Ah, the Craft Beer Revolution.
I recall the first time I had heard about these elusive creatures of delight and intoxication, standing in a bar in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania when a new friend began mocking me for my Miller Light. We’re not friends anymore, but I did take his advice at the time and began experimenting with a variety of beverages. From stouts tinted with blueberries to pumpkin ales and whatever I could find in between.
Then the lovely lady who is now the mother of my children came into my life and introduced me to the IPA. I was hooked and more or less never looked back.
Until we arrived in Mexico.
Where craft beer is sold in just about every corner store in the western half of the United States, the revolution has apparently not been televised south of the border. That doesn’t mean there are no craft beers…as you’ll soon discover, Mexico has a handful of great brews. The trick is finding them.
For me, though, it’s not just about craft beer. It’s specifically about a good IPA. Bitter and flowery, pale golden and if things are perfect, too cloudy to clearly see through. Very little malt flavor, and not sweet in any way. If it comes in a can, all the better.
That said, my mission all this time has been to seek out Mexico’s finest IPAs and American-style pale ales. Luckily for those of you with a wider range of tastes in craft beer, should you choose to follow along with my personal endeavor, the other varieties each brewery purveys are listed throughout.
Craft Beers & Breweries in Mexico
This Tijuana-based brewery was the first craft beer I found as we entered San Felipe, Baja California, on our first day in Mexico. They had a few at the Chedraui grocery store just outside of town, and I bought them all.
While Cucapa’s pale leans too drastically toward malty side for me, their IPA is a contender. Perhaps I should note now that very few beers on this list will match the beauty of something like a Topcutter or Happy Camper, and most don’t even come close to even a Stone IPA, but when the alternative is Pacifico or Tecate, they more than get the job done.
Cucapa’s Runaway IPA is a frontrunner, if this were a race (which it isn’t), and if you can find it, grab an extra six for me.
The pale being put out by these Americans living in Cabo San Lucas is, at best, better than Pacifico. It’s got a really dark color (particularly for a pale) and the flavor does lean more toward the Yuengling side…but again, everything is relative and you can find this beer on tap in some of the hipper establishments in Southern Baja, like Smokies in Las Barriles.
The brewery itself has decent burgers, again nothing when compared to what a great burger is in the US, and honestly, I had hoped for a little more given that the owners were originally from Colorado, but again…if it’s all you can get, well, what can you do?
On the other hand, they are considered pioneers in the craft brew world of Mexico, and do more than their fare share to promote the variety that small breweries gift us all as beer lovers. Thus, despite my particular taste, I’d highly recommend dropping by their brewery if you’re in Los Cabos and giving them an afternoons worth of your time.
Cerveceria de Colima
For months and months this was our absolute favorite brewery, the Paramo Pale Ale in particular, and when we discovered it in a plethora of establishments in Sayulita, we bought just about every bottle of it we could find.
If in Sayulita, you can find it at the pizza place in town that goes by the name of La Rustica, as well as a few other establishments that would have it on and off.
The pale ale has a taste closer to the IPA spectrum and never failed to satisfy the big hot thirsts that May in Mexico can bring. They’ve also got a porter and a lager if you swing that way.
While actually located in Cancun, this little brewery puts out a decent pale ale that can be found in most of the hipper towns in Yucutan. You can find it in Chetumal at Nuit Bistro, near the malecon, and at most Chedrauis from Tulum to to Isla Mujeres to Isla Holbox.
My only complaint is that it’s a bit too heavy on the carbonation, but as it’s the most readily available in Quintana Roo, we’ve certainly helped keep them in business over the last few months we’ve been traveling in and out of this state. Once the fizz dies down, the flavor stands well on its own.
On a side note, there is a brewery coming to Tulum proper, and no shortage of bars and restaurants in town and the beach that serve craft beers from across Mexico.
Just north of the backpacker paradise known as Tulum is a smaller village that goes by the name of Akumal. While we weren’t necessarily all that impressed with the town itself, and never could find the actual brewery, while at a bar in Isla Mujeres we saw this brewery’s American Pale Ale and, in my opinion, it’s the bronze medal winner, after Paramo and Patito.
It’s just too bad we could never find their IPA.
Cerveza Dia de los Muertos
It just so happened that we were having a little date night one evening and discussing the possibilities of us–and our old VW Bus–being able to make it back to San Miguel de Allende for Dia de los Muertos and Halloween, when our server approached us and asked if we’d like to try one of their cervezas artesenales. Why yes, we would, and that an IPA was on the menu was even better.
While still coming up short on the beautiful bitterness of the offerings in the US, this IPA definitely didn’t disappoint.
These guys are taking the Riviera Maya by storm…and for good reason, there beer is excellent. However, after drinking their Pale Ale exclusively for two weeks, I developed a…bathroom situation. Not an uncommon thing in Mexico, though I’ve never been affected by it over our various year-long travels thus far. Every single time I’d imbibe their tasty brew, I’d spend as much time on the can as hanging out. The day I gave it up to switch back to Tulum pale ale, so went away the malady.
To their credit, though, I dug it so much, it took me a solid week after realizing the root of the problem to give up their brew.
Cerveza Indepediente Patito
Okay, I was going to save the best for last but…Patito’s IPA is absolutely the best beer we’ve found in Mexico.
It comes in a can. It tastes like it was born in the Pacific Northwest. And it’s one of the hardest to find. We stumbled across it in a little grocery store on Isla Holbox across from a restaurant by the name of RosaMexico and I bought as many six packs as I could fit into my suit case for the return ferry trip to Mainland Yucatan.
Seriously, if you were thinking of going to Isla Holbox for the hippie vibes, the astounding food or the whale shark tours, well add Mexico’s greatest beer selection to the list, and not just for Patito, but because of Pura Vida (see below for this gem!)
This brewery’s IPA goes by the name of Breakfast IPA, and it’s around 8%…so if that’s how you want to roll first thing in the morning, this is the beer for you.
One of those extremely flowery, almost whiskey tasting IPAs, it’s not my necessarily my favorite flavor but dang, does it get the job done.
Another exceptional-for-Mexico IPA, there’s is called Ramuri la IPA del Templo and it comes in a tall cool bottle that tastes a helluva lot better than climbing a Mayan pyramid on a hot day.
Another great brewery out of Tijuana, and while we haven’t personally had the chance to explore this city yet, we hear that aside from being perhaps the epicenter of Mexico’s burgeoning craft brewery scene, it’s also an amazing place to experience Mexican food that’s still traditional, but in a way you’ve never imagined it before.
We first found Medusa, this brewery’s pale ale, and their IPA Barracuda, in Sayulita at a restaurant named Medusa (but of no direct relationship to the brewery). Both varieties lean more to the malty side of the spectrum.
The brewery itself is based in Guadalajara, if you’re ever in that city.
Putting out an above average IPA, this guy was one of the highlights of our evenings in lovely San Miguelle de Allende. Of all of the beverages available in that town, in fact, this my go to whenever possible.
Cerveceria Dos Aves
Another brewery in San Miguel de Allende, these guys are really a bar brewing their own beer, and have a nice IPA and a good pale to boot.
You know they’ve got something going when the owner runs a school to teach people to brew beer, too.
Another little gem we stumbled on in San Miguel de Allende, you’ll know it by the cartoon wrestling characters on the label (not to be confused with Los Peleones out of Holbox, a pale ale I wasn’t all that impressed with). A good IPA that goes by the name of Glu Demon, indeed, though we haven’t personally found it anywhere outside of SMA.
Fun labels and website, too.
Just mentioning this beer specifically because I don’t prefer it at all. Maybe I should try more varieties, but this is one of those, “How can you even call this an IPA?” situations for me.
Mexican Towns and Cities Teaming with Craft Beer
San Miguel de Allende
There’s a place called The Beer Store and it’s got all of San Miguel’s beers and about thirty others, though some of those include Mexican mainstays like Corona and Modelo.
You can find Cerveceria Allende beers at the Centro Market, a few blocks down from the Beer Store, and a coffee shop / pizza place by the name of Mesa Grande sells craft beers as well. Oh, and a liquor store / tiny fancy food store between The Beer Store and Centro Market also has a nice selection, as well as a small corner store on your right just after you pass the giant stone school in town, on your right.
San Miguel is one of those places that just comes heavy with places to find craft beer, and the day you drive away you’ll be wondering if it was really the right decision for many, many miles of Dos XXs signs…
Pura Vida Sushi in Isla Holbox
This is a gem of a beautiful creature located right in the center of Isla Holbox. A beautiful young woman and her punk rock hippie of a husband run this place, and she’s happy to speak in English and describe to you the flavor of all of the variety of craft beers they have. IPAs, stouts, fruity infusions, whatever you’re into, they’ve got it.
The prices are a little steep, but for some fifty beers (and she told me they’re trying to get to 200) on a tiny island in a remote part of Mexico, it’s well worth every penny!
While better known for its mystical surfing yogis and out-of-this-Mexico food offerings, Sayulita is a bastion for great beer. From the dive bar atmosphere of the Sayulita Public House to the Austin-chic of La Rustica pizza, the other pizza place across the street, and even a small beachfront bar, to Colima brewery’s ale house on the other side of the creek, there is no shortage of spots to find a good brew in this Pacific Coast town.
Tulum, Quintana Roo
Tulum is packed with bars that offer craft beers from across Mexico, and we hear a brewery is going in soon, too (the guys starting it said they were looking at having the building ready by Fall of 2016). For now, though, it’s all about the little bars in town and down near the beach. Puro Corazón, for example, offers beers from around the nation, but it’s only one of a many places to grab a craft beer. El Asadero, a little off the beaten path in town itself, has Dia de Muertos beers and offers a more traditional Mexican vibe, while dive bars and fancy foodie restaurants on the main strip give you those types of experiences.
Tulum is a decent destination on its own, though a bit pricey and overrun anytime outside of later summer and into September for our tastes.
Other Places to get Craft Beer in Mexico
Walmart, Mega & Chedraui
As far as the rest of Mexico goes, we’ve found that the big chain grocery stores tend to have a decent selection of craft beers…and remember, decent is relative. For example, Chedrauis in Yucatan will typically have Goose Island, Tulum’s three varieties of craft beer, and a handful of other random selections. Mega will do about the same, and Walmart tends to have beers from larger companies like Becks, including an IPA with a big R on it.
The Beer Box
This is a small chain that you’ll find in cities like La Paz, Villahermosa and Cancun, and will typically have a nice selection of beers from around Mexico, and every now and then even a few from the US. I haven’t had a ton of luck finding IPAs, but they certainly have a large selection. And the very worst though, it’s a little bit of hope when you come across one.
El Barril in Bacalar, Mexico
If you’re really in the mood for a good IPA from the US, give this bar and grill a look in this tiny town in Southern Quintana Roo. The selection changes widely based on how many of the backpacker hippies decided to have a party on any given night, but you can find real American gems like Sculpin here if you show up on the right day.
In general, it doesn’t seem at first like Mexico is very hip to the craft beer scene, but that’s changing and it’s evident that the little guys who are out there today, from Baja Brewery to Cerveceria Tulum, are doing everything they can in order to make it clear that craft beer isn’t just for norteamericanos. Don’t expect the same experience you’ll find in Washington State or Colorado, but if you give this guide a go, you’re at least guaranteed to get a foot in the cerveza artesenal door.