There’s sort of a path that beer drinkers take over time. It’s almost like a maturity curve: along the horizontal axis you find a pretty predictable path of beer types and styles. The vertical axis is beer drinking maturity.The curve has a gentle upward slope, then eventually sort of peaks and just … stops. People find the style that suits them and that’s pretty much it. Beer is personal like that.
At the left side of this hypothetical curve are your traditional American pilsners and lager beers: think Budweiser, Coors, and Miller. As you move right along the graph you find ales of all kinds, starting with brown, then red, then pale; then imperials. After ales come typically stouts and porters. Most people get off here, because the next stop is sometimes considered the “funky town” of beer. This is the path that most people in the world take when exploring the varieties of beers out there. It’s a well-worn path, too. Almost everyone I know has taken it at some point in time or is currently on it at some point along the path.
Saint Somewhere is unique among craft breweries in that it falls outside of the realm of where most people stop on their beer journey: it’s waaay off to the right in the sours/farmhouse/wild and funky section, which is just down the street and a little bit past the house with the busted windows, so to speak.If Saint Somewhere was a neighborhood, it would be that one you’ve heard about where the guy with the handlebar mustache who rides the fixie lives.
Bob Sylvester, proprietor of Saint Somewhere and grand-master of funky beers is one of those no BS guys that just oozes craftsmanship. He’s approachable, affable, and a fantastic steward of brewing culture in Tampa Bay. And he’s a genius.
Bob started brewing more than 10 years ago and opened up Saint Somewhere about 6 years ago. 2 years ago this became his full-time job. For about the last 8 years, he’s been honing his Belgian ale craft. Now, don’t get confused when I refer to what Bob does as “ales”. That’s kind of like calling a horse-drawn carriage a car just because it has four wheels. What Bob does with beer is something that not a lot of people appreciate – remember, he’s off over the right end of the beer-drinker maturity curve.
See what makes Bob different, and in my opinion a genius, is that he uses wild yeasts in the fermentation phase of his brewing process. For those of you so inclined, we’re talking about (at a minimum) Brettanomyces (aka Brett). This is actually not as scary as it sounds. You’re not going to grow a third eye or transmute to a frog if you drink this beer. You may however begin to wonder why you stopped trying new beer after that guy in college introduced you to Newcastle.
Brett (the yeast, not a person) has a tendency to make beers sour, because it produces in addition to alcohol a lot of acetic acid, which you may remember from your high school chemistry class is the main component of vinegar. So in controlled amounts, adding a little Brett may make your beer a little sour.
Now, Bob wouldn’t be a genius if he just added this yeast to his fermenter. No, he’s a genius because he gets the concept of the original farmhouse ale, AND because he’s taken steps to achieve that concept. Irreversible steps. Steps that normal folks wouldn’t consider doing. Stuff like spraying down his brewery with Brett. Yep, his entire brewery.
The concept of farmhouse ales is simple, and like all great things, borne of necessity. Apparently in the times before refrigeration and the wide availability of clean potable drinking water, large land owners would sate their farm worker’s thirst with beer. Now think about this for a moment: you have a bunch of thirsty workers who need quick hydration. You could get them some real beer, but that would be too expensive and the workers would be too drunk to return to productive work. What these land owners developed was a simple way to cheaply sate their workers while making sure that they could continue to work. I believe the entire state of Oklahoma was founded on this principle (see 3.2 beer for more information.)
Fast forward a few years – maybe a few hundred – and you find guys like Bob. Guys trying to replicate that style that happened in so many cases by accident. But Bob’s not trying just to replicate the style exactly, he’s replicating it with a local twist. Which is true to the style, if you think about it.
One of Saint Somewhere’s most unique features is the flavor that comes from its location. See not only is the brewhouse covered in Brett, it’s also in a strip warehouse with a big open rolling door no less than walking distance to the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico, with all of the airborne goodness that comes from the seabreeze. And that’s another reason Bob’s a genius – he’s following the style by making it as local as possible. At this point, no one else can make a beer that tastes like Bob’s beer. It’s the essence of farmhouse ales.
Bob’s going to be leading a beer cruise in Belgium this year. He’s taking 20-something of the biggest farmhouse beer lovers in the country along for the ride. In my opinion one of the coolest things about this trip is the fact that you get to have dinner in the Rodenbach fermenting room – where the foeders (Dutch for “big fermenting barrel”) slowly add that characteristic flavor to Rodenbach’s Grand Cru sour ale.
Go meet Bob. Move your beer maturity curve over a little bit to the right, at least for one tasting. You never know – you may just become a fan of sours.