with Norte). According to those who know about this project, the free exchange of ideas to grow as homebrewers is a political act that corporate beer fears. A session IPA called “The Politics of Hops” in collaboration with Insurgente and Lúdica is served in taprooms around the city. The beer is a crushable light session IPA brewed with Azacca, Amarillo, and Centennial.

In conclusion: what’s next?

It’s true that there are politics to beer in Baja, as brewers, beertenders, and other staff jump from brewery to different projects and establishments. And the fate of the industry might depend on who the current governor of the state is. The main Insurgente plant got shut down by the former governor, Jaime Bonilla, reportedly because his brother lived nearby and he disliked the noise. The brewery survived, thanks in part to friendly breweries leasing their space and equipment to help out brewers in distress. But Insurgente’s main site was clausurado. Whenever new governors show up, breweries (and other businesses) run the risk of being shut down by new regulations or permits that the new office creates as it sees fit. Still, as Tijuana keeps growing at a rapid pace, so does the thirst for quality and innovative craft beers. As a result, here is no room for mistakes like there used to be, if a brewery serves anything subpar, it is quickly left behind.

And you don’t need to be the biggest Baja city to produce Mexico’s best beer. Located only an hour south of Tijuana and boasting only a quarter of the population, Ensenada’s beer wins more awards, and there are more breweries per capita. The beer and food scene there deserve to be acknowledged, admired, and written about. Keep your eye on the Reader for my next installment!

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“When the world is full of butterflies and sunshine again”

Ron Franklin, Joey Harris, Cindy Lee Berryhill, Manual Scan, Chill Boy
Everything that Insurgente does is usually of superb quality, so everything is recommended.
Everything that Insurgente does is usually of superb quality, so everything is recommended.

Baja’s beer scene has grown exponentially since I first wrote about it for the Reader six years ago, and I’ve been obsessing over it ever since. Back in October of this year, at the most recent Copa Cerveza MX, Mexico’s most important beer competition under the Beer Judge Certification Program guidelines, Baja’s craft beers were awarded 36 medals. Bosiger Brewery and Kaminari Brewing tied for the best small brewery in Tijuana with three medals each, while Ensenada, led by Cerveza Cardera and Bruer Cervecería (both in the same location), hauled a total of 22 medals, 8 of them gold.

Six years ago, Plaza Fiesta was the mecca for Baja’s burgeoning craft beer scene. Over 20 taprooms from different breweries filled the plaza, and you were free to roam around clutching a cerveza artesanal (or two) while bouncing from spot to spot. But then bars with extremely loud music and cheap liquor invaded the plaza and turned it into a frat party scenario, a place people went to drink just to get wasted. One by one, the taprooms started closing and moving to other locations — primarily to downtown Tijuana. Now, this is how you do beer in Tijuana. Almost all breweries have their beers bottled, canned on the spot, or give you the option to fill growlers. These downtown locations are listed geographically from North to South. Most breweries charge from 60 to 100 pesos ($3-5) per pint.

Border Psycho Cantina

Border Psycho has been in the beer scene since 2012, brewing from a spot in Colonia Independencia. They used to have a taproom in Plaza Fiesta. Those days are gone, and the glass dildos that decorated the beer taps are now situated in what used to be “La Ballena” in downtown Tijuana. Your first stop on your Tijuana beer hopping experience, Border Psycho usually has a handful of guest beers as well as 10+ taps of their own beer, which is characterized by going heavy on the ABV (like their Brutal Imperial Psycho). Food offerings tend to change frequently; on my latest stop, I got a pizza topped with beef birria accompanied with a consomé and three 10 oz. beers for 260 pesos (around $14) on a Sunday special promotion.

Mamut Brewery

Mamut is the oldest brewery in downtown and it is located in one of the oldest buildings, the Foreign Club. Back in the 1930s, hotel lobbies were decorated with a chapel, which is now the hub that welcomes you to the brewery. Mamut’s beer quality has behaved like a rollercoaster, but for the past few years, they have been cruising in the right direction, delivering beers of all styles — including what became my favorite, a berry sour called “Meta Pink Skin” that makes my mouth pucker by just typing the name. They recently won a gold medal with their Bandido beer, an American porter. The food menu is extensive with some hits and more misses, but extremely cheap (go for the pizza). My only wish is that they could only fix their slow service.

Two pints of Hazy IPAs by Madueño Brewery (the hazy master).

Mamut “Classic” Pasaje Rodríguez

Mamut didn’t start in that big building, but on the second floor of a small art gallery in Pasaje Rodriguez. They soon moved to the Pasaje (and eventually to the aforementioned space). This space is tiny — just enough room for for five small tables, two kegs, and a fridge filled with freshly canned brews — but it’s where it all started. The food from upstairs is available in the alley. Chilling in the artsy hipster space of Pasaje Rodriguez feels like the most downtown Tijuana thing you can do (and the service is better).

República de Hops

To find this brewery, you have to go through a semi-hidden narrow corridor known as Pasaje México. The corridor expands to an underground two-floor space filled with curio shops, art galleries, cafes, a bakery, bookstores, and concepts that come and go. The space used to host a handful of tiny breweries, but now there’s only this one. The brewery’s original name was Corsario, but a different brewery (Lúdica) already had a beer with that name. Head brewer Isaias Medina had to scramble for a different moniker and landed on República de Hops, a Spanglish name for a Spanglish region (“hops” in Español is lúpulos). But don’t let the name fool you: Isaias brews all sorts of beer, and not only hoppy ones. I found all of them to be on point. The art style for his labels and the surrounding area were done by an artist known as “Moser” — drawings as great and creative as the beers.

Norte Brewing Co.

The views. The magnificent views. This was the spot that was on the cover in 2016; it was brand new then, and it has only gotten better since. When taking tourists to this hidden brewery, I often pretend as if I have made a mistake along the lines of, “I forgot something in my car, please accompany me to this parking lot.” Then they have their minds blown when I show them our destination: Norte is hidden inside the 5th floor (soon to include the 6th) of the “pyramid” parking lot, and it offers some of the best views of the city. What used to be a strip club has been transformed into a neat brewery with classic styles and a simple pub menu of wings, nachos, and burgers (check out the three-cheese burger). Get there at sunset for maximum enjoyment.

Chicken Sandwich by PeeWee’s inside of Madueño Brewery.

Cerveza Insurgente

Clausurado! The government shut down one of Tijuana’s most popular breweries a couple of years ago over some silly drama, and to this day, they are still closed. But fear not, Insurgente opened a taproom on 4th Street (Calle Cuarta) in what used to be the short-lived Cervecería Tijuana taproom. Fear yes, they are very popular; on the weekends and during events, expect delays to be seated and some kegs to be dry. The kitchen is handled by José Figueroa of La Carmelita with a project he calls El Casimiro. The menu includes fresh seafood (try the ceviche tatemado), chicken sandwiches, and more; it rotates regularly and guest chefs make appearances frequently. Everything that Insurgente does is usually of superb quality, so everything is recommended.

Mexica Cervecería Artesanal

Mexica Cervecería used to be Azteca Brewery, hidden in a corner of Pasaje Gómez. The original brewery was led by the late José López, and is now headed up by his successors, the sister team of Ximena and Karla López. They relocated to 4th Street, right below Insurgente’s taproom and rebranded to Mexica. Their new spot has exposed brick, tall ceilings, cute cacti, and Mexican-themed decorations. There’s an open alley with a few tables that could be expanded to a larger venue. The menu seems to change every time I visit, but it’s decent quality with creative ideas — like their porter beer popsicle.

Cervezartistas

Brewhouse

Genaro Valladolid, a city broker and promoter of Tijuana, started giving beer tours to his friends in 2015 through a WhatsApp group he called Cervezartistas. The group grew slowly to include more beer aficionados. In 2017, Genaro met brewer Rudy López, who inspired Genaro to start a brew project of his own with his friends. Spearheaded by Genaro and aided by the power of friendship and beers, Cervezartistas is now a collective of 15 partners, all chipping in to create beers under brewers Rudy López and Ricardo Rodríguez of Cervecería 5 & 10 (Cinco Y Diez). “Our motto,” says Genaro “is successful men united by the love of beer, the good life, and the common good.” A simple citra smash-style IPA is their only constant offering, while the rest rotate from being great hits or slight misses. Cervezartistas joined the gang of breweries in downtown opening in late 2019 with 16 taps; usually, four are from the house, while the rest showcase the best of the region, handpicked by Genaro.

Madueño Brewing Co.

Madueño was one of the last breweries to leave their cave-like spot in Plaza Fiesta; it later opened on the popular and renewed 6th Street (Calle Sexta). That spot was briefly a strip club in 2013, then turned into “Praga Cafe second edition,” then later, to “Mamut party edition,” and finally, to Madueño’s main drinking spot, featuring PeeWee’s Ribs and Wings. There is some nerdiness to Madueño; his brews’ names are usually a play on words with pop culture references. If you are a fan of the hazy trend of beers, then you’ll love Madueño. I gave him the nickname “the hazy lord master” for a reason. The other styles of beers are of great quality, though I find his darker beers overwhelmingly sweet. As for the PeeWee’s food, the cheese sticks breaded with Ruffles de queso and their boneless wings are what I would go for.

Cheeseburger, a pint, and sunset in Norte Brewing Co is a winning combination.

Kaminari Brewing

Kaminari is a concoction of family names — the wife and kids of owner and brewer Carlos “Charlie” Navarro — and is the latest to leave the Plaza. His spot was a hidden terrace with a carne asada grill overlooking the human zoo that the plaza became. When Insurgente left the plaza, Charlie took the spot, and began selling cheap shots to please the masses. But he has now joined the downtown gang of cerveceros on a tunnel-like spot right below his old neighbor Madueño (in a place he shares with Mestizo Bar). Kaminari hasn’t been in the new location for long, so there are plenty of adjustments to be made. But knowing him from his previous setup and many beer festivals, I know that Kaminari’s beers are on point. And he is one of the only brewers in Tijuana who constantly slings quality sours. Kaminari won two gold medals with Guayabo Tree, a Catharina Sour (Wild Ales), Malt Seltzer (Experimental Beers), and a bronze medal with Sour Gozala Mojito (Berliners). Charlie teaches workshops on how to make homebrew.

Silenus Cerveza Artesanal

Not much remains of what used to be the “legendary” bar Mous Tache. Just the bigote on the awning of the entrance. I saw countless bands from all over the world perform in the improvised venue on the back patio. Silenus Brewery, which used to have a taproom in Plaza Fiesta, took over, and gave it a fresh look. All the grime that the punks left behind has been replaced with a colorful patio decorated with pretty plants. What used to be $2 for spoiled Negra Modelo has been replaced with $4-5 pints of Silenus craft. What used to be a Chinese lady yelling “Chun Kun” to sell her egg rolls for $1 has been replaced with solid choices of Japanese-style sandos by Etéreo Panadería (grilled cheese, salami, and on my visit, steak).

Bajer Brewing

Speaking of removing punk grime, Mi Pueblito Bar is no more. That place was so dirty, it was common to see heroin needles near the garbage couches (your only choice of seating). It has been replaced by Bajer, a love story turned brewery. Fernando Saspe, a Tijuana local, and Pia Feddersen from Denmark met in Berlin, fell in love, and combined their passion for beer and travel to establish a brewery in downtown Tijuana. Bajer opened in 2019 with experimental beers and avant-garde art by Fernando’s mother. It was closed all of 2020, but opened late in 2021. During covid times, it was a common sight to see Fernando and Pía supporting local breweries as they talked about their upcoming plans, such as a speakeasy in the back, hidden behind a mirror. (“Bajer” is a slang term for beer in Danish, just like “cheve” is the slang term in Mexico.)

Medley of seafood plates by chef José Figueroa (of La Carmelita) and a pint of Insurgente on special Sundays.

Teorema Cervecería

From love, we move to divorce. The shared taproom between Teorema Cervecería and Lúdica Cervecería is now all Teorema. Lúdica has gone, seeking greener pastures over at Valle de Guadalupe, while serving at their brewery near El Mercado de Todos. Teorema holds their main spot in “Revu” as Tijuana’s tallest downtown building gets built next to them. Most of their beers are named something eloquent. It’s all about math, geometry, balance, and other dimensions for this brewery (Teorema translates to “theorem”). They are now serving cheesy melt sandwiches on toasted buttery bread with hints of oregano.

1993 Beer / Cervecería 1993

One of the newest breweries by one of the youngest brewers in town, Abraham “el Ham” Rodríguez. He previously brewed with Mamut, and I partially credit Ham for fixing their brews and setting a quality standard. Now he has co-founded (and is the head brewer for) a new brewery, with colorful cans and art by the tattoo artist known simply as “Shemo.” 1993 started serving their beers at “Omerta Cafe,” a classy coffee shop at the end of Revu in what feels like colonial Mexico instead of the dirty old Teejay. In the late summer of 2021, they opened their taproom, which functions as a restaurant and club (one with an undisclosed dress code — this writer was rejected for having a backpack, others have been rejected for wearing sandals or shorts).

Beer Boutique & Licores Cactus

Crossing the border back and want to take some beer with you? You are allowed only one liter of alcohol or one six-pack of beer, and these two spots are the best for taking some beer home. Beer Boutique (at the edge of downtown) is exactly what it sounds like, a place with a lot of beer to go that acts as a restaurant and a taproom. I enjoyed a large plate of shrimp and octopus aguachile there with a couple of flights of beers. Licores Cactus (on Calle Sexta) has the best variety and price of beers in the region. It wasn’t always that way; once, it was just like any other liquor shop in town. But craft beer’s popularity has transformed it into a must-stop for beer lovers, as their fridge is constantly updated to offer the latest of the region and more. (Note: imported beers are marked up a lot.)

A pint of Silenus Session IPA and steak sando by Etereo Panadería.

Etc.

It’s not only breweries that have been moving downtown. Upscale restaurants, third-wave coffee shops and roasters, boutique stores, trendy barbershops, and more have opened there, converting downtown Tijuana once again into something unrecognizable from the previous decade. Though, of course, dive bars, clubs, brothels, and street tacos remain as one of the main attractions of downtown. Here are a few alternative places that feature craft beer. Winchester: A British-inspired pub with Asian-inspired dishes featuring fish & chips, ramen, and more. It is hidden down some stairs in an alley known as Pasaje Gómez in what used to be “Cafe La Especial.” Verde y Crema: The original location was in Colonia Cacho, but Green and Cream has been downtown since 2019. The second floor acts as a quiet restaurant area, while the third floor boasts a large bar with great views of downtown and an ample selection of beers, wine, and mixology. Caesar’s: Everybody knows about the legendary place that invented the caesar salad (if you didn’t, now you do). Besides that, and their ample menu, Caesar’s has their amber ale, crafted by Cervecería Olvera. Zebra Pub: Situated on the corner of Sixth and Revolución, this place mostly sells liters of commercial beer for cheap. They have craft beers at a low price and bar food that I recommend only if you are drunk. Barrica 9: Colectivo 9 shut down during the pandemic. Restaurants that were there disappeared, but the bar remained the same. Beto the bartender is very knowledgeable about craft beer and will match your palate to whatever he has available. Octhanos: Surf and skate enthusiasts vibin’ for a good time enjoying local coffee and showcasing their favorite beers of the area is what this spot is all about. Estación Central: A marble entrance with gold finishings and everything fancy you can imagine is what Central provides. It’s a fine dining establishment at San Diego-like prices, but they have craft beers at the right Tijuana price.

Elsewhere

The rest of the city has breweries and taprooms opening everywhere — from just a few steps away from the border to areas of Tijuana into which most tourists will never step. The city grows endlessly, expanding not only in size but up to the sky, as more than 20 new buildings have been erected in the last couple of years. It seems craft beer is easy to find in every corner now. Even the supermarket chain, Calimax, now offers freshly canned local beers and a big walk-in beer fridge in two of their stores. Let’s explore, shall we?

Silenus, in what used to be Mous Tache Bar.

Bosiger Beer Brewery

The only one to stay behind in Plaza Fiesta after the exodus was Bosiger Beer Brewery. In contrast to most of the brewers in Baja, who are influenced mostly by San Diego beers, Demian Bosiger (owner and head brewer) is influenced by his dad, who is from Switzerland (and the owner of Sotano Suizo, a Swiss-inspired bar and oldest establishment in Plaza Fiesta). “I was in a supermarket in Playas when I yelled an audible ‘Woohoo!’” says Demian, recalling the moment he found he had won medals in the beer competition, including best small brewery in Mexico. Demian started homebrewing in Playas de Tijuana not far from the border wall, more than twenty years ago. While other brewers fled the Plaza, Demian moved his brewery right across from his father’s bar. Sticking to his European roots, Bosiger’s beers stick to traditional styles of clear lagers, porters, and stouts, perfecting a New Zealand lager gave Bosiger the gold medal. But Demian likes to dabble with experimental beers, such as a curry porter concoction and the silver award-winning Guayaba Catharina Sour.

Chabarri Cerveza Artesanal

When I was putting together my first Reader cover on beer, there were a group of kids brewing experiments in a dark basement in downtown Tijuana under the name Baja Brew Labs (where Republica de Hops is now). The team was led by brothers Adrian and Luis Echavarria; Chabarri is a way to say their last name. The young team included Eduardo Quezada, who is the assistant brewer for Bosiger. “We brew wherever they let us brew,” says Luis of Bosiger, which is where they brewed their latest batch. You can find their “Pax” series (American IPA, British stout, and a dry hoppy “Roman” lager) in different bars and beer shops while they jump from brewery to brewery doing collaborations and limited series. If all bodes well, I expect them to have a taproom of their own in the upcoming years.

Cervecería Lírica

The most popular and replicated food court in Tijuana, Telefónica Gastro Park, is home to Cervecería Lírica. The brewery sits in the middle of the dozens of restaurants that form the park. The visible beer fermenters have names of musicians like Bowie, Marley, and Madonna; you can watch the team of brewers at work. The names of the beers have musical connections. Domo Arigato Mr. Roboto is a crisp rice Japanese lager. Or try Rocket Man imperial porter. It is led by brewer Josue Davila Crespo, who used to be the brewer for Mamut in its very early stages. Josue jumped from brewery to multiple projects until finally settling in Teléfonica, where he has been brewing the best of his work.

Madero Tasting Room

This is not a place that brews its beers, but a small taproom in Colonia Madero (nicknamed Colonia “La Cacho”). The taproom carefully selects the best beers in Baja, as chosen by experimental homebrewer and beer enthusiast Alberto Tello. It’s a place where beer aficionados gather to talk about the latest releases. New releases, special collaborations, or rare beers from the region (and beyond) are usually available at Madero, either on tap, or in cans or bottles. The kitchen is handled by Porcino, and offers homemade sausages, birria and cochinita pibil tacos, chicharron en salsa, and more things pork. Think Bar Sin Nombre (in Chula Vista), but in uptown Tijuana in a neighborhood that keeps growing and reinventing itself every time I visit.

Demian Bosiger showing off his award-winning beers and trophy for Mexico’s best small brewery.

Public House

My first apartment in Tijuana in early 2012 was situated in “La Cacho.” My rent was $350 for a decent one-bedroom, and craft beer was nowhere to be found. That rent is now $750 for the same apartment. There wasn’t much back then besides a row of street taco shops known as “Las Ahumaderas,” made famous by a visit from Anthony Bourdain. But “La Cacho” has now evolved to become one of the trendiest neighborhoods in Tijuana, and now there’s a taproom and restaurant right in front of my old apartment in what used to be an abandoned house. Public House has 12 beers on tap with a rotating variety and features a pub menu with pretzels, hotdogs, burgers, sandwiches, and killer grilled potatoes.

Sci-Hop Brewing Co. / Abary Game Bar

Brothers Juan Carlos and Jorge Bucío and his partners were the ones who started the trend of opening taprooms in Plaza Fiesta back in 2016, in what used to be El Tigre Bar. Sci-Hop Brewing started in said Plaza, but when all breweries left, they moved their taproom to a different part of the city in a spot called 1994 Bar (an area known as La Recta). That bar recently got renamed once again to become Abary by Sci-Hop, a barcade packed with retro and modern videogames. Sci-Hop most recently opened the doors of the place where they brew their beer in Colonia La Juárez, next to the giant Mexican flag. Chelito the alien welcomes you to the new galaxy of beers featuring a neon green lager, a sweet blueberry blonde, and wild experimental beers that are out of this world.

Lúdica Cervecería

Established in 2014 under brewers Gustavo del Castillo and Ivan García, Lúdica won the best small brewery in Mexico back in 2019 (the same title that belongs to Bosiger in 2021). They closed their taproom in downtown Tijuana and opened the doors to their warehouse, where they brew in a residential neighborhood situated near ‘El Mercado de Todos’. This hard-to-find space leads to a warm open picnic patio; there, you can find their award-winning line of beers (Session IPA, single hop pale ale, Baja Lager, stouts, and more) as well as their rotating experimental beers. The food is managed by Tombo, featuring tacos, tostadas, and other Mexican goodies, plus brunch, while their coffee is done by Occvlt Café. Lúdica opened a taproom in the middle of Valle de Guadalupe surrounded by wineries. Their slogan reads: “Our beers have a slice of what life in Baja is all about: optimistic, free, and spontaneous.”

Shrimp aguachile tostada by Tombo Restaurante inside Lúdica Artesana.

BCB Baja Craft Beer

Compared to the rest of the city, not much has changed with BCB since they started in 2012. They still claim to offer 42 taps and over 300 beers, though you’ll find many missing. They recently added mixology to their menu, but it remains the same place, with exposed brick, barrel lampshades, and the a popular bathroom for selfies, thanks to its triple mirrors. It was one of the first bars in Tijuana to feature a plethora of craft beers, and it continues to be exactly that. There are plans for BCB to open a downtown location with over 100 taps.

Cervecería Rámuri

Founded by gastronomer Sergio Michel, Rámuri is one of the oldest breweries in Tijuana. Like many others, Rámuri had a taproom in Plaza Fiesta that is now gone. Their new tasting room is located near the end of the city, at the skirts of Cerro Colorado, in a spot they share with Three Brothers BBQ (a kitchen endeavor by chef Giovanni Brassea). The logo (a foot with wings) and name Rámuri come from Tarahumara natives from the state of Chihuahua: the Rarámuris (“rara” — foot, and “muri” — run). Their imperial cacao stout, Lagrimas Negras, was one of the first heavy beers introduced to the area, and remains a favorite amongst locals, while their lager, Diablo Blanco, became one of the first craft beers for commercial palates.

Cervecería Paso

If you thought some of the previous places were hard to find, Paso Cervecería (with Singolo Pizza) is inside a house hidden in one of Tijuana’s many valleys (Google Maps tends to be unreliable). Just a block after passing Hotel Flamingos, take a right and look for a door in between brick walls and a small sign for both the pizzeria and brewery. After climbing stairs surrounded by vegetation, you’ll find the place opens up to a beautiful patio with a big tree and picnic tables overlooking Fundadores Boulevard and the Tijuana hills. On my visit there, the beer didn’t leave a lasting impression, but the potential for growth and what might come in the future did.

Singolo Pizza and a pint of Paso Beer Co somewhere near Flamingo’s Motel.

Etc.

Just as downtown has more than just breweries dedicated to craft beer, so does the rest of Tijuana. There are so many places that keeping track is next to impossible. These are a few that I know of. Casa Prado: Similar to Public House, Casa Prado is a regular house converted to a craft beer bar with 15 taps. But instead of being located in Colonia Cacho, this house is by the Xolos soccer stadium. República Malta: This spot is a fifteen-minute walk, less than a mile away, from the pedestrian border. The place is a collective of breweries and restaurants (that come and go) in refurbished shipping containers with a stage in the middle for live music and other events. As you might at a carnival, you have to purchase tickets to buy beer or food. Nonis Bar: You rarely find me in Otay (east Tijuana), but if you do, you’ll spot me at Nonis Bar. It’s a loud bar with live music for university students, but they boast a great collection of craft beers (at student-affordable prices). Playami by Border Psycho: Playas de Tijuana is not known for its bar scene, but as a quiet place for families and (many) Americans who want to live near the beach. However, there is demand for day drinking craft beer, and that’s what Playami provides. Border Psycho teamed up with four other big breweries from Baja (Insurgente, Fauna, Agua Mala, and Wendlandt) and coffee shop Sur a Norte to provide a spot for thirsty Playas residents and visitors in refurbished shipping containers. Mamut Playas: Following the success of Playami, Mamut’s latest move is to Playas de Tijuana with a replica of their food menu and beers, in a spot that uses shipping containers. The demand for beer in Playas is there; as for Mamut’s survival, time will tell. Social Beer Party: While finalizing this text, I found out about the first beer by a new project headed by Ejival (music promoter) and Jonathan Sales Ramírez (photographer and brewer with Norte). According to those who know about this project, the free exchange of ideas to grow as homebrewers is a political act that corporate beer fears. A session IPA called “The Politics of Hops” in collaboration with Insurgente and Lúdica is served in taprooms around the city. The beer is a crushable light session IPA brewed with Azacca, Amarillo, and Centennial.

In conclusion: what’s next?

It’s true that there are politics to beer in Baja, as brewers, beertenders, and other staff jump from brewery to different projects and establishments. And the fate of the industry might depend on who the current governor of the state is. The main Insurgente plant got shut down by the former governor, Jaime Bonilla, reportedly because his brother lived nearby and he disliked the noise. The brewery survived, thanks in part to friendly breweries leasing their space and equipment to help out brewers in distress. But Insurgente’s main site was clausurado. Whenever new governors show up, breweries (and other businesses) run the risk of being shut down by new regulations or permits that the new office creates as it sees fit. Still, as Tijuana keeps growing at a rapid pace, so does the thirst for quality and innovative craft beers. As a result, here is no room for mistakes like there used to be, if a brewery serves anything subpar, it is quickly left behind.

And you don’t need to be the biggest Baja city to produce Mexico’s best beer. Located only an hour south of Tijuana and boasting only a quarter of the population, Ensenada’s beer wins more awards, and there are more breweries per capita. The beer and food scene there deserve to be acknowledged, admired, and written about. Keep your eye on the Reader for my next installment!

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Great writing here, Matthew! It really makes me wish I wasn't so far away. Gotta visit Tijuana again soon!

Jan. 3, 2022

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