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Monday, March 20, 2017

The Baja "Colectivo"

Yesterday afternoon, those of us who were still around following the Ensenada Beer Fest made a couple stops. Hey, what else would you expect beer people to do? The second—and for me, final—stop was at Baja Brews, a “colectivo” where several breweries are on hand pouring their beers. Imagine a food court, but with breweries. Someone had the brilliant idea of repurposing an old warehouse into Baja Brews, which spills out on the back to a cliff-side view of the Pacific. Live music plays while you sample beers from one of eight (I think) different breweries. It’s a pretty magical place to get a pint of beer.

This is a thing in Baja, and a really clever idea. We visited a version of this in Tijuana at the Plaza Fiesta, an even more elaborate space of interconnected pubs that you access through ever-sprawling walkways and staircases. That one is so cool largely because of the location, which would be hard to replicate. But the basic idea is very simple and, once I saw it, obvious.

Take Ensenada. The town of around 500,000 got their first brewery less than a decade ago; now they have around twenty. Many are small outfits that would almost certainly struggle to find outlets to serve their beer. Drinkers, confronted with a metastasizing brewery scene, have a hard time tracking down the new breweries. Voila—an eight-in-one tasting room.

The colectivo idea probably depends on a collaborative beer scene, and that’s definitely the case in Baja (and seemingly the entire country). Brewers are as friendly with each other as anyplace I’ve seen, and you can sometimes see them gathered in packs. They are supportive and seem to share ideas liberally. Whether this is because things are so new and the market is healthy and growing, I can’t guess. The colectivo model might last only until the first market contraction. (I also can’t say what happens for those breweries in the colectivo that don’t sell well; seems like a ripe opportunity for resentment.) But at least from a consumer’s perspective, it’s a wonderful idea.

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