I visited more than 50 breweries in Baja California this year. Its three major cities—Tijuana, Mexicali and Ensenada—have more than 25 breweries each, making it the state with the most breweries in Mexico (and the most awarded).
Tijuana is chaotic and competitive, beer is for city folk in a dog-eat-dog market. Ensenada is laid back and married to the sea, beer is for the tourists seeking relaxation and seafood. Mexicali has hellish weather; beer is for the locals to survive the heat.
Each city has its unique burgeoning scene, as well as some bad players. This list compiles the best beer Baja California has to offer, from ninth best to first.
It’s only been a year since Farland Aleworks opened in “La Veinte de Noviembre” neighborhood (near the Xolos Stadium). Investing more than a million dollars, Farland set a new standard if you want to be competitive in the Baja beer scene. The brewery did not cut any corners; everything is pristine, the branding, the food, and the beer (in any style). They built a big four-story building alluding to a galactic brewery, the space theme continues into the bathrooms. Their hazy pale ale Yoda the Gentleman, recently won bronze in the San Diego International Beer Competition.
Also a big investment, Cervecería Ícono took over the old Mexicali Brewing company grounds, originally built in 1923 and closed in 1973 (and subsequently abandoned). It wasn’t until 2019 that Ícono converted the space into the biggest beer garden in Baja and the second largest in all of Mexico (beaten only by Cervecería Hércules in Querétaro). Besides a solid lineup of beers, it also has a bar, music stage, and contains numerous food options including pizza, burgers, tacos, a smokehouse, and more.
Cervecería Agua Mala
Founded in 2005 by marine biologist Nathaniel Schmidt, most of Agua Mala’s beers are related to the ocean. Their tap room is made out of recycled shipping containers with murals of sea creatures. Though it sounds like “bad water,” the actual translation of Agua Mala is jellyfish (their logo). Agua Mala has been winning awards since 2010, they recently got six medals in Copa Baja including two gold for their Vieja (Amber Lager) and Mero (Czech Lager). With an ocean obsession, the menu has fresh seafood including Kumeyaay oysters, which they also use to brew La Perla Oyster stout.
Amante Brew Company
A hop in the shape of a heart with an arrow across is their logo, Amante translates to lover. Founded in 2011, Amante claims to be the first truly independent brewery in Mexico. Most of their beers have women’s names, others have names like their foreign extra stout which they call “La Panocha” slang for uhh… women’s genitalia. The aforementioned beer recently won silver in Copa Baja and “Marie,” my favorite saison, won bronze.
Mamut is the first brewery I tried in Tijuana in 2013, and since then, you often find me drinking there. It’s been a rollercoaster of quality and staff. For a couple of years, they were brewing garbage (many locals swore it off). But Mamut persisted, and in the past years they’ve been brewing award-winning beers, and their quality keeps improving. The spacious brewery is located in one of Tijuana’s oldest buildings, the Foreign Club. But to best enjoy Mamut’s beers, find the original tiny location where it all started inside Pasaje Rodríguez.
Fauna Tasting Room
Fauna is a fantasy world of beasts, fairies, goblins, wizards, and beers. It is the biggest and best-established brewery in Mexicali, delivering beer all over Mexico with its Dungeons and Dragons-themed labels. They refer to everyone as a carnavalastro (slang for “bro”) and invite you to taste their magical brews. They won five medals in Copa Baja 2023 including two gold for their Nox Arcana (Imperial Stout) and Gozo Real (Belgian Single).
Cervecería Insurgente is home to one of the most recognized IPAs in Mexico “La Lupulosa” or the hoppy one. It is the best-established beer in Tijuana. Their logo of an owl is recognized by beer aficionados all over Mexico and parts of the United States. Insurgente collaborated in 2014 with Stone Brewing to brew Xocoveza, an award-winning stout with Mexican hot chocolate mixed with coffee. Despite fighting with the Tijuana government, which caused them to shut down their plant, Insurgente never lost its superb quality. After three years of struggle, they re-opened their main facility in August 2022.
Wendlandt Tasting Room
Situated in El Sauzal, next to the ocean, Wendlandt is one of the biggest craft breweries in Mexico producing more than 100,000 liters a month. Wendlandt started brewing in 2012 and won the best brewery in Copa Mexico twice (2015 and 2019). In 2016, they expanded distribution to the United States (it’s easily available in San Diego). Everything I tried from Wendlandt has been outstanding, including their food offerings. Their six lines of beers have won multiple awards except for their newest addition, a session IPA named Tuna Turner.
The first time I tried Cerveza Cardera I was blown away. Their mango with chamoy Berliner-Weisse reminded me of my favorite Mexican candy in a sour beer format. It continued to amaze me with their Dosis Perfecta, a Carajillo Stout with coffee, and Licor 43 (a Spanish liqueur with 43 ingredients). A family business that started in a humble garage in 2013 in a quiet Ensenada neighborhood, it quickly expanded to a large warehouse (which they share with Cerveza Bruer). Cardera is a portmanteau of the owners and married couple Armando Carednas and Rebecca Ramírez. It won Best Brewery Aro Rojo in 2022 (Mexico’s international beer competition) and won three gold and a bronze in the recent Copa Baja.