The Mexican state of Baja California is responsible for nearly 20 percent of the entire country’s cerveza artesenal, serving as home to multiple burgeoning homebrew clubs and cross-border initiatives such as Dos Californias Brewsters, a women’s beer group supported by the United States Consulate in Tijuana. Every year since 2018, the group has made a collaboration beer to help fund educational scholarships for women enrolled in the Institute of Technology in Tijuana’s (ITT) brewing sciences program.
Meanwhile, in Ensenada, native San Diegan Collin Corrigan founded Cervecería Transpeninsular four years ago come January. Since early 2019, Corrigan and his wife have also been in the process of opening El Cruce+241, a restaurant concept dedicated to the food, wine, beer, and flavors of Baja. Located in the heart of Chula Vista, a historically Hispanic city between San Diego and the Mexican border, its very essence is a cross-border exchange of ideas and experiences.
And the border isn’t far. Tijuana is Baja California’s largest city, and just 20 miles south of downtown San Diego, California lies the San Ysidro Port of Entry, the world’s busiest international land border crossing. Roughly 100,000 people move between the U.S. and Mexico on a regular day here.
Control over this typically fluid segment of the border tightened when COVID-19 hit North America in the spring of 2020, leading the governments of both countries to quash non-essential travel in late March, followed by the closure of so-called non-essential businesses like craft breweries.
“[In Mexico], the closure of breweries and non-essential business were the biggest impediment at first,” explains Iván Morales, co-founder of Tijuana’s Cervecería Insurgente, one of the few Mexican craft breweries that regularly exports to the U.S. and has collaborated with Modern Times, Stone Brewing, Mikkeller, and many others. “At least on our side of the border, there was a great deal of confusion as to who could operate and who could not. This led to us not being able to make beer for a couple of months and hence underserved our demand in the U.S.”
But while people, products, and ideas can still move fairly freely between the two countries, invisible barriers like a rise in politically-charged anti-immigration rhetoric and fears stemming from the rapid spread of COVID-19 have caused this flow to slow.
In spite of this situation, Morales sees the beer community as largely immune from the volatile political discourse. “I think that the people in the beer industry are generally more open-minded and the role of the border is not an impediment to working together,” he says, although local politics as well as COVID-19 restrictions have tempered their output and ability to collaborate across the border. “In a practical sense, [the Trump administration] had very little impact. Some of his policies and statements have led to exchange rates that have harmed the Mexican producer, but not much more than that.”
For others though, friction sparked by the pandemic exacerbates existing tensions. Unclear guidelines released by the Trump administration have left some Mexican nationals shut out of the U.S., regardless of what many would consider “essential” needs.
“Trump launched this whole ‘if it’s not essential, then there’s no reason for a Mexican [with a visa] to come across,” says Transpeninsular’s Corrigan. “That’s totally not true. My wife is actually on an LLC [for El Cruce+241] in the United States and they won’t let her cross,” which has complicated the already challenging reality of opening a new restaurant in the midst of a pandemic. He’s also disappointed that bureaucratic roadblocks have prevented a number of Baja-based breweries from sending as many kegs to El Cruce+241 as originally anticipated, at least for the time being.
Transpeninsular plans to brew around 2,500 barrels of beer this year, up from 1,832 barrels in 2019. It’s an unexpected silver lining in an otherwise tumultuous year. After some of the country’s biggest beer producers—including Grupo Modelo—halted production in April, smaller breweries like Transpeninsular stepped in to fill the sudden void in the market. Corrigan says they’re also still on track to hit their usual number of annual cross-border collaborations (about six) and this is the first year he has successfully brought his beer from Baja into the States.
With continued growth on the horizon, Corrigan feels optimistic. “Things are good here. My team’s doing good, everyone’s healthy, El Cruce is going to open… it’s a real big honor for me, as a San Diegan, to have my beer on tap up there. It’s a rite of passage for me.”
Beth Demmon is a San Diego-based freelance writer specializing in the culture of craft beer. Her work has appeared in Saveur Magazine, VICE, Playboy, Good Beer Hunting, and many more. View more bylines at bethdemmon.com