The last time we featured the Saint Somewhere Brewing Company, our write up began as follows:“There are certain ‘good beer hot spots’ in the country, where craft brewing is at the forefront of the local brewing culture and people are taking notice. Florida is not one of them.”
Well, things have changed—not that you can walk into any Florida town and find a world class beer bar, or a beer geek’s favorite brewery, but some truly gifted brewers have been washing away the lousy reputation that Florida has held with respect to good beer.
Saint Somewhere Brewing’s deftly made beers have been a big part of that. Their focus is traditionally-brewed, small batch, handcrafted Belgian-style ales, with a local spin. And small they are: in 2011 they produced about 375 barrels of beer. That’s less than 12,000 gallons of beer. To put that into perspective, many U.S. families use more than that volume of water each month in and around their homes.
Founder and owner Bob Sylvester got his brewing start in 2001 on one of those “Mr. Beer” homebrew kits that you may have seen at Bed, Bath & Beyond and the like. Now, if you can make good beer on one of those “systems,” the beer gods may just be telling you that you’ve got some talent. Spurred on by his early homebrew efforts, Bob joined a homebrewing club near his home in the Tampa Bay area and honed his skills. Entering one of his beers (a tough-to-homebrew Flemish-style Red Ale) into the Best Florida Beer Competition, he beat out over 300 Florida homebrews, winning the category and taking home Best of Show!
A mere five years after that first Mr. Beer brew, Bob went pro, leaving behind an over twenty-year history working retail in men’s clothing, and starting the Saint Somewhere Brewing Company. He wanted the company to be very Florida-centric but to brew beers that fit into a Belgian-style sort of style spectrum. The name “Saint Somewhere” comes from a lyric in the 1979 Jimmy Buffett song called Boat Drinks:
Lately, newspaper mentioned cheap fare
I gotta fly to saint somewhere…
It’s a clever reference not only to the beach and island lifestyle that comes with Floridian life, but the “Saint” reference marries that concept to the famous Abbey-style ales of Belgium. Other Floridian themes are peppered throughout his work, from his website to the names of his beers—not surprising as Bob (and his wife) are Florida natives. Bob’s choice in imagery recalls the Golden Age of Florida, before it became known more for Disney World and Spring Break than as a grand getaway for the nation’s elite. In fact, the label imagery on every bottle of the Saint Somewhere beers was taken from a sort of “Florida tourism brochure” printed in the early 20th century, evoking images of tropical paradise, fairies and the land of milk and honey. A penchant for the old world is evident in the packaging and the brewing of his beers—and both work toward elevating the perception of beer as a gourmet product—something the Florida beer scene has greatly benefitted from.
As the sole employee of the company, Bob has complete creative control and LOTS of work; the man makes his own candi sugar for goodness sake (a key ingredient used in brewing numerous Belgian ales). But he managed to brew us an exclusive beer just for Rare Beer Club members.
His brewery started as an assemblage of used dairy equipment and open top wine fermenters—with nothing electronic in his brewing apparatus—everything done manually. He’s added some new gear, including the first bit of electronically-controlled devices, a glycol chiller, which is used to keep things consistent between the winter and summer months. Still not used to control fermentation temperature so much as to keep things below 95°F in the summer… It’s still basically a scaled-up homebrew system that uses open fermentation, where the beer is left to ferment in unclosed containers, permitting some ambient, wild airborne yeast to take root, and letting Bob visually check the fermentation at every stage. It’s a traditional Belgian technique, and Bob is very fond of authenticity in his approach, even paying more to import only Belgian malts (the same ones used for nearly all Trappist breweries) and European whole leaf hops. He even adds Brettanomyces (basically “wild yeast”) while bottling his beers, giving a slight funky, farmhouse character that nicely dries out the beers, and naturally conditions (carbonates and matures) the beer while it sits in the bottle waiting for the lucky sipper to embark on their own journey to St. Somewhere.
The brewery’s website, www.SaintSomewhereBrewing.com
, is a bit light on info—though it has a number of cool photos of Tarpon Springs and Tampa from the early 1900s. They do have a presence on Facebook that they update regularly, so go make friends with them there (search for Saint Somewhere Brewing). And if you’re in their area, near Tampa Bay, you may be asked (via Facebook) to help Bob bottle any of his current lineup of three beers—he often is in need of volunteers, and will give you free beer for your trouble! The brewery is open for tours on Thursdays and Fridays from 6-8pm. $10 gets you a Saint Somewhere glass to take home and three 8-oz fills. Can’t beat that deal!