Ensenada Craft Beer Scene

wendlandtfoto por Bajadock, January 2014

Bajadock: Wendlandt, though hidden next to the Starbucks(ocean side) as you enter Ensenada from north, is a gem.  This beer and tapas bar scene could be in downtown Chicago.  justdoit.  But, they don’t open until 6PM, closes midnight.  Closed Sunday, Monday.

I added Cerveceria del Valle(from my visit early this fall) link if you want a beer change vs. wine in the Valle de Guadalupe.

wendlandt.com.mx

Old Mission Brewery

aguamalacom.mx 

Cerveceria del Valle

All four of these craft brew spots are on the Ensenada Interactive Mapthe map linky thing, left side of this website.  Thanks to our team of cartographers!

SD UT article:

— The Friday night scene at Wendlandt would be pretty typical for most brewpubs in San Diego these days: a dimly-lit bar overflowing with craft beer enthusiasts drinking hoppy IPAs, creamy oatmeal stouts and complex pale ales.

Except that Cerveceria Wendlandt isn’t in San Diego. It’s 85 miles south, on Ensenada’s main tourist strip, in the heart of Tecate and Corona country, next to a Starbucks. Even though it’s Thanksgiving weekend, the lively pub is filled with locals, with barely a traditional Mexican lager or an American tourist in sight.

One of the locals is 35-year-old Mayra Garcia, who became a Wendlandt regular shortly after moving to Ensenada from Mexico City.

“I drank Pacifico and Corona because that’s about all I ever knew about beer,” said Garcia, between sips of a Foca Parlante Oatmeal Stout. “But once I tasted the flavors in these beers, I was immediately hooked. “

When he bought the bar three years ago, Eugenio Romero Wendlandt never dreamed anyone, except maybe a few friends, could ever get hooked on anything but light, fizzy beers. In fact, when he took over what was then an abandoned bar on Boulevard Costero, Wendlandt never considered opening a brewery.

“I wanted to fix it up and lease the space,” he said. “That was my business plan.”

But his plan started to unravel when he moved his 20-gallon home-brewing operation into the bar during the remodel.

“I’d brew in the morning and drink my beers at night with my friends,” he said. “Then we began inviting more people to the bar because we wanted to finish the batches of beer so we could experiment with new flavors and styles. After a few months, I started selling it. That’s when the idea of a brewery came to me.”

Still, there were no guarantees that anyone beyond Wendlandt’s circle of friends would go for hoppy, West Coast style beers. In 2011, there were only a handful of microbreweries in Baja and none had much of a following.

“We kind of took a gamble,” said Wendlandt, 31, who was introduced to craft beer during his days at San Diego State. “We didn’t do any market studies on this. I was scared, so I carried a lot of commercial Mexican beers, some imported and my beers. But I realized from the beginning that most of my sales were craft beers.”

Within a year, Wendlandt realized he needed more brewing capacity to keep up with growing demand, so he purchased a warehouse along the Pacific Ocean just north of Ensenada. The brewery is producing about 150 gallons of beer a week, and even that isn’t enough to satiate his growing fan base.

The oatmeal stout (5.4 percent ABV) is Wendlandt’s biggest seller, followed closely by Vaquita Marina Pale Ale (5.2 percent) and Vera Niega American Wheat (4.4 percent). The aggressively hopped Perro Del Mar IPA (7.5 percent) is on par with any of the top San Diego IPAs.

“San Diego brews the best IPAs in the world,” Wendlandt said. “So naturally I’m influenced by that style, which features an abundance of hops.”

Though his beers are brewed in Mexico, he gets his hops and malt from the Pacific Northwest and his yeast from San Diego.

“We get everything but the water from the U.S.,” he said.

Wendlandt also honed his craft in the U.S., taking a brewing course through UC Davis at Sudwerk Brewery a few years ago. But last year Wendlandt decided he needed to spend some more time managing his downtown restaurant and his brewery, so he handed over the brewing operations to Ben Matz, who had worked at Stone and Pizza Port, two of San Diego’s iconic breweries.

As craft beer slowly becomes more accepted in Ensenada, Wendlandt is beginning to sell his beer in bottles to restaurants and bars. Wendlandt’s beers are also growing in popularity throughout Mexico. At the country’s largest beer festival in Mexico City, the pale won a bronze, the IPA earned silver and the stout was awarded a gold medal.

Wendlandt, however, is far from the only brewery in Ensenada taking home awards and introducing locals to quality artisanal beer. The Old Mission brewery recently won best new brewery at the Mexico City festival. Agua Mala, located north of Ensenada along the coast, is brewing everything from amber ales to Belgian Whites to pilsners.

In all, there are some 40 breweries in Baja, compared with nearly 100 in San Diego. Jorge Chavez, another Wendlandt regular, knows the craft beer movement will never come close to matching San Diego in quality or quantity. He’s just happy it finally crossed the border.

“We’re still a little under the radar,” he said. “But we’re starting to catch up down here.”

Garcia, the stout drinker, sees the craft beer movement as a “positive change” for Ensenada.

“It’s brings, new flavors, a new culture and new jobs.”

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