And now, ladies and gentlemen, we’re proud to introduce the first US brewery to be featured in our Collector’s Beer Club: the Saint Somewhere Brewing Company of Tarpon Springs, Florida.
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. But perhaps that is changing with the likes of Saint Somewhere setting up shop and creating the insanely good beers they’ve been crafting. Their focus is traditionally brewed, small batch, handcrafted Belgian-style ales. And small they are: last year they sold about 140 barrels of beer. That’s just about 4,400 gallons of beer. To put that into perspective, many people use well over that volume in their monthly household water consumption.
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. Now, if you can make good beer on one of those “systems,” the good Lord may just be telling you that you’ve got 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, by 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 a 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 to the famous Abbey-style ales of Belgium. 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.
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). His brewery is a straightforward assemblage of used dairy equipment. Improvisation, baby! There is nothing electronic in his brewing apparatus; everything is done manually. This is basically a scaled-up homebrew system that uses open fermentation, where the beer is left to ferment in unclosed containers, permitting some ambient, wild yeast to take root, and letting Bob visually check the fermentation at every stage. It’s a traditional Belgian technique, as 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. And he even adds Brettanomyces (basically “wild yeast”) while bottling his beers, giving a slight funky 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.
Their website is under construction (www.SaintSomewhereBrewing.com), but they do have a presence on Myspace that they update regularly, so go make friends with them there: www.myspace.com/saintsomewherebrewing. And if you’re in their area, near Tampa Bay, you may be asked (via Myspace) 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!