Most visitors to Puerto Vallarta will stay in the Hotel Zone where all the big hotels have their resorts. In those areas you are better off bringing your own beer from home if you are there for a while and want to drink something other than Corona. Make sure you read the amounts that Customs allows you to bring with you if you decide to do that.
We decided for a visit that gives us a true feel of the town and stayed in the Romantic Zone, where Los Muertos sits surrounded by other restaurants and shops. I enjoyed a flight of beers at Los Muertos and they are much better than any of the other Mexican craft beer available locally in bottles. While they don’t live up to the quality of breweries in Tijuana, Ensanada, and other parts of Mexico, they are good enough to satisfy your craving for craft beer.
The first three beers were all overly thin and lacking in flavor. The blonde was almost like water. The wheat beer was a little better with some mild citrus notes and hints of lemon. The chili beer was most likely chilis added to the blonde and the chili notes were very mild, giving it very little heat. The amber ale made with agave was more flavorful, mixing notes of caramel and honey on a soft light body with very low bitterness.
The IPA was light and soft and emphasized a mild bitterness instead of aroma in the traditional style. It is clean and easy drinking but compared to the modern style of IPAs being made it falls short. The Hop On strong ale was soft and mild with roast and mild smoke and very low bitterness. This was a standout for me compared to the rest. The stout was super smooth with mild roast and a dry finish in the traditional dry Irish stout style.
After trying a few other local bottles, I would say Los Muertos is your best bet for beer in the area. Otherwise you might as well order margaritas. They have a fairly americanized food menu so we didn’t eat there. They also sell bottles you can bring back with you to your hotel room.
I have written a lot about Plaza Fiesta, Tijuana’s fantastic beer haven where you can spend the whole day drinking and eating without having to go very far. I haven’t been to Insurgente, Mamut, Border Psycho, or Donkey Punch brewing so I figured I would try these while I was there. I also ended up visiting Norte Brewing and Baja Brew Labs based on recommendations of some guys we met at Fauna while were down there. So the question is, considering Border Psycho and Insurgente don’t open until 5PM and close on Sundays is it worth visiting them rather than just drinking their beers on tap elsewhere? Read on to find out.
We started our day at Mamut because Insurgente and Border Psycho weren’t open yet. Mamut had some OK beers but they were out of a few of the ones I wanted to try. Out of the four I tasted, only two were particularly good. The imperial stout and American pale ale were both pretty bland. The imperial stout had a strange metalic finish and didn’t taste like the style at all. The American Pale was a fairly standard old style pale ale that puts bitterness over hop aroma. However, the brett session ale was delicious and very fruity with mild amount of funk. The dry stout was also quite good offering plenty of roast and mild chocolate. I wish I could have tasted one of the two saisons that they were out of when I visited.
Mamut is more of a brewpub than a bar though it seemed everyone was there for the beer when I visited. They have plenty of seating at the bar and don’t blast loud music all the time like others.
This is the first brewery I visited that was literally bad beer, not just average, but un-drinkable swill. I only tried two beers but I only had a small sip of each before I walked up to the bar and told them that they were serving some seriously bad beer. I tried small tasters of the IPA and the Stout and neither tasted like any example of the styles I have had before and all had a very harsh aftertaste that should not be in beer. I tried to explain to the brewers that their beers were likely infected but they didn’t know what i was talking about. The other guys I saw in the brewery said the beers were OK and had tried a few other styles but I wasn’t about to try more after that. I really hope they get some help from some of the other breweries around because this would be a horrible first experience for someone and might turn them off of Plaza Fiesta entirely.
Border Psycho, like Insurgente, opens at 5PM on weekends and closes on Sundays. They have a fairly large lineup of house beers but I decided to start with four before ordering more. The IPAs weren’t too impressive. The imperial pale ale was smoother than the IPA and a little fruity but not very good. The IPA had a lot of herbal hops and a prominent ginger flavor that was a bit too strong for me. If you like ginger this might be one to try. Stout wise, the peanut butter stout was a solid version of the style that has become fairly common in San Diego. If you like the versions from Karl Strauss or Belching Beaver this is a good one. The imperial stout is tasty but the flavors are a bit heavy on black licorice so if you hate that flavor stay away. It is nice and smooth and otherwise a solid stout, one of their top sellers.
Border Psycho wins points for their quirky nature and the dildos and butt plugs used for tap handles but they have such a large number of taps for a smaller brewery and can’t get the hoppy beers to the level of Fauna or Insurgente. Fauna is still the best regularly available IPA in Tijuana besides Insurgente’s. I also did not order more tasters because they were playing a lot of death metal while I was there, and loud enough to be annoying.
Peanut Butter Stout
They treat their tasting room more like a bar, complete with loud music. Even after requesting that they turn it down that didn’t last long nor did they turn it down much. Their IPA was only available in bottles even at the brewery, which was disappointing because I wanted to try it fresh. Though I was glad to see that they had their own new xocoveza on tap and that I got to taste their delicious black IPA on tap for the first time rather than from bottles. I tried a few tasters, Born to be Mild, berry brown, colaboration bock, and xocoveza. The mild ale was smooth and tasty though I probably couldn’t taste it so well because of the other stuff I had before. The berry brown was nice with a lot of dark fruit flavors like an English IPA. Their Xocoveza was super smooth with subdued spices. I ended up ordering a pint elsewhere simply because I couldn’t stand the music anymore. I did have a pint of the black IPA before leaving though because it is one of my favorites.
Considering Insurgente is only open in the evenings and plays lots of loud music I would recommend just looking for their beers on tap at the other bars around the plaza. You can find plenty of different beers of theirs at many of the other bars that are open earlier. Paralelo 28 and Fauna are still my favorite places to hang around and drink. Another note about Insurgente’s location, they are just between Fauna and Madueno. They are the really small white place and don’t look like anything when they are closed. If they are open you will see the awnings raised and hear the loud music. They don’t have any signs indicating they are there, and even after asking a few locals you wouldn’t know where it was.
After visiting these breweries we went downtown for some other spots that were recommended to us, Norte Brewing and Baja Brew Labs. As we had already been to a ton of places I didn’t have much at either. Norte had a solid IPA that I drank a pint of, good and balanced with a medium level of bitterness. They are more of a bar feel but are good and relaxed. They are closed on Sundays and open at 2PM on weekdays.
Baja Brew Labs was just across the street and according to my new friends built their own brewing equipment. I only tried their imperial stout with coconut and ordered an 8 ounce but we happened to visit during a time when they were having a concert so there was pounding electronica on that was even louder than Insurgente. They are closed on Sunday and only open 4PM to late other days.
In summary, it seems like no matter when you arrive you should have a great time because Fauna is open the earliest of the various breweries in the plaza and serves some of the most consistently delicious beer in a relaxing atmosphere. I detailed the beers at Fauna and Paralelo 28 in a previous post but that is absolutely worth reading about because both have great house beers and often great guest beers. You aren’t really missing out on much if you arrive when Insurgente and Border Psyhco aren’t open especially if you aren’t a fan of loud music.
Back when I first posted about Tijuana beer I had only been able to visit a single brewery and a bar. Thankfully, over time there have been more and more places opening, making the area more accessible to visitors from San Diego. Specifically, a small plaza has started growing where you can taste beers from many different breweries all in the same enclosed space that is only about a mile south from the border.
For this specific trip I was able to visit Fauna, a brewery from Ensanada, a bar called El Tigre featuring the beers from Ludica, and Paralel 28, a local brewery that also has a few guest taps. This same area is soon to be home to a few other local Tijuana breweries including Border Psycho and Insurgente.
A few things to keep in mind about these breweries, most of them want you to pay in cash only. This is a big difference from Baja Craft Beer that was perfectly fine with people paying with a credit card. Most of them should be fine giving you some change in pesos after you pay for your beers in US dollars though you should be ready with smaller bills if you don’t want to end up with a lot of extra pesos back. Also, most of the people working there seemed to speak pretty solid English, so you should be able to order beers with no problem. If you have data roaming from T-Mobile you can get around with Uber, otherwise you will want to take a cab, which will also expect cash.
The area where these bars and tasting rooms are located is known as Plaza Fiesta though cab drivers might know it better as plaza del zapato. If you see a bunch of clothing shops you are in the right area but you need to go down the street until you see the bars. They aren’t particularly inviting from the outside but they have done a good job with making them look nice on the inside. Because most of the places I visited did not do flights like I am used to in San Diego I only ended up tasting a few beers at each location.
My first stop was Fauna. The bar is also a restaurant and they have some really good food from what I hear, though I only got to try one of the small ceviche tostadas. Beer wise I ended up trying their coffee porter because I had already tasted the IPA at Baja Craft Beer previously. The coffee porter hit the spot with plenty of roasted malt flavors and a solid strong coffee flavor.
Next I went across the street to El Tigre, where I got to try a few of the beers from Ludica. I tried a single taster of the Saison and was not impressed. It was overly sweet and yeast forward without any of the smooth flavors I expect in the style or much spice. I ended up with a pint of the Supermash Equinox Pale ale (single hop). I could tell that the hops were extra fresh and bright. It had a good tropical fruit flavor and a nice low malt bill. As you can see on the photo most of their beers were a bit lighter than I normally like.
Finally I visited Paralel 28, though they were out of a lot of their house beers and what was left didn’t appeal to me. So I ended up trying an IPA from Wendlant called Perro Del Mar. This IPA was quite tasty and had a lot of what I expect in a west coast style IPA. Before I went back over the border for the night I walked the short walk to my favorite taco place in Tijuana called Tacos El Frank. They are only open in the evenings and have some delicious carne asada tacos as well as other options for a very inexpensive price.
I hope to write again over the next few months when Insurgente and Border Psycho open their own places in this plaza. For now, I was glad that I got to experience what I did and see that craft beer is becoming more available. Sadly, it seemed the locals were still ordering macro crap in most of the bars because that is what they are used to. Almost everyone in El Tigre was drinking Indio. If you are thinking about visiting these bars, they aren’t known by Google yet. Probably the best thing is to look for Sótano Suizo, a bar in the same area to find out where to go.