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Tasting the beers and the food around the Ensenada Beer Fest

A comprehensive assessment proves impossible, but fun to pursue

Portrait of the influencer as a young man: Pablo Gastelum brings his acumen (and his audience) to Ensenada.
Portrait of the influencer as a young man: Pablo Gastelum brings his acumen (and his audience) to Ensenada.

Beer man and food guy explore Ensenada

Ten years ago, someone snagged me a ticket to the Ensenada Beer Fest, and I attended, boldly resolving to sample every brew being poured. It didn’t take long for me to realize the quixotic nature of my quest, yet I pressed on, eventually managing around 30 samples — roughly a quarter of my goal. But even a losing effort has its consolations, so when the Fest offered me couple of press passes for this year’s event, I contacted my friend Pablo Gastelum, who is making a name for himself as a brutally honest food critic on TikTok (pablo_rgg, 139K followers). “If you got tickets, I rented a house for 8 people, and I’m driving down,” he replied.

Pablo showed up at my place in Tijuana on Friday morning in his red Mustang. We picked up his childhood friend Bryan and made Ensenada in under an hour. The Airbnb was 10 minutes south of the city: a rickety, three-story, three-bedroom house with plenty of space for a party. After drinking a caguamón each (40 oz beer) in a nearby bar, we took an Uber to the Fest.

We got to the parking lot of the Riviera Cultural Center close to 4 pm. They were still announcing the winners of Copa Cervecera del Pacífico — over 260 breweries and over 1000 samples of beer had been judged before the festival, which boasted more than 120 breweries as well as over 30 food establishments, plus a plethora of bands and DJs on 5 different stages. Our first food stop was at Exxe, an Argentinean choripanes (hot dogs) joint. “It’s dry and shitty,” said Pablo as he threw it in the trash after one bite. Brutally honest! The first beer was better: Straight to Haze from Cardera Brewery — one of my favorites and winner of five medals this year alone. The beer server recognized Pablo from his TikTok and murmured, “A ti te conozco.” Pablo chugged his beer as Bryan recorded, as young influencers are wont to do. The head brewer at 93’ Beer, Abraham “el Ham” Rodríguez, was spray painting a black canvas, and when he recognized Pablo, he handed over the can like a proper fanboy. He then gave us two full pours of beer: their gold-awarded Cream Ale, and their Hazy IPA.

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We kept jumping from stand to stand, trying tasters and getting full free pours thanks to Pablo’s minor celebrity status. Colmena (one of the favorites), Laguna Mental, Santa Clara, Pocima, Teorema, Averno, Cuatro Palos, Edens Sins, Fauna, Cardera, and more. Before it was dark, I was already a dozen beers in and was ready to pass out, a la ten years ago. But once night fell, I saw a friend who grows magic mushrooms. I jokingly asked if he had some. He took out a gigantic Ziploc bag and gave me a handful. “Be careful, they are powerful,” his girlfriend warned me. In my drunken stupor, I thought WWHSTD? (What would Hunter S. Thompson Do?) I dropped a couple of mushrooms in an unknown hazy IPA and drank it in one gulp. The night turned as hazy as the beers.

We were back at the Airbnb by 9 pm after a stop at Oxxo for energy and sports drinks and two twelve-packs of Tecates. Then we Ubered to La Bête Noire, a pretentious bar in Bodegas de Santo Tómas. The night started to play like a Terry Gilliam movie in my mind. They handed me a beer that I recognized as Astillero IPA by Agua Mala, but it could have been another Tecate. We jumped barricades to walk through the destroyed streets of Ensenada and headed to La Camorra, a bar known for its alternative after-parties. On our way there, I noticed that the smoked fish shop Ahumadera del Pacífico had been demolished. I had always made a point of swinging by to get some smoked tuna snacks, and now it was gone. Ensenada is changing as rapidly as Tijuana. I almost cried. Pablo didn’t give a fuck.

Close to midnight, some cute DJ was playing house music at La Camorra as we settled in with a bucket of beers and a pepperoni pizza. Forty minutes later, the beer was gone but the pizza remained untouched. We took it to go. A few steps after leaving the bar, Pablo had a slice and said, “Está culerísima.” Declaring it garbage for the camera, he tossed it on the ground. Bryan picked it up, ate a slice, and gave it to a homeless guy nearby. We walked through the crowded and noisy nightlife of downtown Ensenada toward Hussong’s Bar, the oldest cantina in Baja. It was too crowded to go in. The nearby alternative was “Bar Mutualista,” a bar from 1919 that I had never been to. It too was too crowded to get a table, but a mustachioed gentleman let us join him near the entrance. The bar was lively and colorful, with people playing pool and others singing karaoke. Every table had a bucket of beers. Pablo texted his fans while Bryan danced with a chubby local.

We went back to La Camorra for more Tecates at 1:30. I sat and slowly nursed a beer, feeling exhausted. The Uber that took us back got lost several times, but we finally made it back to the Airbnb at 3:11 am. I woke up the following morning at 11:00 am feeling like shit. We went to Casa Marcelo for breakfast. Pablo ordered a couple of Victoria beers, Bryan had a tall glass of orange juice, and I went for coffee and water. For the three to share, we got lengua en salsa verde. Pablo thought it was trash, calling it too acidic. I thought the plate needed more lengua and fewer nopales. They also served us complimentary bread and Ramonetti cheese from a ranch in Ojos Negros. Again, Pablo disliked it. I thought it was bliss.

Back on the road, we stopped for more beer in Wendlandt at El Sauzal, winner of four medals at the festival. Pablo kept on drinking, so I ordered their gold-medal IPA, Flying Jerry. When in Baja... But Bryan got the catch-of-the-day tostada and water. As the rain started to head our way, at around 4 pm, Bryan got fed up, asked for the keys to the Mustang, and said he was driving us back.

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Portrait of the influencer as a young man: Pablo Gastelum brings his acumen (and his audience) to Ensenada.
Portrait of the influencer as a young man: Pablo Gastelum brings his acumen (and his audience) to Ensenada.

Beer man and food guy explore Ensenada

Ten years ago, someone snagged me a ticket to the Ensenada Beer Fest, and I attended, boldly resolving to sample every brew being poured. It didn’t take long for me to realize the quixotic nature of my quest, yet I pressed on, eventually managing around 30 samples — roughly a quarter of my goal. But even a losing effort has its consolations, so when the Fest offered me couple of press passes for this year’s event, I contacted my friend Pablo Gastelum, who is making a name for himself as a brutally honest food critic on TikTok (pablo_rgg, 139K followers). “If you got tickets, I rented a house for 8 people, and I’m driving down,” he replied.

Pablo showed up at my place in Tijuana on Friday morning in his red Mustang. We picked up his childhood friend Bryan and made Ensenada in under an hour. The Airbnb was 10 minutes south of the city: a rickety, three-story, three-bedroom house with plenty of space for a party. After drinking a caguamón each (40 oz beer) in a nearby bar, we took an Uber to the Fest.

We got to the parking lot of the Riviera Cultural Center close to 4 pm. They were still announcing the winners of Copa Cervecera del Pacífico — over 260 breweries and over 1000 samples of beer had been judged before the festival, which boasted more than 120 breweries as well as over 30 food establishments, plus a plethora of bands and DJs on 5 different stages. Our first food stop was at Exxe, an Argentinean choripanes (hot dogs) joint. “It’s dry and shitty,” said Pablo as he threw it in the trash after one bite. Brutally honest! The first beer was better: Straight to Haze from Cardera Brewery — one of my favorites and winner of five medals this year alone. The beer server recognized Pablo from his TikTok and murmured, “A ti te conozco.” Pablo chugged his beer as Bryan recorded, as young influencers are wont to do. The head brewer at 93’ Beer, Abraham “el Ham” Rodríguez, was spray painting a black canvas, and when he recognized Pablo, he handed over the can like a proper fanboy. He then gave us two full pours of beer: their gold-awarded Cream Ale, and their Hazy IPA.

Sponsored
Sponsored

We kept jumping from stand to stand, trying tasters and getting full free pours thanks to Pablo’s minor celebrity status. Colmena (one of the favorites), Laguna Mental, Santa Clara, Pocima, Teorema, Averno, Cuatro Palos, Edens Sins, Fauna, Cardera, and more. Before it was dark, I was already a dozen beers in and was ready to pass out, a la ten years ago. But once night fell, I saw a friend who grows magic mushrooms. I jokingly asked if he had some. He took out a gigantic Ziploc bag and gave me a handful. “Be careful, they are powerful,” his girlfriend warned me. In my drunken stupor, I thought WWHSTD? (What would Hunter S. Thompson Do?) I dropped a couple of mushrooms in an unknown hazy IPA and drank it in one gulp. The night turned as hazy as the beers.

We were back at the Airbnb by 9 pm after a stop at Oxxo for energy and sports drinks and two twelve-packs of Tecates. Then we Ubered to La Bête Noire, a pretentious bar in Bodegas de Santo Tómas. The night started to play like a Terry Gilliam movie in my mind. They handed me a beer that I recognized as Astillero IPA by Agua Mala, but it could have been another Tecate. We jumped barricades to walk through the destroyed streets of Ensenada and headed to La Camorra, a bar known for its alternative after-parties. On our way there, I noticed that the smoked fish shop Ahumadera del Pacífico had been demolished. I had always made a point of swinging by to get some smoked tuna snacks, and now it was gone. Ensenada is changing as rapidly as Tijuana. I almost cried. Pablo didn’t give a fuck.

Close to midnight, some cute DJ was playing house music at La Camorra as we settled in with a bucket of beers and a pepperoni pizza. Forty minutes later, the beer was gone but the pizza remained untouched. We took it to go. A few steps after leaving the bar, Pablo had a slice and said, “Está culerísima.” Declaring it garbage for the camera, he tossed it on the ground. Bryan picked it up, ate a slice, and gave it to a homeless guy nearby. We walked through the crowded and noisy nightlife of downtown Ensenada toward Hussong’s Bar, the oldest cantina in Baja. It was too crowded to go in. The nearby alternative was “Bar Mutualista,” a bar from 1919 that I had never been to. It too was too crowded to get a table, but a mustachioed gentleman let us join him near the entrance. The bar was lively and colorful, with people playing pool and others singing karaoke. Every table had a bucket of beers. Pablo texted his fans while Bryan danced with a chubby local.

We went back to La Camorra for more Tecates at 1:30. I sat and slowly nursed a beer, feeling exhausted. The Uber that took us back got lost several times, but we finally made it back to the Airbnb at 3:11 am. I woke up the following morning at 11:00 am feeling like shit. We went to Casa Marcelo for breakfast. Pablo ordered a couple of Victoria beers, Bryan had a tall glass of orange juice, and I went for coffee and water. For the three to share, we got lengua en salsa verde. Pablo thought it was trash, calling it too acidic. I thought the plate needed more lengua and fewer nopales. They also served us complimentary bread and Ramonetti cheese from a ranch in Ojos Negros. Again, Pablo disliked it. I thought it was bliss.

Back on the road, we stopped for more beer in Wendlandt at El Sauzal, winner of four medals at the festival. Pablo kept on drinking, so I ordered their gold-medal IPA, Flying Jerry. When in Baja... But Bryan got the catch-of-the-day tostada and water. As the rain started to head our way, at around 4 pm, Bryan got fed up, asked for the keys to the Mustang, and said he was driving us back.

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