Drinking on Cinco de Mayo often mirrors what you see on St. Patrick's Day: Amateur hour with an emphasis on "chug, chug, chug." But Mexican beer today has so much more to offer than crunchable cans of Tecate and glass bottles to cram lime wedges into. The cerveza artisanal movement in Baja is gaining steam with more than 80 breweries in the region; by the end of 2015, many more breweries will have navigated through the legal hoops to distribute in LA. For now, head to your favorite Mexican restaurant or beer bar—we'll show you where—and give these pioneer cervezas a try.
Try these Mexican craft beers
Less than five years ago, Cucapá became the first craft beer to cross the border. The brewery in Mexicali is one of Mexico's largest craft producers, and its American Blonde Lookout brew is delightful with food, from a napkin-wrapped taco to your favorite mole verde. The incredibly smooth, almost lemony brew is a light gold and has barely any bitterness, with whispers of earthy melon around the edges and a gentle level of carbonation. For a lighter brew, it is surprisingly nuanced. Toss a few back with nuggets of the house-made chicharrón at Cacao Mexicatessan in Eagle Rock for a perfect night.
Agua Mala brews its beers about 100 yards from the Pacific Ocean on the Ensenada coast, but their breezy, beachy locale does not translate into frivolous brews. These suds are serious. The Astillero IPA is a burnished straw color that begins with light chocolate hints of malty sweetness before transitioning to a hoppy bitterness, though it's still a mellow beer for an IPA. The finish is long lasting, with a low-key sweetness that eventually fades to reveal a satisfying bitterness on the tongue. Available at Cacao Mexicatessan.
This is the perfect summer blonde ale. A statue of the patron saint of brewers, San Lucas, is posted outside the doors of the Baja Brewing Company, and their brews are blessed with all natural ingredients and no additives or preservatives. The entirely malted barley contributes to a super smooth roll across the tongue, and it has a satisfying heft for a lighter ale, like a south-of-the-border Sam Adams. It's an easy beer with quietly satisfying notes of cinnamon and clove. Grab a six-pack at Whole Foods, or sip some at Goal sports bar in Hollywood, City Tavern in Culver City or Casa Escobar in Malibu.
This "red tide" amber ale, the minicerveceria's first offering in 2005, is an excellent example of what sets Agua Mala apart from other breweries, in Mexico and abroad. The bold quaff has notes of cinnamon bark, clove and citrusy orange zest balanced by its expansive bitterness. This is not a beer for the faint of palate. It also has interesting side notes of apricot and hints of bitter banana, as well as yeast and a malt that tempers the astringent swish of the hops. Splurge for a bottle at Cacao Mexicatessan.
Cervezeria Mexicana is one of the larger breweries in Mexico, close to the border in Tecate, brewing seven different beers (pick up a sample pack at Costco and get sipping!), but if you see their porter, be sure to give it a try. Smoky, malty and not overloaded with carbonation, the beer flows smoothly with a notable molasses depth. There are sweet notes of milk chocolate and hints of dark cola nuts—it's not a heavy porter, but starts with a powerful punch. Find it at Artisan House in DTLA, El Cholo or House of Billiards in Santa Monica, or various convenience stores across town.