It was sometime mid-morning when I found myself double-fisting drinks in Tijuana. In my left hand: a pint of a Mosaic hop-driven session IPA, low in ABV as well as IBUs, yet bold and bright. In my right hand: una agua de Jamaica, a sweet, blood red tea endowed with the flavor and aroma of hibiscus flowers, a Mexican staple.
Without much effort, and within minutes of arriving at Telefónica Gastro Park, Ryan Brooks had made me feel right at home with a multicultural experience.
Sharing a meal or having a drink with someone is a very intimate act. Drinking a beer with the team that brewed it is downright spiritual.
This type of interaction is what SouthNorte brings to Tijuana every day at Telefónica. Established in 2015, Telefónica pioneered the gastro park concept in TJ, growing from a vacant lot to 11,000 square feet.
Telefónica now includes fifteen chef-driven, niche food operators, and the 28-tap bar has been expanded into a 10-barrel production brewery operated by SouthNorte.
West Coaster headed south to speak with Ryan Brooks, brewmaster of SouthNorte, as well as his business partners from Coronado Brewing, just ahead of the brewery’s August 31 grand opening.
Why was SouthNorte created?
Coronado: SouthNorte’s origins began a few years ago. Ryan Brooks was the brewmaster for us, and, at that same time, he was living in Tijuana. Since he’s very active in the homebrew and beer judging scene, Ryan fell in love with Mexican lagers and started to experiment with that style (and other Mexican-influenced beers) at Coronado.
Brooks: A lot of the Mexican brewers knew me, not just in Baja, but throughout Mexico. I was judging competitions nationally, being exposed to different spins on styles. I started making these styles at Coronado for the brewpub. After continual success with these small batch beers, Coronado approached me to create a new brand, not just a sub-brand, but my own brand. This was their chance to invest in me as a person, a person with a real history and reputation on both sides of the border.
Coronado: It made more sense to create a new brewery, inspired by Mexico, rather than have a line of Mexican beers under the Coronado brand, which already has its own clearly defined brand identity. SouthNorte is the authentic extension of Brooks’ dream to grow his career and combine that dream with his passion project of creating Mexican-inspired craft beers. Ryan has spent the better part of a decade building authentic relationships on both sides of the border, and it’s been exciting for him to realize his vision of building a brewery from the ground up, inspired by his love of Mexico.
What’s Brooks’ history with Coronado?
Brooks: When I started at Coronado I would drive from Fallbrook to Mission Brewing Plaza off Washington Street every day. This was a daily grind. The commute was killing me. The commute motivated me to move closer to my job, so my wife and I moved to Tijuana. My brother in law had a place for us. This scaled-down commute gave me more time and energy to work, which made me a better employee. I was able to dedicate myself tirelessly. In five years’ time our team earned more medals than Coronado’s entire previous 15 years combined.
Coronado: Ryan began homebrewing in 2007, after touring around the world as a drummer in a metal band. Brooks quickly realized that craft beer was his passion and began brewing professionally at Temecula’s Black Market Brewing. After two years, Brooks set sail for Australia, where he brewed at the country’s largest craft brewery, Malt Shovel Brewing Company. After his work visa expired, Brooks returned to Black Market Brewing, as the head brewer, where he remained until joining the Coronado Brewing Company team in 2012. Ryan is an award-winning brewer, who lead Coronado Brewing to its 2014 World Beer Cup Mid-Size Brewery of the Year award. He became head brewer of Coronado Brewing in 2013 and remained in that position until he launched his own venture, SouthNorte Beer Co.
How did you choose Telefónica Gastro Park?
Coronado: The concept is very cool—Telefónica owns the large warehouse/indoor/outdoor space that features a dozen or so permanent vendors. Each vendor operates their own cart/storefront, ranging from ramen, to a wine bar, to traditional Mexican food, to vegan offerings. The eclectic mix makes for a ton of variety and a great atmosphere to hang out. Owner Antonio Gamboa is very creative and has curated a unique experience with an authentic Tijuana vibe.
Brooks: A big part of the selection of Telefónica was really organic. The ecosystem of brewers from San Diego who regularly visit Tijuana, and the brewing community within Tijuana is very active. The original Telefónica was one of the places that these interactions would regularly occur. The partnership evolved organically, with SouthNorte’s team spending time at Telefónica and getting to know Gamboa and his crew. Almost immediately, the two companies realized their missions were incredibly aligned, and the idea to join forces began to crystalize. Telefónica Gastro Park presented itself so naturally, and the space so beautifully, that it was a no-brainer.
What’s on the horizon?
Coronado: There is so much momentum for SouthNorte! We are getting ready to celebrate our first official year in business. In that short time, we’ve been honored to win a bronze medal at GABF for our Agavemente lager in the specialty beer category. Agavemente took home the same award at this year’s California State Fair, and we have our fingers crossed for GABF 2018! We were also honored to be named one of 2018’s Top 50 New Breweries by Beer Advocate Magazine.
Brooks: I want this place to hum. We have 27 taps at the moment. I want them to be ½ SouthNorte or ½ collaboration beers eventually. In order to get to that point we will have to make our Telefónica production more efficient. As for future plans, we are looking forward to finding a permanent home in San Diego for our brewery and tasting room experience. We are also looking forward to expanding our distribution into Southern California and parts of Arizona. We are also expanding our distribution in Mexico. We look forward to being a part of both the San Diego and Baja brewing scenes. I want people to step out of your comfort zone. Come south! There’s culture, food, and beer! I’m not talking solely about Tijuana, I mean throughout Baja, I mean throughout Mexico. We have an entire country full of amazing breweries, cuisine, and landscape. Mexico is so close to San Diego, so friendly, and it’s all easy to access, all you have to do is go!