Most American beer drinkers have a very specific idea of what it means for something to be a “Mexican” beer. And that specific idea involves a light and not always flavorful lager. In fact, as my colleague Mike Pomranz pointed out, American breweries are labeling some of their light lagers “Mexican” style. This perception is likely for a few reasons. First and foremost, light lagers from a small handful of industrial beer companies completely dominate the Mexican beer scene. In 2015, according to the Brewer’s Association, the American trade group focused on promoting craft beer, the craft beer market in Mexico was only one percent of all the beer sold in the country. For comparison that number was more than 12 percent in the U.S. And the 99 percent of macrobrews that swamp the Mexican beer landscape are also almost the entirety of the country’s export market, so they are all many Americans are exposed to. But the stylistic diversity embraced by the American craft beer movement has taken root in Mexico in recent years. And while the beer is still mostly available only within Mexican borders, that is starting to change. At the bleeding edge of that change is Jordan Gardenhire, a Colorado transplant who moved to Baja California Sur more than a decade ago, and in 2007 opened the doors to the Baja Brewing Company. With his beer available in eight states now, (California, Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and as far east as Illinois) it may be one of the most widely distributed Mexican craft beers in the U.S.
Gardenhire’s story is not all that dissimilar from those of many new American craft brewers. He began homebrewing in college, with some admittedly mixed results. And after a move to Mexico, he saw a need for a brewpub—the area simply didn’t have one. Even as the United States craft beer boom exploded not far away in Southern California, in Mexico growth was much slower. A representative from the Craft Brewers Association of Mexico noted that as recently as 2008, shortly after Gardenhire opened his doors, there were only 20 craft breweries in the entire country.