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The Rise of Craft Beer in Mexico and the Best Mexican Beers

I first wrote about craft beer in Mexico back in 2014 after attending a local beer festival in Guanajuato. I tasted a few wonderfully aromatic pale ales, German-style Heifweizens, a Belgian-style whit beer, a couple red ales, and one of the best stouts I’d had in years. All made within a few hours’ drive from where I was standing. That’s a pretty normal day in the USA, but this was in Mexico.

craft beer in Mexico from microbreweriesIn the not-too-distant past, finding a craft beer, brewpub, or micro-brewery anywhere in Latin America was next to impossible. If you were to drive south from Texas or Arizona, you wouldn’t be able to find something with an abundance of hops until you got to Santiago or Buenos Aires, down in the Southern Cone of South America.

The situation is still pretty bleak most of that stretch, a non-stop stream of monopoly producers’ yellow fizzy lagers, but the situation is getting better each year. In the past five years I’ve sampled microbrews in Costa Rica, Panama, and Ecuador.

In Mexico though, long the Latin American country with the best mass-market beers, there’s a full-fledged craft beer revolution going on and each year the choices are increasing. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a brewery in every state now and in some cities you’ve got three or four viable producers to choose from. Mexico is basically where the USA was in the late 1990s and we know how things went from there.

Let’s admit though that the mass-market Mexican beers are pretty good. Otherwise, why would so many microbreweries in California and elsewhere be putting out “Mexican-style cervezas”? I’ll take a Dos Equis Amber, Pacifico, or Leon over the crap the big American producers put out any day. When you get up to Negra Modelo and Bohemia, they’re on par with the good European standards they were modeled after. It’s really hard to find much hint of hops in any mainstream Mexican beer though. You can’t really blame the big producers on that count though: hops don’t grow in Mexico and have to be imported at international prices. 

Unfortunately, there’s just not much variety when it comes to the predominant style of pale lagers. Only the most experienced beer drinkers would be able to do a blind taste test and tell which is which between Sol, Tecate, Corona, Modela, Superior, and on and on. I can pick out a Pacifico, Indio, or a Dos Equis as they are a bit more distinctive, but the others are a sea of sameness. A lot of them are like lite beers when it comes to alcohol too, usually 4% (Victoria and Tecate) or 4.5% (Corona and Carta Blanca), so you wonder how those guys on the corner drinking a “ballena” or “caguama” big bottle got so drunk. 

Mexican craft beers

My go-to mass brewer brands are Negra Modelo, Bohemia, and Noche Buena (only available in December) because they have the most flavor and (not coincidentally) are 4.9% alcohol or more. They never taste watered down and don’t have to be freezing cold to taste good. All are malty dark beers except Bohemia Clara though, so get that if you are a lager fan but still want something with plenty of punch.

Mexican Craft Beer Distribution

There are two major problems with craft beer in Mexico. One is the price, which I’ll get to in a minute, but the bigger problem is distribution. It’s really hard to find more than an odd brand or two in stores. You think the Bud/Miller/Coors/InBev distribution hold is a strong one? It’s got nothing on the lock that Mexico’s duopoly has throughout the country. Your odds of finding a craft beer in a convenience store are so low that I’ve actually seen customers jump for joy when they find one.

There’s a good reason for that. The two biggest convenience store chains are Extra and Oxxo. Guess who owns them? The two beer companies! Grupo Modelo owns Extra and Cuauhtémoc Moctezuma Brewery owns Oxxo. Since it’s hard to go two blocks in a Mexican city without seeing one of these, a whole lot of people get their beer from them. Then Modelo also owns a chain of beer stores that they’re less cagey about: the stores are called Modelorama.

It’s a little better in the largest supermarkets, especially in tourist cities, but you’ll still only find a small sampling of what’s available in the region and it’s a crapshoot as to whether the same bottles will be on the shelf next week. (And yes, it’s mostly bottles for now. Portable canning operations are not viable here yet and most brewers can’t afford to buy one of their own.)

The craft beer brand you’re most likely to see is Cucapá and that’s because Grupo Modelo purchased it in 2015. This was around the same time the Mexican government eased restrictions on craft brewers and the big boys realized they were going to have a lot of tiny brewers nipping away at the heels of their nearly 100% market share. It’s the Goose Island of Mexican craft beers since it’s part of the duopoly, but a nice change of pace and reasonably priced. A couple years later, Modela also purchased three other craft brewers, including Bocanegra from Monterrey, so you’ll see that one a fair bit too.

Other brands that seem to get onto the shelves beyond their home state are Tempus from Queretaro, Sierra Madre from Monterrey, Minerva from Guadalajara, and Colima from Colima. Minerva makes a good pale (6%) and a good IPA (6.5%) that you should snag if you see one on a shelf and are craving a beer with some hops.

In some states, there’s a major craft beer brewer that at least has a sizable foothold in its own state, like expat-owned Baja Brewing of Los Cabos. Visit their great taproom in San Jose del Cabo if you are there on vacation.

Baja Brewing Mexican craft beer

Unfortunately, there aren’t a whole lot of brewpubs in Mexico, places where you can drink beer made on site. There are two in downtown Puerto Vallarta though, so check out my full article here on breweries in Puerto Vallarta. The Dos Aves brewery in San Miguel has a taproom that’s occasionally open. Otherwise, your chances of finding a Mexican brewpub are best in the brewing hotspots of Mexico City, Guadalajara, Monterrey, and Queretaro. 

There are at least 1,400 brewers in Mexico now though, with an output that is doubling every two years. Exports are only about 5% of that, so obviously people are finding these beers somehow within Mexico. They’re mostly finding them in bars, which leads to the next problem…

Mexican Craft Beers are Too Expensive for Most Mexicans

If you go out for a craft beer in the USA, you won’t blink an eye if the tab is $6 for a draft. Show a Mexican a drinks menu with prices like that and her jaw will drop. “So it’s 120 pesos for…one beer?!” When you can find a Mexican mass-market beer for 25 to 45 pesos in any city, a price with three digits is hard to swallow.

A hoppy craft beer in a bar in Mexico will sometimes be as low as 60 pesos–snag that if you see it. More often it’s the equivalent of $3.50 to $4.50. It can cost more than your main dish in a restaurant.

These prices are, unfortunately, justified by market forces. As I mentioned before, hops don’t grow in Mexico, so a Mexican craft brewer has to pay the same prices as one in Florida or England. While a brewer in Portland or Prague will have local hops connections, that’s not possible here. Mexico grows a respectable million tons of barley a year (27th in the world), but that’s less than a quarter of what the USA grows and one-eighth of what Canada grows. 

Add that to the distribution problems mentioned earlier and it means wholesale prices are high unless it’s for a brand owned by a mass brewer. It’s not unusual for the head brewer or someone in his family to be out delivering cases and kegs from the trunk of his car. Despite that, margins are thin. The microbreweries are just not able to scale up high enough to get cost efficiencies that bigger operations see.

Minerva Mexican craft beer from Guadalajara


Back in 2014 I discovered the local Gambusino brand in my city at that beer festival and back then you could find their beer in a few locals bars. Then they stopped trying to get them into stores and bars, even locally, and you had to visit their brewpub on the edge of town that’s really hard to find. Now that seems to be gone too, a victim of the pandemic perhaps. A local Guanajuato beer brand I like a lot, Tepoli, sells much of its beer at a weekend food truck gathering place. At $2.50 a bottle though, it’s a decent price when drinking it there, but a splurge for me to buy a whole six-pack for $15. That’s more than I’d spend in the states on any brand from a store.

Want a case of Chela Libre beer ordered direct? That’ll be $60 please. (To put that in perspective, you could easily buy four bottles of 100% agave tequila for that 1,200 pesos.)

So most of the time when people do order a craft beer in Mexico where I live in Guanajuato, they go for something weaker and less interesting that won’t break the bank: the Allende brand from San Miguel de Allende. It’s okay, much better than a Tecate (especially their pale ale), but nothing to get really excited about. Better options in Guanajuato state are Chela Libre, Tepoli, Clandestina, Libertad, and Cerveceria Guanajuato if you can find one of those. Sometimes you’ll get lucky and see one from La Brü of Morelia. They make some of the best IPAs you’ll find outside of Mexico City. 

craft beer in Mexico Tepoli

In bigger cities, the selection is much better. It’s downright great in Mexico City, Guadalajara, and Monterrey, places where you’ll find full-fledged brewpubs and taprooms serving 20 different craft beers. Even in smaller Queretaro, there are now a dozen breweries, some of them quite good. Because of its proximity to California, Baja has a lot of good craft beer brands. 

In Merida one of the bigger ones–Ceiba–is kind of like Allende, derided as “craft beer lite” by beer nerds. You could be kinder and call them “session beers.” Other brands are more interesting though, like Patito, which has a good IPA and a Belgian blonde. I enjoyed both after finding them at a supermarket in Cancun–both in cans. Cerveza Cancun has a boring name, but theirs also come in cans and you can get a pilsen, a stout, and amber, and wheat ale, and my favorite–the 5.9% Playa Pale 

Patito, one of the best Mexican beers in supermarkets

If price is a factor, you might want to start with the craft brewers owned by the big boys because they’re often 30 pesos ($1.50) or less in a store, often only 60 or so ($3) in a bar or restaurant. These include Cucapa, Bocanegra, Mexicali, and Tijuana. (Those latter two were obviously founded by people without much imagination, so it’s kind of fitting they got bought by international brewing conglomerates.) Of all of these the Bocanegra Dunkel is my favorite, a great value. 

What Craft Beer Styles Are Popular in Mexico?

I’ve had several brewers tell me that Mexicans prefer beer on the sweet side, probably because that’s what they’re used to from the mass brewers, plus they gravitate to the light lagers they’ve been drinking all along. The middle class and the well-traveled have expanded their palates though and now you see many of the same styles you will find anywhere else in the world. Nearly every brewer makes some kind of light lager or pilsner, but you’ll now see a lot of ales and dark beers as well. 

Just remember that if you order an IPA from a Mexican bartender who doesn’t speak English, you should request an “EE-puh.” A pale ale would be a “Pa-ley-AH-ley.” The English word, but using Spanish pronunciation rules. (Kind of like you have to ask if they have WEE-fee, not WHY-fi.)

Buclas Mexican beer from Nayarit

If you have just come from the U.S. and are sampling craft beer in Mexico, you’re probably not going to be blown away, I have to warn you. There’s a fair bit of timidity in the brewing process here, partly because of the young age of the industry, partly because the Mexican palate isn’t as adventurous…yet. Occasionally you’ll find a true dud that tastes like something went wrong at the brewery. So then you’re cursing them for wasting $3 you could have bought a plate of tacos with. Once in a while, however, you’ll find a real gem though that makes you go, “Wow.”

If, like me, you live in Mexico though and spend months in a row here, you’re more easily impressed and will be pretty psyched when the hops aroma hits your nose and you take your first sip. It’s such a contrast with what the day-to-day beers are like that you appreciate it more. Plus there’s one consolation no matter what: Mexican graphic designers are quite talented and some of these beers have really cool labels. 

I’ve been to several more local beer festivals since that first one in 2014. A few brands have disappeared, but most of them survived. My “best of show” choice back then was a blonde ale made by 7 Barrios of San Luis Potosi. It was pretty much a perfect beer and could appeal beyond the hop-heads. I bought a glass of their strong red ale too (7.5% alcohol) and it was also delicious. I had both later in their home city and they’re still going strong. 

Mexican microbrewery

Mexico’s craft beer scene is a point in time much like you saw in the USA 25 years ago or more, when Sierra Nevada, Sam Adams, Anchor Steam, and others were just getting off the ground. Maybe your American city had three breweries, not 30 like it has now.

You’ll feel like a detective trying to find out anything about Mexican craft beer brewers. If you think U.S. brewpub websites are useless, wait until you see these. Half the time they haven’t even bothered getting around to building one or they let their domain expire and lost the whole thing. I was on one last week where they hadn’t even replaced the stock photos of computers and phones that came with the WordPress theme demo on the “Our beers” page. They’re more likely to have a Facebook page, though having a regularly updated one is a different story. 

Support these small guys though and someday the Mexico beer selection will follow the same path it did up north. Support the craft brands from the big brewers too because they’re bringing new people into the market with more affordable prices.

And hey kids—you only need to be 18 to order a craft beer in Mexico. (Or really just look like you are…)

mark taylor

Tuesday 7th of December 2021

Nice article and you've covered all the bases about Mexico craft beer. Though I would point out that I believe you should have said more about San Miguel's Cerveceria Dos Aves being from the state of Guanajuato and probably the best craft beer in the bajio regionh. Having lived in San Miguel for awhile and tasting many Mexican craft beers, comparatively speaking, Dos Aves is the best example of quality craft beer. Their west coast style pale ale and IPA's are perfect examples of the type of beer you would expect in San Diego California and this makes sense because the owners are from the S.F. bay area. Dos Aves ranks at #5 best micro brewery in all of Mexico according to and has multiple award winning beers judged in the Copa Mexico competition. The Beer Company in Guanajuato city should have Dos Aves for sale and I would recommend purchasing a few, their imperial stout and Belgian golden strong are also quite good. Keep up the good writing and hope to see you around. Cheers

Tim Leffel

Monday 13th of December 2021

Mark, I covered the beer from my home state in this other article on the Perceptive Travel Blog. I have tried most of the Dos Aves beers and do agree that they are quite good. The brewery wasn't open for tours last time I was there but I've had them at The Beer Company and a cerveceria in Leon. Thanks for chiming in!


Thursday 14th of October 2021

Thanks Tim


Monday 11th of October 2021

Great read. Happy to have come across it. I'm traveling through Mexico now and miss access to the variety of brews I had in the U.S. I brewed at one time and have a few friends that started breweries.

I totally agree with your take on go-to mass brewer brands of Negra Modelo, Bohemia, and Noche Buena. Bohemia Clara is my favorite of the bunch and I was relieved that I like it as much as I do. I miss the variety of craft brews I had access to in the U.S., but those brands do help.

I'll be heading into Merida soon. So far, my research reveals one active brewpub:

I came across a second that seems to have closed permanently recently, Nación Brava. It's a shame. It has good reviews and looks like a cool place.

This place seems to have a really nice selection of Mexican craft beers, bottled and draft:

I think I will survive in Merida :)

Keep up the good work. You have gained a fan.

Tim Leffel

Wednesday 13th of October 2021

Thanks! I didn't have much trouble finding craft beer in bars and restaurants in Merida on my recent trip, so just keep an eye out.

Jim Phalan

Thursday 7th of October 2021

Great article! We are opening a Brewpub in Ciudad del Carmen, Campeche called Cerveceria Carmelita, and hope to open by December 2021. We have a brewery in Carson City, NV, and one of the main issues for me while building this new brewpub in the Yucatán peninsula, was, will the locals like American style craft beers, similar to the beers we brew in Carson? I went with mind set that I should brew at least 2 to 3 staple beers that resemble the national beers, and then expand to more robust and flavorful beers, such as stouts, porters, sours, etc. We brewed a Honey Ale, Munich Dunkel and West coast IPA, and to my pleasant surprise, the locals absolutely love them. We charge $60 pesos for a 16oz (457ml) beer and $70 for a 20oz (both prices include 16% tax). So I think we are giving a relatively good price for our beer for the amount and quality. You did hit the nail on the head, the cost for distribution, is almost cost prohibitive with IEPS tax at 26.5% + 16% IVA (tax) on all packed beer. My selling prince on a 355ml bottle to a restaurant or store is around $22 pesos per bottle. That is almost the same price that the national brands are "selling" their bottles at. Anyway, our plan is to open the brewpub first, run it, see how it goes and then decide to distribute. IT truly is the wild west out here, our state of Campeche doesn't even have any laws in place regarding the manufacturing and sale of beer. (im sure that will change in the not so distant future).


Monday 27th of November 2023

Hi @Jim Phalan, My girlfriend and I are heading to Campeche in February. I would love to connect with you directly by email to pick your brain about a few things! Also, looking forward to visiting your now-open establishment!

Tim Leffel

Friday 8th of October 2021

Thanks for adding your perspective Jim! Campeche is one of the states I still haven't made it to, but I'll definitely try a few pints when I do.


Monday 9th of August 2021

Thanks, great article and helpful now living in Guanajuato as well. Night and day coming from NC