The Search for a Jewel in the Rough – An Adventure in Baja

The sweat is dripping down my temples as the merciless sun pours down rays of unforgiving sunshine. The waves crash in a cacophonous repeated thunder.  I’m sipping on yet another Pacifico and lime, wondering if there is anything more to be found in this Baja paradise. Could my only options really be Corona, Sol, Tecate, Pacifico or Modelo? All these beers are great for their purpose, they all satisfy your thirst with an added tartness that the lime offers. But I want to taste something different, something a little more complex and flavorful. A Mexican lager is a Mexican pilsner is a Mexican beer. They all seem so much akin to each other. I want nothing to do with that skunky Mexican light beer crap. I want something more. I’m in Cabo San Lucas, and I’m trying to find a jewel in the rough.

(please note, I wasn’t able to get exact IBU ratings on many of these beers, so I listed a range as close as I could)

 

Baja Black Oscura Especial (Baja Brewing Company) – This dark beer has a full bold flavor, similar to a Chocolate Stout in that it packs a punch to the gut of your taste buds. The nose gives off a strong aroma of dark chocolate and coffee, with maybe a slight touch of dark fruit in there as well. Classified as a schwarzbier, the taste is of dark chocolate, coffee and barley, leaving me to believe there were some dark roasted malts and grains used in this. The finish that lingers is almost of a smoked woodiness, like this was fermented in a wooden barrel. It’s got a lot of flavor, but the heaviness doesn’t translate to your stomach, leaving you feeling full like a Guinness would. For a dark beer, I’m digging it.

ABV – 6.0%

IBU – 18

 

Baja Red Amber Ale (Baja Brewing Company) – This ale displays a deep red color. It has a nice flavor of both caramel and roasted malts, with a favorable lingering touch of malt and hops.  It’s not too skunky, it pours a decent head that dissolves fairly quickly and leaves a slight lacing in the glass. Bold flavor that reminds me of Killian’s Red or even as far as a bock beer like Shiner Bock. Good beer overall. Definitely not something you would expect from Mexico.

ABV – 6.0%

IBU – 40

 

Bohemia Obscura (Cerveceria Cuauhtemoc, Moctezuma, MX)– Bohemia seems to be one of the most revered of all Mexican beers. While it doesn’t have the worldwide appeal of Corona (let’s face it, Corona is one of the most popular beers on the planet) or a Tecate, it does hold its own and has a pretty huge following. It has a dark dense color, but yet quite clear. It is fairly hoppy, and represents an almost Vienna-style dark beer characteristic to it. Fittingly, it is classified as a Vienna Lager. The maltiness is something that adds to its deeper flavor, more so than most Mexican beers. It has an ABV of 5.5% and isn’t too bitter. I couldn’t find an exact number where I looked, but you could tell by the taste. More of a smoky, richer flavor. Much more like a Negra Modelo than any of the other Mexican varieties on the mass market. It pours a decent head and leaves a moderate amount of lacing, not too much. The taste is nice and deep. I’ve always enjoyed a good dark beer. This one is definitely on the list of “Must Drink Again” beers.

ABV – 5.5%

IBU -medium

 

Dos Equis Amber Lager (Cerveceria Cuauhtemoc, Moctezuma, MX) – One of the largest selling Mexican beers, Dos Equis ranks up there with Corona and Modelo as the local beers of choice. I’ve had both the Especial Lager and the Amber varieties from this brewer, and my personal preference is the Amber. The Lager has more of that Mexican skunkiness to it, the hoppy overdrive that can be a bit overpowering at times. The Amber however, is classified as a Vienna-style lager, like the Bohemia. It has a darker color and more robust malty flavor than the hop-friendly Lager. You get the taste of the malts and maybe a hint of caramel with this one. Low hop influence. Both varieties have become quite popular in the US for a Mexican beer.

ABV – 4.5%

IBU – low

 

Minerva Viena Oscura (Cerveceria Minerva) –This medium-bodied beer poured a good head that dissolved fairly slowly after a few sips and left a good amount of lacing around the glass. The aroma brings to mind the smell of toffee and dark fruit, like cherries. The roasted malts give it a nice deep red color. The taste that comes to mind after each pull is of a good red lager, tasty and medium-bodied, similar to a Killian’s Red or a good Oktoberfest style beer. Hints of toffee and caramel come through as well. A smoky malt note follows that conjures up images of wood barreling. This would be a great beer for a steak dinner.

Translated from the neck label –

Minerva Vienna owes its name to the European beer produced in March and stored 6 months for Oktoberfest.  It has quickly established itself in the popular style of these festivities due to its body, flavor to toasted malts and reddish amber color.

From a small brewery in the heart of Jalisco, this great beer is born. Elaborate in many small ways, Minerva utilizes 100% malt as a commodity, to achieve a greater body and an exquisite flavor.  The beer you are drinking breaks the mold of the conventional beers, marching like an army to the head of the new revolution in brewing.

ABV – 5.0%

IBU – medium, yet subdued

 

Minerva Stout Imperial (Cerveceria Minerva) – Immediately upon pouring this, I knew I was in for fun. This beer is deep, dark brown in color, almost black. The aroma hits your nose almost instantly and wakes you up. Forget Folgers, the best part of waking up is this fine brew in your cup. The smell of fresh coffee grounds is what hit my nose right off the bat. The taste is unmistakable. The deep dark roasted malts really hit your taste buds with that sense of a chocolate stout, The lingering taste of dark chocolate and coffee keep your stomach nice and warm after you take each pull. There is a slight bit of lacing that remains after drinking this.

The label on the neck lists this as being brewed in the tradition of an imperial stout, and even gives somewhat of a history lesson about Russian soldiers drinking this in the winter to stay warm and happy. This is a very nice beer, even if it is the end of July and it’s almost 100 degrees outside.

Translated from the neck label – “Minerva Stout, born in the elaborate Russian beer style used in winter to keep the soldiers warm and happy.  Their notes of coffee and chocolate heal the heart and they remove the cold immediately!”

ABV – 6.0%

IBU – low

 

Negra Modelo (Grupo Modelo S.A. de C.V.) – Negra Modelo, much like the Bohemia mentioned before, pours a nice dark brown color and has an aroma of caramel and roasted malts. I did some looking and it’s characterized as a Munich Dunkel Lager. Interesting classification for a Mexican beer. It leaves a pretty thick light beige/white head that dissolves fairly slowly. The flavor is fairly deep and malty, with little counter from any hop presence. The ABV is 5.4%. Pretty good beer, much better than the other main alternative in these parts – Corona.

ABV – 5.4%

IBU – very low

 

Tempus Dorada Golden Ale Cerveza Artesanal (Cervezeria Primus) – This was a surprise. Immediately after pouring the beer, I noticed a distinct citrusy aroma that lingered well after the initial pour. It created a pretty nice head, which stayed atop the beer for quite some time, even after the first few sips. Plenty of lacing in the glass remained after each taste. Despite being a medium-bodied golden ale, the flavor was light and refreshing, with subtle notes from the malt and hops and almost a characteristic similar to a hefeweizen. Floral hops were evident in the taste. This one was very easy to drink. I’d definitely enjoy one of these after mowing the lawn or working on a hot summer day.

ABV – 4.3%

IBU – low to medium

 

Tijuana Guerva (Consorcio Cervecero de Baja California) – Another Mexican craft beer from the Baja region. This is a 100% Barley Malt, which gives it a fuller flavor than most of the other Mexican light beers, despite its medium blonde color. It has a floral hop aroma to it, which isn’t too overpowering, but still leaves its mark. It pours a very thin head, which dissolves almost instantly and leaves very little lacing. This one though is like much of the other mass-produced Mexican cervezas in that it would be nicely accentuated by adding a lime to it, almost necessarily. The others I tried didn’t require this. All in all, not bad, but not the top pick so far.

ABV – 4.6%

IBU – 17-25

 

Tijuana Morena (Consorcio Cervecero de Baja California) – The dark variety from the Cerveza Tijuana beer label was a little more to my liking than its “lighter” counterpart.  Another 100% Barley Malt beer, the aroma is strong and offers a hint of roasted malt. Like a few of the others, hints of caramel come through the nose. The color is a solid dark brown and the head it is pretty thick and creamy. It does tend to dissipate after a few sips, but keeps a thin layer on top of the beer. There is a generous amount of lacing that hangs around after each pull. The taste is full-on barley and roasted malts. Pretty heavy hop influence, but not enough to overpower the malt and barley goodness. No need for a lime in this one. This is definitely medium-bodied, but not too much that you couldn’t handle more than one.

ABV –  4.8%

IBU – 25-30

 

And now for the non-Mexican varieties that piqued my curiosity while I was there:

 

Blanche De Bruxelles (Brasserie Lefebvre) – This Belgian White Ale was an interesting find in the land of Baja. The pour produced a creamy head that sat atop a hazy light yellow body, yet it dissolved fairly quickly. The aroma was very citrusy, with a fairly strong lemon scent. The taste was also that of a smooth, light ale with mild lemon notes, not very hoppy.  Light to moderate lacing remained after each pull. Another great beer for a hot summer day.

ABV –  4.5%

IBU – low

 

Erdinger Weissbier Pikantus (Erdinger Weissbrau) – This dark German beer was a true delight. The label on the neck indicates that this is a Dunkler Weissenbock, or dark wheat beer. Upon pouring, the head gathered at the top but dissolved quickly, almost instantly. The nose smelled of caramel or toffee.  The first sip tells you this is a malty beer (dark roasted malts gave it a nice brown color and deep flavor) and the finish is almost distinctly caramel or toffee. Very little to no lacing was evident after each pull, which kept giving you those subtle caramel notes, right to the end. The label has a bit of German on it – “Getreu dem bayerischen Reinheitsgebot von 1516. Privatbrauerei seit 1886.” This translates to “Loyal to the Bavarian purity law of 1516. Private brewery since 1886.” This came in a 500 ml bottle and was well worth the 10 bucks I paid for it.

ABV – 7.3%

IBU – low

 

Floreffe Tripel (Brasserie Lefebvre, Belgium)– This was also a surprise to find in Mexico. Labeled as a “Bier D’Abbaye – Abdijbier Tripel,” this Tripel Abbey Ale poured a nice hazy golden-amber color. A fairly thick head sat atop the beer and dissolved at a moderate pace. The nose was slightly hoppy and hinted of citrus aromas. The taste was of a smooth abbey ale, with mild notes of orange and lemon. Average lacing left around the glass after each pull. This was a nice drink, considering the higher alcohol level without being affected by an overpowering taste. Very good beer.

ABV – 7.5%

IBU – low

 

Drinkers pick – Erdinger Weissbier Pikantus

Talk about a tough call. Most of the beers I had were excellent, but this one definitely stood out above the rest of the pack. The roasted malty flavor I got from it and the caramel notes made this one special. Even while following the strict rule of Reinheitsgebot, the Germans have been able to produce great flavors for centuries and have long been proudly recognized for their beer. After drinking this, I can understand why.

 

Honorable Mention (in no particular order) – Baja Black, Bohemia Obscura, Floreffe Tripel, Tempus Dorada

These were all good, although I feel like I left a few off the list. Sadly I was unable to try all of the varieties offered up by the Baja Brewing Company. Their brewery is in San Jose Del Cabo, about 45 minutes or so away from Cabo San Lucas, but they have several of their beers on tap in the rooftop bar at the top of the CaboVillas resort on Medano Beach in Cabo San Lucas (note to eager travelers and beer enthusiasts, go check this place out). I tried but was unable to get over there on the one day during my stay I wasn’t completely busy. I didn’t make it this time, although I know it is a place I will be sure to hit when I return. But that is another adventure…

 

About Jason M

Texas Style - Having grown up down south, I've grown an appreciation for the "bigger is better" mantra. Bigger and bolder flavor is something I crave in my beers. Some people are hop-heads, all they drink are IPA's and other hoppy beers. Others are big on wheat beers. Some like it dark. Me? I'm an all-the-above kind of guy. I've had a love for all varieties since I was young and that has not changed. Good beer is good beer.

I'm constantly seeking out the latest and greatest new variety, because despite having an old-time favorite beer, drinking the same old flavors over and over gets old. That being said, I've got to try something new, explore my boundaries. After all, variety is the spice of life, no?

Favorite Beers - Unibroue La Fin du Monde, Founders Backwoods Bastard, Schlafly Oak Aged Barleywine

Find me on Untappd.com

Comments

  1. Virgilio Molander says:

    Nice post. I was checking constantly this blog and I am impressed! Extremely helpful information specially the last part :) I care for such information much. I was seeking this certain info for a long time. Thank you and good luck.

  2. Can I simply say what a relief to find somebody who actually knows what theyre talking about on the internet. You definitely know the best way to carry a problem to mild and make it important. Extra individuals have to read this and perceive this side of the story. I cant consider youre not more popular because you undoubtedly have the gift.

  3. I live in Baja for 6 years and definetly feel what you’re trying to accomplish here. Very precise, I’m more of a Tijuana Morena kind from what you review. Should visit Tijuana’s Beer Fest to have a better look at the variety of beers brewed right there at North Baja California. I understand you try all these beers from a Beer Box kind of store, but what I meant is there is a wide variety of craft beer brewers in Tijuana and Mexicali cities showcased at that fest. Believe me the experience is worth the trip. Cheers!!

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