When Dos Desperados Brewery opened in San Marcos two springs ago there was a celebration. Family and friends of Steve and Dora Munson cheered that their collective hard work had finally paid off. Steve Munson and Ryan Schell, homebrewers who followed their dreams of going pro, couldn’t be more proud.

The Hops Highway team was privileged to visit Munson as he moved around his brewery preparing for the busy day ahead. It was Trivia Thursday that night and Mimi’s Tacos was already setting up out front in the parking lot. Trivia Night is popular with locals, and the tasting room would be packed with family, friends, Desperados Beer Club members, and fans of tacos, craft beer, games, music, and prizes.

Dos Desperados Brewery
Dos Desperados Brewery - San Marcos, Califronia

As we walked into the tasting room I caught the unmistakable fragrance I love of a craft beer brewery, sweet and pleasant. Munson wasn’t brewing so there were no clouds of vapor rising from the mash kettle. Nonetheless, my hound dog nose picked up the scent of the last batch, and it smelled wonderful.

The air in the brewery was aromatic. Sunlight poured in through the skylights and bounced off the copper and stainless steel tanks before illuminating the polished granite bar top. Dos Desperados was closed and quiet; perfect for focusing on the story behind the beer in the glass.

Gesturing toward the beautiful bar, Munson invited us to sit so we could sample their beers and learn about how they were made. One of the things I enjoy about tasting beers where they are made is to see the brewing system that makes them. Dos Desperados is like that, and the system’s layout is designed to be viewed from the tasting room.

Dos Desperados IIPA
Dos Desperados Brewery - Pancho Villa Double IPA
Dos Desperados Tap Handles
Dos Desperados Brewery - Tap Handles

Like a giant horseshoe laying flat, the brewing system starts at one side of the room, wraps like a U around the back of the bar, and stops at the other side. The bar is in the open part of the horseshoe shape. Sit at the bar and to the right you’ll see the copper hot water tank, stainless steel dairy tank Munson uses as a lauter tun, and shiny stainless mash kettle. Look left and you’ll see the sparkling fermenter and conditioning tanks.

I was here at the brewery on a different morning last spring, when Munson and Ryan Schell were mashing grain– the first stage in the brewing process when malted grains are soaked in hot water. They were making one of their signature beers. Soaking the grains creates a sweet tea-like liquid called wort. The fragrance wort gives off is sweet and bready, and even when the brewing process ends, the fragrance lingers in the brewery to be appreciated by geeks like me.

After soaking for an hour or so, the grains are rinsed with more hot water and the second phase of the process begins– sparging. The sparge system Munson uses is of his own design, and it’s quite efficient at teasing out additional sugars from the grain bed. Liquid wort from soaking and rinsing is collected and pumped into the mash kettle where the third step of the brewing process takes place. Incidentally, among many brewers, wort is considered medicinal in nature, and drinking it wards off illness.

“Once the wort is pumped into the kettle it gets boiled to sanitize and stabilize it,” Munson tells us. “While it’s boiling we add hops at timed intervals, depending on the type of beer were making.” As an example of how he uses hops, Pancho Villa Double IPA (9.2% ABV/90 IBU), Munson dumps buckets of Columbus and Centennial hops during the boil at different times.

Pancho Villa Double IPA is a well-made IPA and one of the best I’ve tasted in San Diego County. This beer is light gold in color, clear, with a white head. It’s a bit more fruity than bitter due to the hops Munson and Schell use and how they finish the beer. It has a nice aroma of citrus and spice, and tasty flavors of grapefruit and melon. As it warms, flavors like tropical fruit and vanilla begin to emerge. This beer has good body and a clean finish. Though the ABV is high, there is no alcohol taste. Overall, it has a good, clean hop character.

“I figure we are brewing in San Marcos and should be using the water supplied to us. Although, we do filter it to remove chlorine and particulates. And we adjust its pH when we sparge.”

– Steve Munson, Owner/Brewer Dos Desperados

Dos Desperados Growler
Dos Desperados Brewery - Growler
Steve Munson
Dos Desperados Brewery - Steve Munson
Pancho Villa
Pancho Villa - I Want You Gringo!

After they finish adding hops to the boil at the right intervals, the liquid is quickly cooled and pumped into the waiting stainless fermenter where yeast is added (fourth stage begins). During this phase of the brewing process, the yeast he uses from White Labs starts doing its job of consuming the wort’s sugars and converting them into alcohol.

Although this process is followed the same way for each beer Munson and Schell make, it’s the grains, hops, and yeast, and their various combinations, that makes each batch different. This is where brewer artistry occurs in making craft beer.

Although it’s the combinations of brewing ingredients that allows them to make various styles of beer, there is one ingredient common to them all: water. “I use San Marcos city water to make all my beers,” he said. “I figure we are brewing in San Marcos and should be using the water supplied to us. Although, we do filter it to remove chlorine and particulates. And we adjust its pH when we sparge.”

Dos Desperados Blend
Dos Desperados Brewery - Blending Beers
Dos Desperados Stout
Dos Desperados Brewery - Sultry Stout

Munson is a patient, generous man with a calm demeanor. Though humble when talking about them, he makes good beers. Right now there are 14 beers on tap at Dos Desperados, an array to suit the tastes of any beer drinker. It’s obvious they are passionate about craft beer in general, and making good beer to share with the community, in particular.

When Munson talks about his beers I could almost see the wheels turning in his mind, running a movie of the brewing process in his head, reeling off the variables of involved in each of his beers. Dos Desperados is in Munson’s mind as it is all around him in the physical world. You can see it in his eyes as he proudly, but humbly, pours us another sample.

After visiting Dos Desperados I highly recommend it as a destination brewery on the Hops Highway. Sit at the bar like we did and look around. Evidence of the artistry which created the beer in your glass is easy to see. And if Munson is behind the bar as he often is, ask him about his latest works of art. He’ll talk about them like it’s no big deal, but we know better.

Munson and Schell’s goal has always been to provide a tasty selection of quality beers to quench thirsts of family, friends, and North San Diego County. It’s a real treat to relax at Dos Desperados while savoring their beers. You’ll see for yourself that the Munson’s have met their goal of being a family-friendly neighborhood craft brewery.