Sunday, April 14, 2013

Crossing Back Over the Border

One of the greatest things about the Colorado beer scene is the diversity of great stories behind the beers that are sold in this state. And not least among them is Baja Brewing, the new Mexican craft brewery that entered the state market just last week.

Baja may come from Cabo San Lucas, but its roots lie in Steamboat Springs, where founder Jordan Gardenhire grew up before moving south of the border and opening one of the first craft breweries in Mexico. To hear the details of Gardenhire's journey and his plan to sell a Mexican ale in a market already flooded with great products, take a quick look at a story on him that I wrote Friday for the Denver Business Journal.

Cabotella, the first Baja Brewing offering in the United States, is a Mexican Ale with a little more hops and a good deal more malt backbone than most of the swill that passes for beer coming from our neighbor to the south. But, after the late Del Norte Brewing Co. of Denver made a great series of Mexican-style beers and still could not find a market for them, the question is: Is this new beer strong enough to earn its place here?

The truth is, as much as Gardenhire is a good guy with a great story, I'm hard pressed to see how Cabotella will find a fan base here at $8.99 a six-pack - a price point higher than its Mexican competition.

It's not that the beer is bad. Its hint of hops and malt content creates a slight sweetness to the body that catches your attention for a few seconds.

But after a couple sips, you get the feeling you've been there before - mild flavor, slightly listless backtaste and a distinct lack of a personality. And while this may be a fine beer to quaff when sitting in heat and humidity on a beach, it doesn't pack the punch you want in winter snow or the reward you seek after climbing a 14er. Essentially, it's just not a Colorado beer.

There is a market in the U.S. for higher-priced, lighter-bodied Mexican-style beers a notch above the usual skunky Mexican imports. But that place seems to be in the states that resemble Mexico more in their climate.

As Del Norte discovered, even Mexican ales must come with guts and zing - rather than than with a mellow vibe - to catch the attention of beer enthusiasts here. 

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