Agua Mala Ensenada and the Baja Craft Beer Boom

Written by Jolee Pink

May 10, 2017
Home >> Eat & Drink >> Agua Mala Ensenada and the Baja Craft Beer Boom

The Baja Mexico craft beer movement has exploded since 2010. Influenced by the beer capital of San Diego to the north, brewers are producing exciting Baja beers incorporating the flavors of Mexico. I was happy to discover Agua Mala Cervecería Artesanal, one of Baja’s best thriving microbreweries, during a recent press tour hosted by the Ministry of Tourism of Baja California.

Agua Mala Brewery Owner/Brewmaster Nathaniel Schmidt - Baja beers

Agua Mala Brewery Owner/Brewmaster Nathaniel Schmidt. Photo courtesy Wabisabi Green

Launching Agua Mala and Baja Beers

Located in the small seaside town of El Sauzal just North of Ensenada, this pioneering, roadside gem was the first legal brewery to open in Ensenada. Owner/brewmaster Nathaniel Schmidt started out as a marine biologist. He moved to Ensenada from Mexico City to help establish the tuna hatcheries off the coast of Baja.

In 2009, Nathaniel started experimenting with homebrewing in his kitchen because of the lack of quality craft beer available at that time in Ensenada. After a valve exploded coating everything in a layer of muck, his wife kicked his enterprise out of the house. This incident motivated Nathaniel to find a facility and a partner—and start producing larger quantities of beer.

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Agua Mala Brewery Mural Detail - baja beers

Agua Mala Brewery Mural Detail. Photo courtesy Wabisabi Green

Fast forward to 2015 when the Agua Mala ocean view tasting room constructed out of recycled stacked shipping containers opened its doors. The use of repurposed materials reflects Nathaniel’s commitment to running an environmentally friendly business. He also implemented a recycling program reusing water and spent grains in the garden.

Agua Mala Brewery Metal Sign - baja beers

Agua Mala Brewery Metal Sign. Photo courtesy Wabisabi Green

Agua Mala Tasting Room

Nathaniel’s passion for all things ocean inspired him to name the brewery and all of the beers after elements of the sea. At first, I thought that Agua Mala (bad water) was an odd name for a brewery until I learned that it’s actually named after the venomous jellyfish endemic to the waters of Ensenada.

Beer names are equally aquatic, such as the Sirena (mermaid) Pilsner, Mantarraya (Manta Ray) Oatmeal Stout and Mako (shark) Pale Ale.

Agua Mala Brewery Mural - baja beers

Agua Mala Brewery Mural. Photo courtesy Wabisabi Green

A small metal sign on a fence embellished with the signature jellyfish logo marks the entrance to this roadside microbrewery. Walk through the fence to discover the production area dominated by a vivid mural in fluorescent colors featuring a mermaid, shark, ray and octopus on the corrugated-metal wall.

Agua Mala Brewery Sirena Pilsner Artwork.

Agua Mala Brewery Sirena Pilsner Artwork. Photo courtesy Wabisabi Green

Upstairs, the breezy tasting room beckons with casual indoor/outdoor seating looking out to the Pacific Ocean. Large reproductions of Agua Mala’s stylized beer labels adorn the walls.

Tasting Baja Beers

Agua Mala produces seven core beers and a hard cider plus an ever-evolving lineup of seasonal brews. The classical style beers made using top quality ingredients include an English Bitter, Belgian Wit, American Pale Ale, IPA, Amber and Oatmeal Stout.

Agua Mala Brewery Beer Sampler. Baja beers

Agua Mala Brewery Beer Sampler. Photo courtesy Wabisabi Green

When Agua Mala was awarded a silver medal for its Astillero (shipyard) IPA at the 2014 World Beer Cup, El Sauzal gained international attention. The copper-colored Astillero IPA boasts a whopping 8.5% ABV, floral aroma and clear bitter note characteristic of this style of beer.

The dark red Marea Roja (red tide) Amber Ale is a more moderate option with 5.2% ABV; peach, apple, honey aromas and a distinct caramel malty flavor. My personal favorite was the dark black Mantarraya Oatmeal Stout with 4.2% ABV; luscious chocolate, coffee, nutty aromas and a creamy finish.

Sampling Food at Agua Mala

To complement the exceptional beers, Michelin star chef Drew Deckman of Deckman’s En El Mogar (one of my favorite restaurants in the nearby Valle de Guadalupe) created a delectable food menu showcasing the fresh seafood and local produce of the region.

Agua Mala Brewery Raw Oysters. - Baja beers

Agua Mala Brewery Raw Oysters. Photo courtesy Wabisabi Green

Choose from items such as oysters, ceviche, tacos, tostadas and sandwiches. I recommend the briny plump oysters in mignonette sauce that pair well with the Mantarraya.

If You Go

Agua Mala Cervecería Artesanal
Fracc. Raiban 999 Carretera
Tijuana – Ensenada Km 104, 22760
Ensenada, B.C., Mexico

+52 646 174 6068

Agua Mala Cervecería Artesanal, one of Ensenada's thriving new microbreweries, is producing exciting Baja beers incorporating the flavors of Mexico.

Note: As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with tastings in compensation for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.

Written by Jolee Pink

Jolee Pink is a California-based writer, designer, artist, super foodie and avid traveler. She views travel as an unrivaled experience and has visited nearly 50 countries. As the author of Living Coastal: Inspirations for Entertaining, Decorating and Cooking California Style, Jolee brought together artists and chefs to capture the spirit of San Diego influenced by the Pacific Ocean. She writes a monthly food and art/culture post for Visit Oceanside and founded the Eat Drink SD Facebook Group to share news about what's happening in the San Diego culinary scene and beyond. Jolee’s Wabisabi Green lifestyle blog focuses on art, design, food and travel. Her colorful ceramic sculpture has received national recognition and is on permanent display at Rady Children’s Hospital. She also designs and markets a boutique eco-friendly textile line featuring bold modern motifs based on nature, world travels and the southern California coastal lifestyle.

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