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The Dark Side

Mexico’s craft beer is booming. And screwed


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Edgar Martinez
Edgar Martinez, owner of The Beer Box in Tijuana

The ceviche on the bar does dead fish proud. It’s from Tijuana’s famed strip of taco carts, Las Ahumederas, a block away. There’s a 4-ounce glass of “Santa’s Red,” a yeasty, seasonal gem from Cerveceria Insurgente, brewed with oat chips for winter comfort. Not a Corona or lime in sight. It’s only 3 p.m., but the Beer Box is dark, so each new person makes an imposing entrance—silhouettes with full-body halos of daylight.

Large, dark body with a fringe of light. Just like the Mexican beer industry.

In December, Baja’s most established craft beer—Cucapá—crossed the border again, selling its Chupacabras Pale Ale and Runaway IPA in 30-plus San Diego outlets. Cucapá’s first trip here in 2008 didn’t last. But things have changed. The US now has nearly 2,800 breweries, the highest number since the late 1800s. The craft beer industry is growing at about 14 percent a year. And San Diego, with 50-plus breweries like Stone Brewing Co., Green Flash, Ballast Point, and Lost Abbey, is arguably the country’s craft beer capital.

Simply put, Americans want fancy suds. And, having been raised on Mexican beer, we’re primed to appreciate cerveza artesanal.

“We’re next to San Diego, the beer mecca,” says Ivan Morales, a Chula Vista/Tijuana native who formed Insurgente with his brother, Damian, while attending USC business school. “People here got exposed to that, opened up their palates. That’s why Baja—Ensenada, Tijuana, and Mexicali—is going to be the hub of Mexican craft beer.”

Every year, Modelo and FEMSA buy nearly all the liquor licenses in Mexico and divvy them out to bars and restaurants. If Tecate gives you a license, you can’t sell Modelo, or the Brutal Imperial Stout from Tijuana’s rising star, Border Psycho Brewery.

Since its formation in 2010, the Association of Baja California Craft Brewers (ACABC) has doubled in size each year. It launched the Baja Beer Fest, which doubled in attendance and will hit four cities this year. Mexicali is even making local craft beer a lynchpin of its downtown redevelopment. And the country’s duopoly of beer giants—simplified as Corona and Tecate—are one anti-trust investigation away from total European control.

Mexico’s craft beer moment is now! Chocolate-coffee stouts and yerba santa porters! Viva la revolución!

Only one thing’s missing: A new government.

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