Saint Somewhere Brewing Company - Saison Athene
Serving Temperature:48-55° F
Suggested Glassware:Tulip or Oversized Wine Glass
Saison Athene pours a sunny, orange color, befitting a Floridian brew, topped with a massive mousse-like off-white froth that literally ‘sticks around’ for quite a while. Despite being brewed in a small industrial space on Florida’s west coast, this beer smells Farmhouse fresh. Perhaps the only giveaway is that it’s not as ‘barnyardy’ as many Saison examples out there—but this is in part due to the fact that we are reviewing a ‘young’ sample of this beer. The Brett is added at bottling time and its funk-inducing character will yield a more ‘wild-smelling’ beer as it matures. As a style, Saison seems to come in two basic categories—the funky, horse-blanket type, and the freshly-hopped “barnyard IPA”—both retain a superb drinkability as a hallmark feature. This one we’d have to put in the latter category (when young), as it’s hopped with bigly aromatic, peppery, spicy hops, but Bob tells us that even at two years in the bottle, the beer still drinks great and will have developed plenty of funk, if that’s your thing! Expect notes of savory spice; the rosemary does make its way into the aroma, but it’s coddled by a hoppy bosom. As it warms, look for woody notes, almost like cedar but more reminiscent of sandalwood incense, fleshy orange, white grapefruit, faint cracked pepper and an overall yeasty spiciness. Kicks off mildly sweet, with a bit of tartness quickly replacing the sweetness and then evolving to deeply dry bitterness—what a ride! Fresh herbal hops evoke the impression of wet-hopping, which, we imagine, wasn’t unheard of in the brewing of farmhouse ales. There’s a spicy character that calls to mind the aromatic bite that you get in thick, raw carrots—difficult to describe, but you’ll know it when you taste it (try it—carrots are good for ya…). Our tasting panel experienced quite a remarkable procession of sensations, persisting beyond the usual duration of the finish as this beer has a very long-lasting fade where the spices have the last say—the chamomile, rosemary, and the very spicy yeast strain work in tandem with a high level of carbonation to leave behind a gentle nipping on the tongue and lips not unlike what you might expect from raw ginger. Like the nose, the finish gives more of the sandalwood notes, all the while a cornucopia of fruit notes offering peach, apricot, apple and orange fluttering about on the palate. There are virtually no obvious alcohol notes, yet there is a bit of warming in the belly. Lemony. Woody. Herbal. Spicy. Lingering. Leaves an impression, that’s for sure. Masterfully pleasant with some obvious, and many subtle, complexities. Pair with roasted lamb or chicken, prepared with some thyme and rosemary.
This beer will age nicely, with some of the latent spicy notes mellowing out over time if it happens to be a bit too “hot” for you now (hot as in the spice-levels, not the alcohol). Bob tells us that the color develops into a deeper golden hue, with increased levels of Brett and, almost paradoxically, it manages to get richer over time instead of drying out. Bob says you can age this beauty for at least two years—if you can handle the wait… Better pick up some extra bottles this month!
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: in 2009 they produced about 178 barrels of beer. That’s just about 5,600 gallons of beer. To put that into perspective, many people use more than that volume of water in their monthly household use.
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. Other Floridian themes are peppered throughout his work, from his website to the names of his beers (read more on this in the review of Saison Athene below)—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. 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.
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 and open top wine fermenters. 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 brews) 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 was recently launched (www.SaintSomewhereBrewing.com), but it’s still a bit light on info—though it is full of historic photos of Tarpon Springs and Tampa from the early 20th century and nice to look at. 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!
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