Craft Beer In Southern Baja

Here are two companies that do it well

BY SARA VEYSA

We are going to talk about two local beer brewing companies with similar names, so hang on and pay close attention. One is called Todos Santos Brewing and one is Baja Brewing. You may know the Baja Brewing folks by their donkey mascot. Todos Santos Brewing has no donkey, just some quirky waves, which may be beer foam. Todos Santos Brewing is represented by the Mitchells, while the donkey folks is fronted by Jordan Gardenhire. OK, ready?

According to Cerveza Mexico statistics, there were 55 beer brewers nationwide in 2014. That number has now exploded to 630. This massive increase can be attributed to the exponential growth of craft brewing. While only making up 0.1% of the Mexican market, compared to 18% of the US market, the industry has directly created over 6,800 jobs in this country. The beer industry started to change rapidly in the early 2010s as small batch brewing took off in Tijuana and Ensenada, and then gained traction on the mainland in Mexico City and Monterrey.

That was a soft opening background stroll, now here we go.

Todos Santos Brewing exists thanks to a bad tequila hangover. “It was September 2016, a hot day, and we just wanted somewhere we could get a nice craft beer and burger in air conditioning,” explains co-founder Ted Mitchell. “But we couldn’t find one, and I realized there was an opportunity here.” Ted and his wife Liz were visiting Cerritos from their native Australia when they decided to stay and start a craft brewery. They leased a defunct tortelleria in downtown Todos Santos, completely gutted and renovated it, and their brew pub opened its doors in June 2017. “We’ve been overwhelmed by the support of the community,” says Liz. “We sold in our first three hours what we expected to sell during the first month.”

When Jordan Gardenhire founded Baja Brewing, (the donkey people), in 2007 in San Jose, the municipality didn’t even have permits for the type of liquor license he was seeking; no one had ever brewed in BCS before. “I was one of the first manufacturers of anything in the region,” Gardenhire explains. “The infrastructure wasn’t here for equipment and supplies. No one in Mexico was even selling hops or malt.” Baja Brewing opened its original brew pub and production facility in San Jose’s art district, and sold kegs to other local restaurants. However, few retail establishments had tap systems for draft beer or the proper cooling equipment for kegs, so there was that challenge. In 2010, the company became the first on the peninsula to bottle craft beer, aptly named Baja Blonde. Despite being destroyed by both Hurricanes Odile and Lydia, Baja Brewing continues to grow. They’ve opened two more restaurant outlets in Cabo San Lucas and a new production facility in Tijuana, and their canned and bottled beers are now sold in parts of North America, Australia, and South Africa.

The Mitchells, (back to the people with the waves of beer foam), credit Gardenhire, (donkey), for establishing the local craft beer scene and smoothing the path for them. Instead of seeing each other as competition, Gardenhire feels the more microbrews that grow, the more people will be educated about craft beer and will want to try something different.

“Before I started the company, I went to a craft beer conference in the US and met so many established brewers,” Gardenhire explains. “They gave unlimited advice, there were no secrets, they just all wanted to help. It was such an authentic, collaborative environment and I wanted to bring that attitude to Baja.”

Gardenhire and the Mitchells collaborated on a recipe for Todos Santos Brewing, and he has recently worked with Cru Cru in Mexico City on a special edition “Christmas on the Beach” lager mixed with the tropical fruits of traditional Mexican ponche. We’re told this is one of the main reasons craft brewing has become so popular – it affords the ability to experiment with ingredients and aromas to create one-of-a-kind tastes.

In order for Todos Santos Brewing to craft a large range of flavors within a nano-sized operation, the Mitchells invented a unique system of brewing 100 liters at a time and fermenting in a small temperature-controlled room. While the ingredients come from around the globe, the Mitchells  are able to source all product through a distributor in Chihuahua. Each recipe is a combination of several grains and up to a dozen different hops; for example, their popular Toucan Tropical uses five different hops added at three different stages during the brewing process.

With 22 taps, Todos Santos Brewing, (waves), has something for every palette, from easy-sipping ales to strong barley wines. Like Baja Brewing, (donkey), the menu provides the alcohol content, IBUs (international bitterness units), and color scale of each beer. “The Chuck” red ale, a malt with citrus and peach hop aromas, has proven to be one of their biggest sellers.

The Mitchells have noticed three primary markets for their unique brews: beer connoisseurs who will actually travel to Todos Santos specifically to visit them, tourists to the Los Cabos region that enjoy craft beer at home and come to Todos for a day trip, and a growing segment of young Mexican professionals who want something different than the light lagers sold ubiquitously throughout the peninsula.

If you book a Brewer’s Talk for 600 pesos, Ted (waves), will give you a tour of their facility, then take you through a full tap wall tasting and explain the genesis of each recipe. “I consider it taking the palette on a journey. Beer is not just one taste,” he says.

Baja Brewing also offers private tours and tastings between noon and 5 P.M., Mondays to Fridays, for $20 US. Donkey rides not available.

Thanks to the municipality’s innovative artisanal brewing license program, La Paz also has an emerging nano-brewing scene and recently held the city’s annual BeerFest. Craft brewers Pinshi Paceña operate their popular pub at 165 Calle Arriola St.

For more information, visit bajabrewingcompany.com, todossantosbrewing.mx, or Cervecería Paceña on Facebook.