When you score a meeting with someone whose reputation precedes them, you can’t help but become giddy with excitement. And that’s exactly what happened to us when we pulled up in front of Tuba Baking company’s new store front. You see, there has been a steady buzz throughout the city about Drew and his pretzels.
We first encountered Tuba Baking and his pretzels at Share: Cheesebar. At 1st taste, we knew these pretzels were unlike any other we’ve ever tasted. It is not your average “ballpark pretzel”. On that instant, we immediately followed his IG feed @tubabakingco so we would get almost daily posts of pretzels (side note: don’t follow if you are avoiding carbs! ).
Today was the day!!! The day that we get to meet Drew Rath, the man behind the pretzels. As we entered his store, we were greeted with a gentle smile and all over warmth.
Drew’s food background started at his grandmother’s country farm where he literally lived the “farm to table” concept. He enjoyed everything there was about eating– all the ingredients were fresh, flavorful and of course healthy. After a while, Drew with his parents transitioned to the suburbs where the food choices were more convenient (Hey! we are moms so we understand the grind), totally far off from what he was used to on their family farm, fresh produce and fresh meat.
Fast forward a few years, Drew who happens to be a music nerd, moved on to become an audio engineer in Nashville. Not knowing how to cook and with his affinity to fast food, he decided he wanted to explore a different relationship with food by becoming vegetarian.
Back then, there were not a ton of options for vegetarians, to our luck, Drew taught himself how to cook. This paved the way for him to become the sous chef under Belgian Chef Frederic Mainet. Jumping off that exciting 5 year learning experience from a good friend and a great chef, Drew headed back to Cincinnati.
With the help of friends, Drew was able to dive into his love affair with baking. Using Fireside Pizza‘s oven, he learned all there was about baking sourdough. And with the old adage of “good things happen to good people”, opportunity showed up one night and asked Drew to make pretzels (by way of Catch-a-Fire pizza) for one of the big breweries in the city, Madtree Brewing Company.
Drew, now a dad of three, would work after the kids went to bed (#dadgoals). With all his hard work, he developed a sourdough recipe that he was happy with…which turned out to be ALSO what other people were happy with …and that’s how the buzz around town started. For a very German influenced city, Drew found out that there wasn’t a lot of options as far as pretzels went…and that’s where he found his niche.
With German ancestry, specifically Swabian (southern Germany), Drew married his cultural background with his love for baking and from there decided he was going to focus on Swabian style pretzels. He wanted to impart another aspect of traditional Germany to America.
Tuba Baking Co is known for it Swabian style pretzels. What’s the difference you ask? The pretzels that most of us have grown up with are Bavarian style pretzels, these pretzels have the same thickness throughout but Swabian has a signature note by being thick in the middle with a slit through the thickest part. It has higher hydration and higher butter fat than the regular ball park pretzel (Yes!) It is more dense and consist of 40% rye and 10% spelt flour. You get a more hearty bread-like experience, crust on the outside, more soft on the inside compared to other pretzels.
Drew’s LOVE for baking and pretzels was very palpable as he talked to us about, yeast, starter, fermentation, proofing, shaping, slicing, mixing, baking, lye dip, salt, the number of iterations, as scientists (#womeninscience) we were nerding out but we also started to form an image in our minds of another baker… another baker than has a similar obsession with bread…THE Nancy Silverton. Drew’s fervor, dedication to the art and the daily experimentation is one to be desired.
You know in typical bitesized style we give you the background and then we go to the food.
Swabian style Pretzel: Slightly sour, fermented notes, the texture is dense, yet soft (bread-like) and easy to chew. On the first bite you almost have to close your eyes as your teeth sink into the crust and savor the sweet softness of the inside, which makes for a hearty experience–heightened by the salt on top.
Pretzel balls: The sourness is mild, hard outer shell with contrasting flavors of bitterness from the crust and the sourness and sweetness of the inside.
Tuba Baking Co and Drew lives up to their reputation in town. He is a phenomenal innovator which is the perfect match for his passion for baking. But none of all of this would be possible without his supportive wife Valerie, his kids ( who turns out to be huuuge pretzel fans and eat at least 3 of his pretzels daily ) and his mother for watching the kids while he works to get his brick and mortar up and running. By the end of the interview, we had so many words to describe Drew but these three came to the top; innovative, passionate and humble.
Drew is currently getting close to opening his brick-and-mortar (September 2019). In the meantime you can find his delicious pretzels at the following place; Share Cheesebar, Urbanstead Cheese, Bauer Farm Kitchen, Madtree Brewing Company , Catch-a-Fire Pizza, Nine Giant Brewery, Streetside Brewery, Fireside Pizza, 1860 Taproom, Craft & Vine, Grassroots &Vine.
So we end this post with a challenge, we talked a lot about Drew and his pretzels but we didn’t tell you why it is called Tuba Baking Company. If you’re a sleuth, you can re-read the article and figure it out. If not, I guess you have to go visit Drew’s shop and eat one of Drew’s pretzels and ask him.
Ann & Luan
Fun Fact: Drew has none of his recipe’s written down.