When Todd Bates moved to a patch of land near Taos, New Mexico, in 1991, he had no grand visions of changing the American beer industry.
After pursuing a degree in applied math and biology in Ohio, followed by stints as a designer and builder, Bates, then a 28 year-old man with more background in woodworking than beer-brewing, had accepted a job running a quiet guest ranch in the New Mexico wilderness.
Tucked in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, and settled by Pueblo people over a millennium ago, Taos is a place of older sensibilities, where Pueblo and Spanish culture mix and endure, so when Bates mentioned to a friend from an old Spanish family that he was suffering from digestive problems, his friend’s mother didn’t mince words.
“My friend’s mom looked at me and went, ‘Ah, you people! You move here and you don’t know how to take care of yourselves! Our grandparents and tíos and tías would go to the mountains and collect herbs and we’d never get sick. The only reason you go to a doctor is so that they can help you fit in a box.'”
So for the next summer, Bates learned how to collect medicinal herbs from the area residents—an array of more than a dozen different herbs used by Native Americans and descendants of Spanish settlers for medicinal purposes.
Throughout the summer, one of the crops that kept coming up again and again was something called lúpulo—the Spanish word for hop and an echo of “lupulin,” the plant’s active ingredient. But the hops they were collecting weren’t used for brewing beer.
But Bates, now 50 years old with a carefree lilt to his voice, was never fearful of venturing into new territories.
So he started brewing beer, crudely at first, with the wild hops he was harvesting. He had some previous experience with brewing beer—he’d been known to home brew a little during high school and college—so he was capable of making a simple, no-frills brew.
Even from his bare-bones recipes, Bates discovered that the beer he was brewing with the wild hops ended up being more flavorful and enjoyable than any commercially available beer he could find.