January 31, 2013 | 10:19pm
There are a couple of problems with Mexican craft beer at the moment: 1) It's difficult to find bars that have a selection beyond a few brands. 2) Many are talking about how great the beer is without telling you much about the beers(how do they taste?), and there's a lack of discernment among the reporting. Is it good enough to just have a craft beer on your menu if it's just an average beer?--my answer would be no.
It is exciting what is happening in the craft beer movement, regardless, but sometimes we are just drinking the Sam Adams of Mexico, or the Bass Ale. Some of the earlier craft beers produced beers that were not too far in their flavors from the traditional lagers, and pilsener styles of large Mexican beer companies, like Bohemia, and Negra Modelo. I enjoy both of those beers, but it should be more ambitious than that. Ensenada's Cervezeria Wendlandt, owned by Eugenio Romero-Wendlandt, is a brewery that's producing beers that can compete in the international market and has put together a smart pub menu that ranges from Baja cuisine to classic American fare under Rosarito's own, Chef Krista Velasco. Now this is what Baja craft beer movement should be all about--taste--not just nationalism.
Pale ale at Cervezeria Wendlandt
Romero got into craft beer while a student at San Diego State University--quite a lot of craft beer I imagine--and then "began to brew beers at home with friends as a hobby." His taste is decidedly west coast hoppy as a disciple of Ballast Point and other San Diego microbreweries. San Diego restaurants have nothing on Baja Med, street food, and Baja California cuisine that can be had south of the border, but San Diego has a superior position when it comes to craft beer. Luckily, people like Larry Monosakian at Ballast Point are more than willing to help Mexican brewers like Romero in helping bring Baja beer into a larger arena.
The pale ale, Vaquita Marina, is an exceptional beer with a citrus nose that gives way to
a well-balanced bitterness at the end. It goes beyond the tolerance of your average local unaccustomed to complex flavors in beers. Varaniega, Wendlandt's American wheat beer has a light color--a blend of 60% malt to 40% wheat and American hops--it's made for beach weather and close enough to the local palate to have a cross border appeal.
There's also a stout--many of the regions stouts are one note: chocolate, but Romero's Foca Parlante has a creaminess that rounds out the flavor with a hint of roasted grains in the noise.
Wendlandt has an output of 150 gallons a week--just enough to meet the demand on the premises, but they hope to increase production to make the beers available beyond the handful of local beer enthusiasts.
In addition to the 3 beers brewed at this Mexican pub located in the heart of Ensenada's tourist zone, Wendlandt always carries other Mexican craft beers, European beers, and some of those legendary bottles just to the north like Stone, which Romero actually sells for a loss. "I just want to educate the locals and get them into what's going on in the world of craft beer", says the young brewmaster.
The kitchen is on par with the great brews here, with stylish ceviches, and callo de hacha(spicy scallops flash cooked in lime) served on tostaditas, reflective of Baja's contemporary seafood aesthetic. You'll want to order up a bunch of raw seafood tostadas made with the local products--everything here is 100% Baja, and seasonal.
American pub cuisine is just as good here--the fries are some of the best I've had anywhere, and the pork belly sliders are so flavorful you'll forget that the slider bubble has burst, and double down. More sliders, please!
Mexican craft beer has a long way to go before it carves out its own unique identity, and gains respect beyond the scattered bars and restaurants that carry the only remaining beers that are still Mexican( Most large Mexican beer companies have been purchased by foreign entities). But, Wendlandt, and a few others are leading the way--this is a place that's doing beer and Mexican food with passion.
Cervezeria Wendlandt, located on the principal tourist strip next to Starbucks, Bl. Costero, #248, Ensenada, B.C., 011-52-646-178-2938, Tuesday through Saturday 6PM-12AM, www.wendlandt.com.mx