Interview with Insurgente's Ivan Morales | Bottlecraft

Posted: Oct 13 2016
by: Will Pidd

Interview with Insurgente's Ivan Morales

We recently sat down with Insurgente’s Ivan Morales to discuss our collaboration, their brewery, and the craft beer movement in Baja. 
Insurgente is a Tijuana craft brewery that started in 2010 when Ivan and his brother Damian decided to start selling their beer at friends’ bars. Now, Insurgente makes it’s way through most of Mexico, Southern California, Panama, and most recently, Denmark.

Borderline Tasting Notes
Borderline is a complex Imperial Brown Ale with a wide assortment of malts and an addition of walnuts.  The specific malt bill was chosen to complement the nut flavor and the result is deep, but subtle. The idea behind the beer was to capture the flavor of Autumn.  Having worked with nuts in beer before, Ivan and his team sought advice from Stone given their success with the pecan driven, W00t Stout.  Insurgente had previously worked with Stone on their Xocoveza collaboration.  Orange blossom honey was also used in this beer to provide a very subtle citrus note while helping to add an extra layer of complexity.  This beer is great to drink now, but should also age nicely over time.

Craft Beer Scene in Mexico & Mentality | What’s the scene like?

The Baja region is spearheading the craft beer movement in Mexico. Cerveza Mexico is the Mexican equivalent to the Great American Beer Festival and takes place annually in September, (it was pushed back to November this year.) 2012 was Insurgente’s first year attending and since then, Baja breweries have taken home the most  medals. In 2014, Insurgente won Brewery of the Year and La Lupulosa took home Best in Show. Baja’s proximity to San Diego has bolstered its success in brewing in more than one way. The quality of their beer is far superior as a result of the obtainability of fresh ingredients — getting fresh yeast and hops has proven to be difficult for many of the breweries further south in Mexico. Being so close to San Diego breweries also proves to be handy when they need an emergency sack of malt, hops, or pitch of yeast. Freshness is paramount when it comes to a beer’s ingredients. The proximity to San Diego is also beneficial because of the camaraderie shared between breweries.  It is common for smaller breweries in San Diego to purchase hops from larger ones.

Baja breweries have espoused this community mentality, recently illustrated by a shipment of Cascade hops that failed to show up to the Insurgente brewery. Their friends at Border Psycho, another TJ brewery, lent them some of theirs.  This was reciprocated back when Insurgente let them borrow some malt.  Breweries in other parts of Mexico often do not share this communal spirit and will not lend a helping hand.  Beyond Insurgente’s friendship with Stone and their Xocoveza collaboration, the orange honey blossom used in Borderline is from Coronado Brewing Company.  Ryan Brooks has been a huge supporter of the TJ craft beer movement.  Having lived in Tijuana himself, Ryan has also helped Insurgente with sourcing ingredients in times of need.  The relationship between San Diego and Baja is fundamental to the progress of craft beer in Northern Mexico.

Insurgente Tap Room |  What is the Tasting Room like?

The Insurgente Tap Room is located in Plaza Fiesta, where one can find a comprehensive surplus of Baja beers.  The plaza is also home to about 17 other Baja craft tasting rooms.  Insurgente describes their space as a hipster tasting room within other hipster tasting rooms, where patrons can come to have a pint and blow off some steam.  Love of design is evident in their decor, beer labels, and beyond.  Between 2008-2010, violence crippled tourism in the bars of Plaza Fiesta.  Their closures allowed Baja tasting rooms to move in.  Many places kept the busy hodge-podge designs from the old places before them. To get away from that, Insurgente decided on a minimalist design, which helps them stand out.  The customer vibe is hip and akin to the in-tune socialites that flock to a new restaurant or bar opening up.  

How educated are beer drinkers in Mexico?

While TJ has a great craft culture, Insurgente has found that they are often educating their customers about craft beer. Heineken recently bought a 50% share of Lagunitas. One of the reasons this was appealing for both parties was to get access to the Mexican market. Lagunitas is now in Oxxo’s, which is similar to Seven Eleven, but even more prevalent. This is providing a craft gateway to the beer drinkers of Mexico.  Once they discover that flavor, they are drawn to drink local and explore the craft beer being brewed around them. Big Beer is often seen as a scary industry in the States, but in Mexico, the Heineken/Lagunitas merger is putting craft beer in front of someone who might be more reluctant to buy a bomber of craft what-have-you. Although the industry isn’t necessarily trusting of big beer, the move can prove beneficial to beer culture in the short term.  

The Future of Insurgente
2016 has been a great year for Insurgente and even greater things are on the horizon.  They went from six bottled beers to twelve and plan on increasing that to eighteen by the end of the year.   Kegs, 12oz bottles, and 6-packs will also be arriving towards the end or beginning of the year.  Ivan would love for there to be a mobile canning line in TJ.  Insurgente will also be adding three new core beers soon.

New beers:
- Rompeolas - Hoppy wheat featuring Citra and Mosaic.  Dank and hop forward.
- 664 - Named after the TJ area code.  West Coast Pale Ale.  Crushable hop bomb. Equinox, centennial, mosaic, simcoe.  Stoked to finally get their hands on these hops
- The third beer is an unnamed stout that they are still dialing in.

What else should people know?
Come down to TJ and taste/see for yourself.  Insurgente is thankful to be a part of the change in perspective towards craft beer, as well as the change in perspective of TJ in general.  There is so much more going on than partying.  The food, wine, and culture have all bloomed.  

Lastly, this collaboration seeks to redefine the term “local.”  Borderline is more than a beer, it is a mentality that helps close the craft beer loop and erase the physical and mental borderline.  This is something we are very passionate about.  Ivan and his brother were born in San Diego and grew up in Tijuana.  They have lived half their life in SD and half their life in TJ, but are equally a part of both. Insurgente believes that craft beer should transcend borders and that this can grow into a craft beer region, more than two separate cities with separate movements. The Tijuana/San Diego region has always been codependent and collaborative. Borderline is an example of how these two neighboring communities can share ideas and culture without conceived barriers.

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