Last year, with the help of the US Consulate to Tijuana, and Coronado, Crisp founded Dos Californias Brewsters (DCB), an international club to promote camaraderie between Mexican and American female brewers. The “Brewsters” collaborate on an annual specialty beer, which is then sold in Coronado’s taproom, as well as SouthNorte’s outpost in Tijuana’s Telefonica Gastropark. “Literally all that’s separating us is a fence,” said Crisp. “Why wouldn’t we collaborate?”
Customs checkpoints, a language barrier (Crisp is still learning Spanish), and the inherent challenges of brewing by committee all may seem like reasonable deterrents. Still, none of that stopped Crisp, then-Consulate public affairs officer Preeti Shah, and their Mexican counterparts from creating. DCB’s inaugural cross-border brew. Despite all those barriers, it was an equipment shortage threw a snag in things.
“It was crazy, because we were like 30 women, and one mash shovel,” laughed Paulina Villalobos, recalling the first DCB collaboration in January 2018, which yielded two wheat beer varietals, one with Mexican hibiscus. As the head brewer at Tijuana’s Olvera Brewing, she’s no stranger to makeshift solutions. “Mexican microbrewers… there’s a lot of improvisation because you don’t have the money,” she said.
That’s one thing Mexican female brewers can teach their American counterparts: not gender, not pedigree, not even a lack of equipment can stop a cervecera on a mission. “It doesn’t have to be big,” said Villalobos. “Be proud, be passionate, and you’re going to see the results.”
For Olvera, Insurgente, Border Psycho, and other Tijuana breweries, the results include a chance to reshape unflattering American stereotypes of their city, and becoming one of Mexico’s indisputable craft brewing hotbeds in the process. “They are producing a movement, and that movement is going to grow,” said Ricardo Ocampo, a professor at Instituto Tecnológico de Tijuana, of TJ brewers’ dialogue with San Diego. In Tijuana, continued the brewer-teacher, who oversees the university’s diploma-issuing craft beer program, “you can feel the movement of the knowledge, the friendship of the two cities, because you can see the beer that we're making in collaboration.”
Proximity isn’t the only factor driving Mexican-American brewing partnerships. Far from the international boundary, colleagues-in-brewing are practicing their own versions of this Mexican-American craft beer diplomacy to lift up one another’s beers and businesses.
From Denver’s Cerveceria Colorado (a collaboration-focused spin-off launched by Denver Beer Co. in 2018), head brewer Jason Buehler regularly travels to Mexico to help his south-of-the-border colleagues dial in brewing techniques, said Patrick Crawford and Charlie Berger, the brewery’s co-founders. (Buehler himself was unavailable for interview, on account of being en route to another international brewing collaboration, this one in Brazil.) Vice-versa, Mexican brewing expeditions north have yielded insights on ingredients (like nopales, a tart cactus) and helped American brewers dial in their takes on increasingly popular Mexican-style lagers. “Who better to learn how to brew Mexican lagers from, than Mexican brewers?” said Berger.
“I always say like the craft beer industry in Mexico is like 10 years behind the US… so for us this is amazing because we're not just doing this beer,” said Rebeca Dovali Galvan, a co-owner at Primus Microcerveceria. The Mexico City brewery has collaborated with Colorado’s New Belgium (1,700 miles away) since 2018. “Design, legal, distribution, selling, brewing, anything that we had a question [about], we had a good friend, like a big brother, they can help us with it,” she continued.