I’ve been living in the capital of Guanajuato state in Mexico on and off for a decade now. It used to be that when I moved back here each time from the USA, I knew I’d have a hard time finding good craft beer and I would have to be content with what the two giant Mexican macro breweries were offering. Not anymore.
As I pointed out in this rundown of Mexican craft beer, the scene has improved greatly over the years. I think the craft brewers in Mexico actually got a boost during the pandemic because there were a couple of months there where the big duopoly that makes the likes of Modelo, Tecate, and Dos Equis stopped production. The little guys kept going and actually grabbed a bit of market share. With upscale Mexicans developing a taste for better beer, they’re ordering the good stuff more at bars and restaurants when on vacation, including in the towns and cities of Guanajuato state.
For the sake of research, I’ve been imbibing my way across my adopted home state and sampling beers from Guanajuato wherever I’ve been going in this time of travel close to home. This is not a definitive list still: most of these breweries have terrible websites if they have a site at all, so it’s often a happy surprise each time I discover something new. Use this as a starting point and just ask what’s available where you sit down in one of these locations. It’ll be hit-and-miss since the big brewers still dominate, but craft beer is popping up in more places all the time.
Craft Beer From Guanajuato City
I might as well start with my hometown since this is where I drink the most. Our local La Comer grocery store just got a renovation upgrade to make it more upscale, so now they have a bigger beer selection. The best place to go for something regional, however, is the local outlet of The Beer Company, near Allende Park in the historic center. There you can buy something to go, for rather high prices, or drink it there on their roof deck instead and enjoy the view. I took several photos in this post from there.
The Guanajuato City brewers come and go: I haven’t seen Embajador or Gambusino for a while, so I’m assuming they’re history. The ones that are still brewing keep a low profile most of the time and it’s hard to find their beers in local bars. If you see one though, go for it as most of them are quite good. They’re not trying to go big and expand across the country, so they don’t have to put out some weak lager or golden ale to please the uninitiated.
I’m a fan of Tepoli, though be advised that you’ll have to inspect the bottle carefully to figure out what you’re drinking. Many of the beers have unpronounceable names based on indigenous languages, like Jurhiata, Tzompantli, and Yaocelotl. Hikuri is a little easier to say and it’s an easy-drinking British brown ale. That Jurhiata is a golden ale with cardamom and I like their dark IPA Black Omicetl. The Marakame porter is quite good too. If you’re around the city on a Saturday, head up to the Presa de la Olla and you’ll often find a stand of theirs among the food trucks.
Another that you’ll find at festivals is Ave Nocturna. They make a good red ale and an oatmeal stout.
Most of the time though, what you’ll see available on the craft beer menu is from Celaya, Leon, or San Miguel if it’s local, so let’s move on to those.
The San Miguel de Allende Craft Beer Scene
While the capital city gets a steady stream of tourists all year, the big draw is a city that consistently ranks as one of the best in the world in the glossy travel magazines: San Miguel de Allende. It’s a haven for foreign retirees, a stop on a lot of Mexican tours, and a big wedding destination for the domestic crowd. You’ve got no shortage of pretty backdrops for photos and the shopping is good.
Two brands dominate the San Miguel de Allende craft beer scene and they’re as different as night and day. It’s almost like they chose their names to define where they wanted to be in the market. One is simply called Allende, with beer names that are just descriptions of the style, like “Golden Ale” and “Brown Ale.” The other is Dos Aves, with a much wider range of styles. The former is the market leader in the state in availability and sales, while the latter racks up awards and is continually experimenting.
Allende is a step up from the macrobrews, so grab one if you see it on a menu, but they only produce four beers and three of them are low-alcohol, middle-of-the-road options that don’t have much heft. This brewery is clearly trying to go big or go home, appealing to the masses. If you are looking for more complexity, go for their pale ale, which clocks in at 6.5% and is delicious. If that’s not available, at least get the Agave Lager. It’s only 4.2% alcohol–weaker than a Corona–but at least the agave elevates it a little and adds a sense of place.
Dos Aves, established in 2012, appeals to a more refined beer lover’s palate. If you’re in San Miguel, you can do more than order one in a bar: they do tours at their brewery. At the moment I think they’re the only GTO State brewer doing this, the only one with a taproom where they’re brewing, so take advantage of it for some fresh suds.
The regular Dos Aves offerings are not for light beer lovers. They offer various hefty pale ales, a Belgian Tripel, and a Russian Imperial Stout that’s one of the most complex beers you’ll encounter in Mexico. Their seasonal brews travel the world (Heifweizen, Barley Wine, Belgian Golden Strong) and also include an anniversary ale and a pumpkin ale. That Ryecerahops pictured above is great if you don’t mind a bit of bitterness that comes with the rye.
Leon, Guanajuato Beer Brewers
Leon is the biggest city in the state by population and is home to a big manufacturing base, so naturally they’re manufacturing some beer as well. There are a few good “cervecerias” in town where you will find a good selection–including other outlets of The Beer Company–but as best I can tell there are no brewer-run tap rooms pouring their own right now.
Libertad is the best-known brand from the area, usually the easiest to find. Thankfully, they’re also consistently good, with a wide range of beers spanning IPAs to an imperial stout.
Cerveceria Guanajuato picked an obvious name for their brewery, though better the state than the city since Leon is so generic. They produce the Cerro Gordo pale ale (5.5%), Alhondiga blonde ale (4%), and Calzada porter (5%).
Pipila brewery is named after the legend (and big statue) of Guanajuato City, but it’s also based in Leon. None of their beers are wimpy light ones trying to compete with the macro breweries. They produce a flavorful IPA, a double IPA (at 7.8%), an APA, a stout, and a black ale that’s a nice change of pace.
Mineral de Pozos Breweries
The magic town of Mineral de Pozos is quite tiny. You could explore the whole center in a few hours and it’s famous for being a revamped ghost town. On the outskirts are abandoned mining communities and haciendas that are crumbling into the cacti. It gets a fair number of visitors on weekends, however, apparently enough to support several breweries.
I thought the three Vopper beers I tried at Posada de las Minas Hotel where I was staying seemed like they were trying to play it safe, but they were true to the styles. They’ve clearly got some money behind them and are destined to stick around. The brewery is based in a local hotel, Casa Diamante, and here’s the real differentiator: they have a beer spa at the hotel! Yes, you can soak in a tub of beer while you drink a beer and get a massage while you’re at it. Otherwise, they have a tasting room on site that (outside of pandemic times) you can pop into for a drink and maybe get a brewery tour.
There’s another brewery in town, Caliche, that’s part of a complex in the center of town with a hotel (La Casona Minera), a spa, and a restaurant (Lola & Carlota). The restaurant is only open on weekends though and I didn’t see their beers anywhere else, so I couldn’t try them. They produce a Belgian Tripel, a German weissbier, and a British golden ale.
I did get to try a blonde ale from a third local brewery Tres Calderas when I popped into a roof restaurant with a view on a beautiful day. It was quite good, a real find. If you’re in the area, you might want to poke around and see if you can find any others from them. Start where we were, at Rey de Pozos. They make an Irish red ale, a Russian imperial stout, and others.
Near the town of Mineral de Pozos is a lavender farm where you can stroll through the fields and pose for photos. At the end, get a lavender popsicle or…lavender beer! I was a bit skeptical about this offering, figuring it would be some flowery flop, but it was actually well-balanced and subtle. The brewer is actually an experienced one in Mexico City, but the lavender is from this farm.
I wasn’t as thrilled with the mezcal-infused beer I got at the Cuanax mezcal distillery. Some things are better enjoyed apart than together and for my palate anyway, two of those things are beer and mezcal. To me, it tasted like someone poured a shot of mezcal into my beer. Good mezcal, but still… If you’re a big fan of that spirit though, you might feel differently. They offer an IPA and a honey red ale.
Most people visit Mineral de Pozos on a day trip from San Miguel, then zip right back after touring the ruins. As you can see, it’s worth sticking around for a while for the beer offerings alone and it’s a very atmospheric place to explore.
Craft Beer From Other Cities in Guanajuato State
One of my favorite beers from my home state in Mexico is Bull Doll from Chela Libre. It’s an Imperial IPA with a punch at 9.5%, so it’s not the kind of thing you down by the six-pack. But it’s oh so delicious.
I love everything about Chela Libre brewery from Celaya. The cheeky name plays on the slang word for beer and the Mexican wrestling term lucha libre to give us “Free Beer.” (Unfortunately, it’s not anywhere close to free.) The labels and marketing materials make me smile every time I see them. I keep waiting for them to put out a t-shirt that features their characters.
Most of the labels in the Chela Libre line feature a different fictional Mexican wrestler in cartoon form, kind of like the Mexican beer version of the musical group Gorillaz. (One that doesn’t is a Pilsner that translates to Malignant Narcissist and another is an IPA called Cerdo Capitalista–capitalist pig.) This group keeps expanding and changing though, with 16 beers on offer at any given time. They were one of my favorites at my very first craft beer festival I attended many years ago and after trying a bunch more since, they’re one I often reach for when I get the chance. Look for their oatmeal stout, amber ale, brown ale, and others, all consistently good.
I’ve said before that the Mexican craft beer scene feels a lot like the U.S. scene in the 1990s. There’s a lot of experimentation going on and new breweries popping up that home brewers have started. Sometimes you’ll find a craft brewer in an unlikely place. The photo at the very top of this post is from one of Guanajuato state’s “magic towns,” Dolores Hidalgo, the Dos Once beer produced by a mezcal distiller of the same name.
Outside of Dolores Hidalgo, we visited the winery Viñedo los Arcangeles and found that they brew beer there as well as kind of a side project. That seems to be the only place you can buy their Mexxicas beer and all they had available when I was there was a stout.
In Pueblos del Rincon, there’s a brewery called Cerveza del Rincon. They produce an imperial stout, a brown ale, and a wheat beer.
Final Notes on Beers From Guanajuato State
You’ll notice that there are no cans in any of these photos. Again, Mexico is still in its early years when it comes to the craft beer industry and if you think back to the 1990s in the USA, there weren’t a lot of cans around then either. Dale’s Pale Ale is about the only one I can think of in the craft beer world, maybe Sierra Nevada. That’s because a canning machine is a major investment and it’s only been in the past decade that mobile “canning trucks” have become a thing, something the smaller breweries could utilize. They haven’t arrived south of the border yet, so you need to be a big operation to scale up to producing cans.
One other quirk here to note: for whatever reason, the Mexican craft beers are often over-carbonated. So be careful when opening or pouring, especially if you just carried the bottles home.
Last, I’ve named very few restaurants and bars in this post on the best beers from Guanajuato state. That’s because I don’t want it to get out of date in a hurry. Places to eat and drink disappear with dizzying frequency or pop up elsewhere when the rent goes up and they move. So you’ll have to explore each of these locations on your own and ask, “Tienes alguna cerveza artesanal?” if you don’t see any craft beer on the menu. Or just go look at what’s in the glass-fronted cooler if they have one.
For more information on exploring Guanajuato state, head to the official tourism site here.