I'd heard a little buzz, but Sante Adairius Rustic Ales really came to my attention in January of 2013 when a friend dropped by with a bottle of Sante Adairius West Ashley, a Pinot barrel aged saison made with apricots. It was a tart wonder bursting with fuzzy stone fruit, starting out light and spritzy right before the punch of sourness hits you. It's like a friendly picnic in an apricot grove that takes a crazy turn and ends up getting passionate and maybe a little bit freaky.
I was determined to get down to the brewery in Capitola, California as soon as possible to try all the beer and meet Sante Adairius co-owners Tim Clifford and Adair Paterno.
The Sante Adairius team makes more than just great sour beers. Head brewer (and co-owner) Tim Clifford says he'd prefer not to be pigeonholed: "I think the mistake would be to think that I'm a sour beer guy, that's not me. I'm a hophead just like everybody else. I like any beer of any style."
If any particular style is Clifford's focus for Sante Adairius, it's saison. Saisons are typically pale, very dry, yeasty beers that feature peppery spice and citrusy fruit. They were originally made by farmers in on the border between Belgium and France, often with ambient yeast and bacteria.
The style appealed to Clifford back in his homebrewing days: "Here's this professional brewing style that's absolutely a homebrew style...The myth goes that these were farmers who made these ales, without any training at all." Tim's amber house saison, Anaïs, tastes like grainy bread with a subtle hint of peppery yeast. His saisons also shine as an excellent base beer to which he has added fruit, made tart sours, and funked it up with earthy Brettanomyces fermentations.
The American-inspired ales from Sante Adairius are just as excellent as their farmhouse and Belgian-inspired beers. Tim says that he doesn't anticipate having any flagships, though. "That's not what I want to do. That being said, you can't do anything about the beers people identify you with, and so there's no doubt that 831 IPA is pretty well received. We put it in growlers...we make it over and over." I'm with the crowd on this one: the 831 IPA has a dank herbal aroma with a touch of tropical fruit, and its great malt balance makes this beer super-drinkable. 831 is all about hop aroma and flavor rather than tongue-crushing IBUs. It's an exceptional IPA.
Perhaps the holy grail of the Sante Adairius lineup is their Vanilla Joe. They put five gallons of their excellent Joe Chavez porter into a homebrew keg with some Verve coffee and vanilla beans overnight, then rack it off the next day to serve. Another standout is their Cask 200, a barrel aged saison with an earthy woodiness and a gorgeous funky acidic citrus character. The beer is aged in a 660 gallon wine foudre. They package a small portion of the contents of the foudre every now and then and add fresh beer to refill the headspace of the foudre to mix with the aged beer still inside.
Involvement with a community of dedicated homebrewers encouraged Clifford to grow into the brewer and beer lover he is today. He was part of San Francisco's now-defunct Bay Area Brew Crew, a club that has produced several beer industry success stories including Damian Fagan and Jesse Friedman of Almanac Beer and the 'Homebrew Chef' Sean Z. Paxton.
When asked about who has inspired his brewing, Clifford namechecks friends and former co-workers at William's Brewing, a Bay Area based homebrew supplier where he worked for five years. Co-worker and beer judge Randy Guerrero, says Clifford, "introduced me to new beer styles, particularly Belgian styles. I was strictly a hophead and he really pushed me and encouraged me to try new beers. And if you're a homebrewer, once you start trying them, you want to make them."
When asked about his biggest pro brewer influences, Tim immediately mentioned Vinny Cilurzo of Russian River: "For ever and ever Russian River and Vinny. Anyone who claims to not to be influenced by Vinny is lying. He's absolutely the linchpin between traditional brewing practices and contemporary modern brewing practices in America, probably the world." At Russian River, super aromatic hoppy beers and tart barrel aged Belgians are made to great acclaim under the same roof. Tim Clifford is a humble guy, he'll shudder to see Sante Adairius being compared to Russian River, but in my mind, the two great breweries are alike in many ways.
Clifford also cites Sean Hill of Hill Farmstead Brewery as one of his "most obvious contemporary influences...Sean and I are good friends and he's doing great stuff." Clifford also mentioned that he's a fan of Tired Hands, Anchorage, and Lost Abbey, as well as newer Bay Area breweries such as Heretic, Faction, and Cellarmaker. Some of his go-to beers are Pivo Pils by Firestone Walker, Drake's 1500 Pale Ale, Shallow Grave porter by Heretic, and of course, Pliny.
I asked Clifford about any books that have offered useful guidance, and he pointed me toward Farmhouse Ales: Culture and Craftsmanship in the Belgian Tradition. Particularly important to his brewing was the chapter by Yvan De Baets, the head brewer at Brasserie de la Senne. It contains a historical interpretation of what the saison style was originally like and how it was developed by farmers in Belgium. Clifford says it helped him to understand that saisons don't have to be spicy yeast bombs. They can be dry and tart, "almost more akin to a lambic than any other style," he says. As for more recommended reading, Clifford mentions Jamil Zainasheff's Brewing Classic Styles, Designing Great Beers by Ray Daniels, and the Burgundian Babble Belt, an online community forum for lovers of Belgian beer styles.
What the Future Holds
Sante Adairius Rustic Ales opened their doors on Memorial Day weekend in 2012. A year and a half into business, they can't keep up with the demand. They just knocked a wall down in their tap room to open up a larger space for people to hang out inside. The back of that new area is packed with new barrels. They also have a great beer garden space out front for visitors to hang out in when the weather is nice, which it almost always is in Capitola.
San Francisco Beer Week is only a few weeks away, so I had to ask what the brewery had up its sleeve. For 2013 they did a collaboration beer with Triple Rock Brewery in Berkeley, some of which they packed away in wine barrels to age. They brewed it again for this year's festival, "so people can taste it both fresh and aged in wine barrels. I typically don't toot my own horn but I'm really excited about this beer."
With a seven barrel brewery and a limited amount of space for additional fermentors, Sante Adairius produced about 750 barrels in 2013. Clifford hopes to double that in 2014. Clifford and Paterno are settling into their roles as business owners. According to Clifford, "in 2014 it's really all about shoring up money and figuring out exactly how much we can crank out of this place."
Ultimately, Clifford is more concerned about doing things right than about going big. "Not gonna happen. Adair and I just want a job. We're real lucky, very fortunate people. We get to own a brewery and I get to go to a job I like everyday. So, I feel like I've already accomplished what I need to accomplish. As long as the beer is good I don't really care. The bigger we get, the less I'll be able to be in the brewhouse and that doesn't appeal to me."
About the Author: Chris Cohen is a Certified Cicerone, beer consultant, and the founder and President of the San Francisco Homebrewers Guild. He recently left his gig as an attorney to work toward opening SF's next great beer bar.