In case you haven’t heard, the beer fests in Mexico are pretty badass, mainly because their all-day hours let you spread out your drinking, savor the beers and more thoroughly explore the blossoming local craft beer scene, which is decidedly not cranking out the Coronas and Modelos of American cliché.
In Baja — where the best brewers in the country take influences from neighboring San Diego and L.A. — attending a fest (like last weekend’s Tijuana Expo Cerveza Artesanal) is one of the few ways to get a good glimpse into the state's blossoming industry of small-batch flavorful cheve, most of which rarely makes it stateside.
Only five of the 100-plus northern Baja breweries currently have distribution in the United States, and thankfully, they are among the best. This Saturday, on opening day of the ninth annual L.A. Beer Week, dozens of rare beers from all five of them will be on draft at Mikkeller DTLA for a tap takeover that is being dubbed the Mexican Craft Beer Fest.
The taplist will include year-round, one-off and seasonal beers from award-winning old-guard cervecerias artesanales such as Wendlandt and Agua Mala in Ensenada, Tijuana's Insurgente and Border Psycho Brewing and Mexicali's Fauna.
Cerveza Mexico (the country’s largest beer competition) named Insurgente and Wendlandt “Best Brewery in Mexico” in 2014 and 2015, respectively, and beers from each of the five breweries took home at least one honor in last year’s competition. (Agua Mala’s Astillero IPA also won silver at the last World Beer Cup.)
Perhaps you’ve already seen some of these breweries’ year-round releases around town. After all, bottles of everything from Border Psycho’s Brutal Imperial Stout to Wendlandt’s Perro del Mar IPA have been spotted at specialty bottle shops and restaurants around L.A (if you know where to look). This is largely thanks to the one-man beer distributing company Grdloc, which brings weekly shipments of Baja beer across the border, with only small amounts of (mostly bottles) making it all the way up to L.A.
In this environment, having a lineup featuring draft versions of the standards would be impressive enough. But to have Mikkeller DTLA’s 30-plus taps all devoted to these five Baja breweries signals that the Mexican Craft Beer Fest will be something far more unprecedented.
Though the official list isn’t yet finalized, expect fresh-from-the-brewery research beers that give glimpses into the future of the Baja beer scene (think: experimental hoppy beers and fruited sours) along with the most recent slate of binational collaborations, made alongside San Diego brewers in a full-circle meeting of the minds.
One confirmed keg in this realm is the Insurgente/Modern Times collaboration: Utopian Cities, a citrusy, salty sour style called a gose that’s served michelada style (at the Ensenada Beer Fest in March, this meant in a glass with a chamoy-and-Tajín-laced rim). Mikkeller DTLA chef Enrique Cuevas is planning a complementary menu of traditional Mexican dishes, including chorizo con huevos and sopes de birria de res made with adobo-marinated beef brisket.
The Mexican Craft Beer Fest was conceived by Mikkeller DTLA owner Chuck Stilphen, who hosted a similar event at his other detail-oriented craft beer bar in Oakland a few months ago (only 20 taps!) and thought it would make sense for L.A.
Though not modeled after the beer fests in Mexico, per se, the event still offers a rare 10-hour window during which you can sip, savor and get acquainted with at least a few examples of both the proven and progressive sides of Baja beer.
Here’s hoping this becomes an annual event that can grow right alongside Mexico’s burgeoning craft beer scene.
Mexican Craft Beer Fest: Sat., June 17, 10 a.m. to 2 a.m.; Mikkeller DTLA, 330 W Olympic Blvd., downtown; (213) 596-9005, mikkellerbar.com.