Monday, December 2, 2013

Baja California Mexico Craft Beers Featured at San Diego’s ¡LATIN FOOD FEST!

Latin Food Fest

I previously wrote about the Baja wines at San Diego’s ¡LATIN FOOD FEST!  But when I first started researching the event, I was surprised to learn how many craft beers are coming out of Baja.   Before attending the ¡LATIN FOOD FEST!, when I thought of Mexican beer, I thought of brands like Tecate and Corona, pale pilsners and lagers that taste better with a squeeze of lime.  I wondered how good these Baja beers would be.  Could they rival the multitude of craft beers being invented in neighboring San Diego?  I couldn’t wait to find out.

To learn more about Baja craft beers, I first spoke to Stephen Walker of Polaris Beverages, Inc., distributors for Cerveza Cucapá.  Cucapá started in 2002 as a brew pub.  Cucapá’s owner, Mario Garcia, and his father had been following the craft beer movement and had developed a passion for craft beer and wanted to be part of it.  Three years after starting the brew pub they built their current brewery.  Unfortunately the brewery does not have a tasting room.  Apparently Mexico charges a 26.6% luxury tax on the beer that is made, and then would charge that same tax again on any beer sold in a tasting room.  However, they do give tours of the brewery and they have a restaurant near the brewery where the beer can be purchased.

Cucapa Baja Beer Latin Food Fest

Cucapá makes a wide range of beers including blond ales, brown ales, imperial stouts, and more.  Some of Cucapá’s beer names and labels could be viewed as controversial, such as La Migra, Runaway, and Green Card, so I asked Stephen about them.  Stephen explained the beers are born of the border region and the labels reflect the realities of the border and pay homage to those who did whatever it took to succeed in the border region.  In his words, “If you can’t have fun, poke fun, make jokes, etc. while drinking a beer, then maybe you shouldn’t be drinking one!”

At the ¡LATIN FOOD FEST! Kick-Off Party I had the chance to taste two of Cucapá’s beers.  My favorite was Chupacabras, a copper colored American pale ale.  Chupacabras is a medium-full body beer with caramel and nut aromas and a slight citrus taste.  I also tasted Runaway.  Runaway is a hoppy IPA with citrus overtones made with four varieties of hops. I’m not usually a big fan of IPAs, but while the hops were at the forefront, they were not overpowering, and I could also taste the flavorful base malt.  Stephen said Cucapá doesn’t make west coast IPAs, which can be overly hoppy.  He mentioned that craft beer is becoming more like wine in that it is being paired with particular foods, so the slight sweetness of Chupacabras lends itself to pairing well with spicy Mexican dishes.

Cucapá can be found all over Mexico, including WalMart and 7-11.  Cucapá has a limited distribution in the United States.  There is some distribution east of the Mississippi.  In California it can only be found in San Diego, Los Angeles, and Orange County.  The best place to find Cucapá in the States is Whole Foods, Sprouts, and Mexican and Baja Med restaurants.  In San Diego Cucapá is served at restaurants such as Blind Burro, Carnitas Snack Shack (a must visit), Ponce’s, Aqui as Texcoco, Pizza Port, and Romesco’s.

I next tried Funes Hand-Crafted Baja Beer.  Funes’ Saison beer is made once a year with herbs grown in the valley, and I could actually taste the freshness of the herbs in the beer.  I really enjoyed Saison and could imagine enjoying it on a hot summer day or with some spicy Baja Med cuisine.  Funes’ Imperial Mexicana was also excellent.  Imperial Mexicana was a darker beer with a rich malt and brown sugar taste and a touch of spice.  Funes is only available in Mexico at this time, but they are working on making their beers available in the United States.

Funes Baja Beer Latin Food Fest

All of the beers I had tasted thus far were unlike what I imagined Baja beers would be, but I was most surprised by Border Psycho Brewery’s Chipotle Porter.  Porters and stouts are my favorite kinds of beer, so I was interested to taste a Baja porter, but I wasn’t sure how I felt about the addition of chipotle.  I needn’t have worried.  The taste of chipotle was not strong, but was a very pleasant flavor addition that actually made the porter taste a little lighter and refreshing.  It reminded me somewhat of Aztec Brewing Company’s Noche de los Muertos, an imperial stout with a hint of cinnamon that I tasted at the San Diego Brew Festival.  I also tasted Border Psycho Brewery’s Brutal Imperial Stout, another enjoyable dark beer.  Border Psycho Brewery’s beers are also not yet available in the United States, but hopefully will be soon.

Border Psycho Baja Beer Latin Food Fest

I also spoke with Rodrigo Hernandez and Rafael Gonzalez of Cerveza Tres B, Big Bad Brewing Co.  Unfortunately, though originally scheduled to, they were unable to attend the ¡LATIN FOOD FEST! so I did not have a chance to taste their beers.  However, I was still able to learn a little bit about their beers and the emerging Baja craft beer scene.  They feel what makes Baja beers different is how different Baja is from the rest of Mexico and the Spanish speaking world.  The Baja region is a relatively newly populated area and the people are a melting pot from many different areas of Mexico as well as having French, Russian, British, Japanese, Korean, and Chinese descent.  The people of Baja aren’t afraid of change and trying new things and new ideas.  Many Baja breweries grew from home brewers that became nano-microbreweries.  Cerveza Tres B started as a hobby of home brewing.  Baja brewers usually start from little means and have to work extremely hard for any success.  Baja brewers also work together, knowing that in order to grow as an industry they have to help each other out.

Cerveza Tres B makes a range of beers including Hefeweizen, Strong Ale, and Bitter Summer ESB.  They import many of their ingredients from the United States, but get some items such as natural bee honey from the Mexicali Valley and seasonal fruit from organic greenhouses in the San Quintín Valley.  They are creative with their recipes and make beers they think taste good, and hope the market agrees.

Cerveza Tres B’s brewery is in Mexicali and is open for private parties and tours by appointment.  They also host special events, tastings, and brewing lessons.  Their beers can be found throughout Baja.  They are in Mexicali, Rosarito, Tijuana, and Ensenada, and will soon be in Tecate as well.  They are starting to venture further into Mexico and hope to be able to send their beers to specialty beer shops in San Diego.

If you’re wondering how they came up with their name, they originally called themselves The Big Bad Brewing Co., poking fun at the fact that a tiny brewing company was joining the commercial brewing world of the big bad breweries, the monolithic name brands.  The Spanish people started calling them Tres B as it was easier.

If you are at a Mexican or Baja Med restaurant, or visiting the Baja California Mexico region, instead of ordering a bucket of pale bottled beers, try some of Baja’s up and coming craft beers.

I purchased tickets to the ¡LATIN FOOD FEST! Grand Tasting and I was also invited by DIÁLOGO, the producers of the event, to attend the Fest Kick-Off Party.  The next ¡LATIN FOOD FEST! will be in San Antonio March 21-22, 2014, New York June 6-7, 2014, Miami October 17-18, 2014, and returning to San Diego September 12-13, 2014.  Visit the ¡LATIN FOOD FEST! website for more information about the event.

Katherine Belarmino has been traveling for over ten years on a quest to see as much of the world as possible, experience new cultures, and sample other cuisines and libations. She also writes the travel blog Travel the World, which journals her world travels with her husband Romeo and seeks to encourage others to take the time to travel.