Not too long ago, the only way to drink the stellar stouts and session IPAs from Baja California’s burgeoning craft beer scene was to trek across the border and try some for yourself.
Since Mexican breweries need a pricey liquor license in order to sell their own product, this usually meant stopping at one of the few laid-back craft beer bars or, for even more options, a romp through Tijuana’s Plaza Fiesta, the mall of night clubs that at one point was overrun with nearly a dozen pop-up brewery tasting rooms.
But in the last year or two, some of the state’s biggest and best breweries — like Tijuana’s Insurgente, Ensenada’s Agua Mala and Fauna from Mexicali – began ramping up distribution into SoCal. And a recent visit to Plaza Fiesta found only a few remaining tasting rooms (including Insurgente’s) amid a handful of new night club stalls.
As the Baja craft beer scene morphs out of infancy and breweries shift from a power-in-numbers approach to individualized branding and dissemination, it’s time to give thanks to OC-based distributor GRD LOC, which has turned La Naranja into a stateside haven for Baja’s best beer.
Case and point: El Indio Botanas y Cerveza in SanTana, the only bar that we can find in the whole country that survives with a taplist of exclusively Baja-brewed cerveza artesanal. Its 12 handles haven’t rotated much since opening in October, but the beers are all solid year-round efforts from the only five breweries legally allowed to distribute in the U.S. The fact that they remain consistently on draft (instead of merely bottled) makes it all the more exciting.
There’s Wendlandt’s hoppy amber ale Humpy Humpy, Insurgente’s flagship IPA Lupulosa, Border Psycho’s meaty 12.1% ABV Belgian-style quad and – a rare seasonal – Agua Mala’s collaboration double IPA with Widmer Brothers Brewing, called Widmerida. The only other place you might find even a few of these on tap is at Alta Baja Market, in SanTana and Puesto, the upscale street food restaurant with two locations in Irvine.
In SanTana, though, the music is all-vinyl, the food is all cheap bar snacks and the casual setup of simple wooden tables and a string-light-swaddled patio is all you need to feel like you’re right back at Plaza Fiesta, drinking the latest cerveza artesanal straight from the source.
El Indio Botanas y Cerveza, 309 W. 3rd St., Santa Ana; (714)862-7375
Sarah Bennett is a freelance journalist who has spent nearly a decade covering food, music, craft beer, arts, culture and all sorts of bizarro things that interest her for local, regional and national publications.