Private session with TSB brewmaster a lesson in all things beer

Todos Santos Brewing’s head brewer Jair leads a tasting. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Seventeen beers later and I was ready for another.

Jair, the head brewer at Todos Santos Brewing, was happy to oblige. He led me and Darla through a tasting of these craft brews, imparting details about the brewing process, a bit of history about the brewery, and the differences between the flavors. Then he gave us a tour of the facility as we sipped on a full pint of our choice.

By then we were ready to order off their menu – mostly burgers, with a portabella for vegetarians.

Known as Brewer Talks, this is an opportunity to taste a majority of the more than 20 handles at the brewery and gain some knowledge. Because Darla can speak the language of beer, Jair was able to bring more depth to the conversation. It went beyond the alcohol percentage, IBU (international bitter unit), and SRM (standard reference method). After all, those three measurements are on the menu.

Jair, right, explains to Darla how the three 140 liter steel tanks are used. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Like wine tasting, we paid attention to the smell and color of the beer before taking a sip. We cleaned out the glass after each beer so as not to blend flavors. Water was encouraged to help cleanse the palate.

Jair expressed how important the water is for the end product to taste good; with water being 80 percent of the reason a beer tastes the way it does. Todos Santos Brewing gets it water from the Sierra de la Laguna mountains that surround town. Malt, hops and yeast round out the main ingredients. The quality of those goods, according to Jair, will also affect the final product.

It’s the yeast that can bring bitterness, while the malt gives beer color. Malt also has sugar, so sometimes it’s necessary to extract it in the masher. The more sugar in the beer, the more alcohol there will be, Jair, tells us. Sweetness can lead to hangovers.

Plenty of other things can be added to beer. That red color some of them have – not natural. It’s usually caramel that is added. Ginger, cinnamon, Orange Juice – all have been added to a TSB beer at some point. Jair likes to experiment. He adds coffee to the Midnight Oil Black IPA. There’s even a gluten free option, which is more like a cider.

A beer like the Toucan Tropical IPA uses three malts and five kinds of hops. It created a sensation in our mouths, leaving a bit of an aftertaste. The haziness is because of all those hops. Whereas the Day Drinker Session IPA didn’t have as much of an aftertaste, but a citrusy smell was evident.

Day Drinker Session IPA and Brown Owl Brown Ale at Todos Santos Brewing. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The Phoenix Amber Ale was created after last year’s fire at the brewery. Jair said every time he drinks it he sees the blackened brewery, and reflects on how it was only closed for 10 days as repairs were made. While brewery folks thought it would be a one-time creation, it has been so popular that multiple batches have been brewed.

Neither Darla nor I liked the sour beers.

“Sours are for people who don’t drink a lot of beer,” Jair told us.

For our pint, I chose the Brown Owl Brown Ale with alcohol level of 6.2 percent, an IBU of 29, and SRM of 19. Darla had the Day Drinker Session IPA: alcohol 4.1, IBU 47, SRM 4.1.

With it just being the two us, there was an intimacy to the experience that may have been lost if we were with a group.

Todos Santos Brewing is definitely redefining what Mexican beer is all about. Brewmaster Jair said most Mexican beers are lagers, while TSB is more about ales.

The award-winning nano-craft brewery in June will celebrate two years in business. Liz and Ted Mitchell, Aussies who had been coming to the area to surf, decided to open the brewery when they couldn’t find good craft beer here. He had experience making beer, they had a love for Baja Sur. Food followed.

The future is likely to entail a bigger brewing facility so batches can be larger than 100 liters. (This is the equivalent of about 26.4 gallons.) Half kegs fill the cold storage area. TSB has opted for a ton of variety, with not a large stash of each flavor. With so many wonderful options it doesn’t matter if your favorite is out, there are plenty of others to dazzle the taste buds.

Plenty of choices for beer connoisseurs and novices at TSB. (Image: Kathryn Reed)


Deets:

  • Brewer Talks available every day but Tuesdays, until 6pm. Appointments required.
  • Cost – 600 pesos, $35 U.S.
  • Minimum of two people, maximum of eight.
  • It takes about two hours.
  • To book a time: email info@todossantosbrewing.mx, Facebook messenger Todos Santos Brewing, or call 624.118.3709.

Stay away from the tap water in Mexico

Purified water is available at a facility in the center of Todos Santos. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Not even AJ, my dog, drinks the tap water in Todos Santos.

I don’t know all the minerals or other contaminants that are in the water, but enough that even the native Mexicans use bottled water. With AJ having kidney disease, I wasn’t about to find out what it would do to her.

I shower and brush my teeth with the regular water. It’s also used to wash dishes and clothes, and for outdoor plants.

Using a custom-designed holder for water in the kitchen. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

I use treated water for cooking rice-quinoa-pasta, even to boil eggs. Guests use this “good” water for coffee as well. For washing produce I put a few drops of a solution into good water. This was recommended from Rhoda, who has wintered in Mexico the last few years.

The number of bottles I go through in a month varies based on how many people are here and the amount of cooking/coffee making. I’ve never spent more than $4 in a month.

Restaurants often serve bottled water when you request aqua. I often have my water bottle with me, at least for casual dining. The whole plastic issue is the main reason, as well as being cheap.

Water is a bit of a luxury here. In an average year, Todos Santos gets about 6 inches of rain. The Sierra de La Laguna mountains that run through a large swath of the middle of Baja California Sur get more rain. It is from these mountains that the aquifers of the area are filled.

Large plastic bottles are used over and over again for treated water. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Baja California Sur is the driest state in Mexico. This doesn’t seem to bother the government since it keeps giving permits for development. This state is also the fastest growing one in the country.

Officials in Cabo San Lucas got smart a few years ago when they implemented a policy mandating major developments have their own desalination and wastewater treatment plants. Desalinization plants, though, have numerous environmental red flags associated with them.

As more gringos have moved to the Todos Santos area, more options are available for treated water. Many full-timers install purification systems so they can use their tap. It’s possible to do so just in the kitchen or on any faucet.

I get my drinking water in bottles that are just more than 5 gallons. There is a purification plant in town with a reverse osmosis water treatment system. Water U-2000, the company, has been doing this type of work for at least 35 years.

Water is available six days a week at the Todos Santos facility. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

While there are various workers there, usually it’s the same young man – who didn’t give me his name – who helps me. He washes the empty plastic bottle I bring him, then has two overhead faucets in order to fill more than one bottle at a time. He dries off the bottle, puts the cap on and collects my 10 pesos – 53 cents. When he carries it to the Jeep, he gets a 5-peso tip; not much, but still 50 percent.

It’s possible to have water bottles like this delivered, but this way is working for me. Carrying it upstairs and getting a bottle into the downstairs container adds to my weightlifting for the day.

Downstairs I use the custom-made metal container my sister had here. The bottle sits in it. When it comes to using it, the bottle is tipped forward to pour from it. Upstairs I have a pump on the top. Both do their job.

Sweetness evident in Coca-Cola’s Mexico recipe

It was immediate. I knew this wasn’t the same Diet Coke I was used to drinking. It was more than the packaging, with it being called Coca-Cola Light in Mexico.

Sweeter, less carbonated. That’s what I think of Diet Coke in Mexico compared to the United States.

The difference is that in Mexico the recipe uses cane sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup. The carbonation factor I can’t figure out. I’ve had Coca-Cola Light out of aluminum cans and plastic bottles here. Both seem less fizzy than what I get north of the border.

Some in the U.S. prefer the Mexico blend, so now it is imported in some locales. Look for hecho en México to know that it’s made in Mexico.

Packaging is a little different. Three liter bottles are available here; some cans are larger than the “normal” 12 ounces (355mL). Glass bottles are also extremely popular here.

Mexicans drink more soda than any other country. Coke, though, dominates the market. On average, Mexicans drink 700 cups of Coke a year, which is almost double what people in the United States drink.

A 3-liter plastic bottle of Coca-Cola light in Todos Santos costs 36 pesos; less than $2. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Obesity and diabetes became a huge concern, especially after Mexico joined NAFTA in 1994. The price on sugary drinks like Coke and processed foods dropped. In some locales in Mexico it was cheaper to buy a Coke than potable water. The number of Mexicans diagnosed with diabetes doubled between 2000 and 2007.

Vicente Fox, who was president of Mexico from 2000-06, had too close of a relationship with the mega carbonated drink producer to do much. He was once president of Coca-Cola Mexico.

It was President Enrique Peña Nieto who in 2013 proposed a 10 percent soda tax. It took effect the following year.

A study by BMJ showed a reduction in soda consumption. However, actual reduction in calories has not been significant enough to have serious impacts on reducing diabetes and obesity. Others are calling for education to be stepped up so consumers understand the impacts of their dietary choices.

Time for chefs to step it up to satiate vegetarians

Even in 2019, being a vegetarian can be an issue when eating out. I blame it on the chef.

Most kitchens are full of vegetables. Most side dishes are a veggie. It’s not hard to turn a side dish into a main dish. Why not have a non-meat entrée or two on the menu? If that is too much to ask, why can’t the chef be creative?

Quesadillas can be a restaurant’s answer to feeding a vegetarian. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

No longer is vegetarianism an oddity. It is safe to call it mainstream even if a minority subscribe to this way of eating.

According to a 2018 Gallup Poll, 5 percent of the U.S. population claimed to be a vegetarian. This is about the same percentage that said so in 2012. Research firm GlobalData found that in 2017 6 percent of people in the United States identified as vegan. This compares to 2014 when 1 percent did.

Even if people aren’t eating a totally plant-based diet or one where no animal was killed, people are embracing “meatless Mondays” and the like. Look at all the options in U.S. grocery stores for prepared veggie meals. People are making a conscious effort to eat less meat.

That is why it always surprises me when there isn’t at least a vegetarian option on a menu.

So often the go-to solution for restaurants in the U.S. is to offer a veggie burger. Fine. But when it’s just some frozen, ordinary burger this is like having iceberg lettuce for a salad. Boring.

I’ve walked out of a number of restaurants in the South Lake Tahoe area because there was nothing on the menu I would eat. This always shocked me, especially considering how close Tahoe is to San Francisco, and that Northern California is where most tourists come from.

In Baja California Sur I’m finding quesadillas to be my solution when the menu is filled with meat, usually fish.

Restaurants like Santos Pecados in Todos Santos are amenable to catering to a vegetarian. The chef turned the burrito on the menu into a burrito with verduras. No meat, no fish. It was awesome, with such wonderful flavor. The waiter even came out to make sure I would eat cheese. This shows the chef knew to figure out if I was vegetarian or vegan. Then there is Hierbabuena in Pescadero. I could eat at this farm-to-fork restaurant every night. I’ve never been disappointed. On the more casual side, Santo Chilote in Todos Santos, which is known for its fish tacos, offers a deep fried avocado. I call that innovative.

While I don’t mind a veggie burger or quesadilla, I’d rather spend my limited dining dollars on something more interesting, not something I could easily have had if I’d stayed at home. Come on chefs, show your creativity with those vegetables.

Grass-Fed cows create a richer tasting butter in Mexico

Super yellow butter. I didn’t know what to make of it. It was so bright I was sure some food coloring must have been added.

Come to find out this bright yellow butter that is the norm in Mexico is what it looks like when cows eat a natural diet. Natural meaning grass and flowers. It is the beta-carotene, with its yellow pigment, that gives butter it’s yellow color. Less beta-carotene, the more opaque the butter.

Not all animals operate the way cows do. That is why butter from sheep and goats is white; they don’t store the beta-carotene the same as cows.

Mexican butter, bottom, is more yellow than what comes from the United States. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Still, no matter where the cows are grazing, it’s hard to have them grazing year-round on grass. Because the consumer wants consistency with their purchases and not having fluctuating butter color during the year, as would be natural, those making the butter often freeze it during peak season in order to have it for sale year round.

In the United States the freezing part isn’t usually an issue because so few dairy cows ever eat a green meal. Those cows usually get a mixture of barley, corn and alfalfa in a feed lot instead of a pasture. The diet is consistent, thus producing consistently light colored butter.

Besides looking different, the butter in Mexico also tastes different. Richer would be one word to describe the difference. It also tastes a bit like the butter you get on popcorn at a movie theater, and even has that smell.

It’s like a lot of foods, they are similar, but not the same in every country. (Even Diet Coke – Coca-Cola Light here – is different; it’s sweeter in Mexico.) It’s a matter of getting used to things and being open to adapting to the world you are in and not holding on so tight to the world you came from.

Consumers in Mexico have a choice of what color/flavor of butter to buy. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

While what the cows are being fed clearly makes a difference, mantequilla (butter) is not used as much in Mexican cooking as it is in the United States, other than in baked goods. Oil and cream are more popular.

If one doesn’t want to adapt, it’s possible to get U.S. butter in Baja California Sur. At Supermercado Del Sol II in Todos Santos one cube of Challenge butter (113 grams) was 40.75 pesos (more than $2). This compares to a local brand – Gloria – and its bright yellowness being 20 pesos (about $1) for 90 grams.

5 food-Beverage facts about Mexico

  1. Mexico exports more beer than any other country, with the value being $3.8 billion in 2017.
  2. A Mexico City restaurant had to pull its $27 taco (that’s U.S. dollars) off the menu because the Mexican red rump tarantula is a protected species by the government.
  3. One of Patricia Quintana’s legacy’s is that she was known as the matriarch of Mexican cuisine. She was considered a culinary ambassador to the world. She died at the age of 72 in November 2018. She is remembered in this New York Times obituary.
  4. Pozole is a traditional Mexican dish most often made with pork. Thanks to a chef-restaurant owner in Santa Ana, California, a vegetarian version has been concocted. This New Yorker article has the recipe, gives some history about the dish and as well as insights about the owner of Alta Baja café.
  5. In 2010, traditional Mexican cuisine was included by UNESCO on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Memories of mom fill the kitchen

Cleo Reed shows off the finished product. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Certain smells captivate me. They transport me to a happy place.

Apple pie is one of those aromas. That scent coming from the oven makes me think of Thanksgiving and my mom. It’s funny how a smell can make me be thankful. It’s not the making of the pie or even eating it; it really is the scent.

It’s a kind of aromatherapy. In this case it’s the apples and cinnamon enhancing my physical and mental being.

Scientist Jordan Gaines Lewis in Psychology Today explained why we have such a connection between smell and memories: “The olfactory bulb has direct connections to two brain areas that are strongly implicated in emotion and memory: the amygdala and hippocampus. Interestingly, visual, auditory (sound), and tactile (touch) information do not pass through these brain areas. This may be why olfaction, more than any other sense, is so successful at triggering emotions and memories.”

Cleo Reed makes do with a wine bottle to roll out pie dough. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Even when I make apple pie a different time of year, it is mom who I think of first. I’m sure it’s because she is the one who taught me – and all of my sisters – how to make the pie. And, yes, the crust is homemade as well. When she is at my home, I ask her to make the pie even though I know how.

Mom was with me in Todos Santos last Thanksgiving. We were invited to dinner at friends. I volunteered mom to make an apple pie. It’s a recipe that was given to her from her mom, via her grandma.

While I remember mom using pippin apples because of the tartness, they can be hard to come by even in the United States. Granny Smith is a good substitute. I’ve been told it wasn’t that long ago that apples were hard to find in Baja. After all, there are no apple orchards anywhere around here. It’s one of those foods that is imported from the U.S., and easier to come by now that there are so many gringos.

Several steps are involved in making a homemade pie. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

We had to improvise a bit. I don’t have a rolling pin. I provided a wine bottle; one that didn’t have a paper label. The tin came borrowed from a neighbor.

The pie, well, it was a hit. Fortunately, there was enough for breakfast. It really is my favorite breakfast.

We had put foil in the oven to catch any juices that might run out so there wouldn’t be a mess to clean up afterward. I don’t use the oven much. Just last month I turned it on. I thought I was losing my mind when I smelled apple pie. Ah, the juice covered foil.

I smiled. What a great unexpected memory to be triggered. Apple pie and mom will forever be linked in a very special, memorable way.

I was sad throwing that foil away.

No need for eggs to be refrigerated in Mexico

Eggs in Todos Santos are stacked alongside fruit and vegetables at San Ignacio’s produce stand. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Refrigerated eggs? Not in Mexico. Not in most countries.

The United States requires all egg producers with more than 3,000 hens to wash eggs with soap, enzymes or chlorine. Then they must be refrigerated until used by the consumer. Washing the egg removes a protective layer that is naturally there to keep bacteria (think salmonella) from getting into the egg.

The European Union believes the protective layer is more than sufficient to ward off contamination. In fact, EU rules ban egg washing.

Japan and Australia are two other countries requiring egg washing before they reach a store.

It’s important to keep washed eggs refrigerated eggs because they can sweat at room temperature or higher. That creates a breeding ground for bacteria.

An advantage to refrigerated eggs (washed or unwashed) is they stay fresh longer.

In markets in Baja California Sur eggs can be found mingled with produce and on shelves with dry goods. They aren’t uniform in size or color, like in the U.S. This seems more normal, more natural. Knowing they haven’t had a chemical application gives the impression they are healthier.

Cooking for strangers allows couple to travel the world


Bram and Martine, aka the Camping Cookers, make a stop in Todos Santos. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Pulled pork to refuel post a 5K run/walk. That’s what Bram and Martine, aka the Camping Cookers, brought to the Palapa Society’s event on Dec. 29, 2018, in Todos Santos.

The couple’s latest gig includes stops in Baja California Sur, a detour as they travel the Pan-American Highway with their daughters in a tiny home. Along the way they are cooking for people (for a fee), getting to know the local cuisine and using ingredients from where they land. Their goal is to be able to make money cooking as they travel.

In the entourage are four tiny homes, another couple, and camera crew. The footage is being shown back in their home country, The Netherlands.

Their journey began in June 2017 when they sold their restaurant and hit the road. The goal – travel and cook.

Martine assembles pulled pork sandwiches. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

While Bram was running the local race (a benefit for the Palapa Society), Martine was in charge of that day’s cuisine.

The videographer captured Bram getting his bib No. 449, the crowd being warmed up by local Zumba guru Jan, and of course the race itself.

The Carrera de Todos Santos started in 2009 as a community event to raise money for the private school. The 2018 race included participants from Germany, Australia, Canada and several states in the U.S., as well as numerous locals.

Small-batch winery proves Mexico fruit is good for drinking

Rancho Laventa winery is a hidden gem in remote Baja California Sur. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Alaskans making wine in Mexico. It’s a fantastic combination.

Bob and Liz Pudwill bought this 350-acre ranch in a remote part of Baja California Sur in 1996. He is the winemaker for Ranch Laventa, she is the artist – the one responsible for the wine labels and other artwork around the property.

A crumbling old brick ranch house that dates to the 1700s has been transformed into the tasting room. A more modern structure has been built around it – providing a roof, glass windows and solid walls. Still, the charm of what was is still captured in the ambience.

According to the owners, the site was a roadhouse (which is what rancho laventa loosely translates to) for people traveling from the La Paz and Santiago missions.

Winemaker Bob Pudwill talks wine and history. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Today it is still a resting stop for travelers. Three casitas are available if someone wants to stay a night or more, with breakfast provided. (Cost: $100 U.S.) A pool is built into the granite, which is fed by an underground spring. Trail rides, hiking, and bird watching are all possibilities. Lunch is also available, but a reservation is required.

The Pudwills try to use as much as they can from what they grow. Olive oil, mango salsa and more are on a table for noshing while tasting, and may be purchased. Grab a jar or two of the salsa before you go.

With the 3 acres of grape vines, the couple is able to get 600 cases of wine. The mangos on the property play a big role in the white wines. The Mango Limon and Mango Chardonnay are for those who like a lot of fruit in their vino. They were interesting, and would probably be great on a super warm day. They underscore the phrase “fruit forward.” These, plus the Rose Mango and Mead are each $20. The latter is made with honey from the grounds.

The reds, those were definitely more traditional. The Merlot grapes came from the Valle de Guadalupe in Baja Norte. The Syrah ad Cabernet-Syrah are reminiscent of California Wine Country reds – big, bold and lush. A bottle is $25.


A spring-fed pool is available to those who spend the night. (Image: Kathryn Reed)


Deets:

  • From Todos Santos, take Highway 19 toward La Paz, take Highway 1 toward El Triunfo. The winery is between San Antonio and San Bartolo. It’s on the right.
  • Cost to wine taste – 200 pesos. Shared tastings are not allowed.
  • Open Wednesday-Saturday, 11:30am-4pm.

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