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Born in the Baja

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With a lot of hard work, Charlie and Jordan Gardenhire opened the doors to a life of leisure.

 

The Baja Brewing Company is the first brewery in the Mexican state of Baja California Sur, and my son, Jordan, and I are its founders.

Several years ago Jordan started brewing beer in his college apartment in Colorado. It took quite a few attempts, but he eventually came up with a beer recipe that everyone agreed was excellent, and his campus popularity grew rapidly (free beer might have played a small role). Jordan moved to Los Cabos first in 2004, and I joined him a year later. Armed with my background in marketing and international tourism and Jordan’s status as an accredited brewer and a member of the American Brewers Guild, we agreed that we had found a new home for ourselves—as well as the perfect place to brew a great local beer.

The construction of our brewery turned out to be an enormous challenge. Of course, brew tanks and equipment were not available for sale in Mexico, so they had to be trucked down Baja from the States on three 18-wheel trucks. We were more than a little worried about that delivery: If there was an accident, or if a piece of equipment vibrated loose from one of the trucks, we would be completely out of luck. The thousand-mile road down Baja from the border is not a forgiving route. With no shoulder on the road, should a trucker have drifted one foot either way, our brewery would have become home for a lucky bunch of coyotes. Fortunately, everything made it down with just a few dents and scrapes, and we were able to completely unload all of the equipment into our building in one short, 18-hour, August-in-Baja day.

The largest fermenting tanks hold about 28 barrels and stand 18 feet tall. So, our first task? Get them through our 7-foot doors and stand them up inside our building without the use of a crane or forklift. We had to muscle them up with slings, pulleys and six big, gnarly guys. Add to that the fact that the temperature under the metal roof was hovering at about 110 degrees—we were not sweating, we were swimming!

Once our equipment was in place, we teamed up with a long-time friend of Jordan’s, Rob Kelly, and his business partner, David Hatfield. They’re our partners, and they run the restaurant. The Baja Brewing Company restaurant offers much more variety than just simple pub food. Our menu ranges from traditional pub fare like shepherd’s pie, burgers, french fries, chicken fingers, wings and onion rings to more sophisticated dishes such as a coffee-dusted filet mignon, crusted sea bass and a spicy Fettuccini Alfredo. Rob Kelly sums up the menu as “international pub fare with a strong local influence.”

Creativity really flows in the brewery: The Baja Brewing Company produces eight different beer styles from a very light “beach beer” lager to a dark, creamy stout that will leave the mark of “Zorro” on your upper lip. With names like Escorpion Negro, Costa Azul Common Lager, Cactus Wheat and Peyote India Pale Ale, it’s clear that Baja has influenced our recipes. To give back to the peninsula what it’s given to us, we wanted to produce and market a new beer brand that would clearly be seen as Hecho en Los Cabos, thus, the name “Cabotella” was born. Cabotella is a light lager beer with a heavy influence from the local desert.

We did several tastings here with locals and were surprised to see how well the stronger, more flavorful beers were liked. But the real beauty of a brewpub is that there is something for everyone’s taste: We thought that women would prefer the lightest beer, but the local women’s tastes were just as diverse as the women themselves. (A good reminder for us men!)

Opening the brewery was a challenge, not only for the logistical reasons, but also because Mexico’s craft brewing industry is solidly in its infancy. The handful of folks involved are actual pioneers here, and we feel honored to be a part of this great movement. Jordan and I recently attended the third annual Mexican Artisanal Brewers Conference in Tijuana. With only five microbreweries in the entire country, this was, clearly, a very small event. But to help build up the conference’s size, Stone Brewery came down from Southern California, as did several others such as Coronado, Alesmith, Bear Republic, Green Flash, Mad River and Russian River, and Star Brands brought Paulaner. Hosting the event was Cerveza Tijuana, the leader of the Mexican microbrew revolution, and they treated us all to a welcome breakfast and a tour of their beautiful brewery. We were the only gringos in the industry, and were truly touched at how we were accepted into the Mexican fraternity of microbrewers. •

Charlie Gardenhire and his son opened the Baja Brewing Company in December 2007.

 


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