Step into a San Diego bar and you’ll find as many high-quality beers as you could possibly need. But until recently, if you went just 20 miles south, you’d get only the big Mexican brands like Corona and Tecate. That’s because Mexico’s two largest brewers—Grupo Modelo (which owns Corona) and Cuauhtèmoc Moctezuma (Tecate)— long had a government-sanctioned duopoly on beer licenses. Bars had to pay upwards of $50,000 just to serve beer, but they could get an interest-free loan from one of the big breweries if they signed a contract agreeing to carry its brands exclusively.
That changed in July 2013, when a new law allowed Mexican bars to sell craft beer even if they’d signed an exclusivity contract. Gracias a Dios. The craft beers now coming out of Mexico—and from Baja California, in particular—are as good as anything brewed domestically. AguaMala’s Astillero IPA even took silver at last year’s World Beer Cup. “There’s a legitimate movement in Baja,” says Damian Morales, who co-owns the Tijuana-based Cerveceria Insurgente with his brother, Ivan.
Though the beers are just starting to appear on U.S. shelves, Baja’s craft scene has exploded since 2010. The peninsula now hosts more than 40 breweries. That’s largely due to the cultural influence of its neighbor to the north. “We’re closer to the U.S. than the rest of Mexico, so there’s been a market for craft beer for years,” says Nathaniel Schmidt, the owner of AguaMala Cerveceria in Ensenada.
That makes this summer the perfect time for a surf trip.
Swig and Surf
Baja has great beer and great waves. Here's how to combine them.
Swig: AguaMala might be the most critically acclaimed brewery in Baja.
Surf: For consistent swells at San Miguel, a cobblestone point break, come in May. Which means you’ll need to start packing.
Swig: Baja Brewing was the area’s first craft outfit. Time your visit for July or August, when BBC makes a seasonal ale using fresh mangos from local trees.
Surf: For mellow longboarding, head to Cerritos, half an hour from town.