City Paper is not for tourists
Of the 70 breweries pouring at Savor on Saturday, one of the highlights was Saint Somewhere Brewing, from Tarpon Springs, Florida. The one-man brewery is an anomaly on the American craft beer scene, producing only saisons, the spicy, lively farmhouse ales of the Belgian countryside. And “one-man” isn’t a figure of speech; founder Bob Sylvester operates the entire brewery himself, save for help from his wife, Anne, and a few volunteers on bottling days. Anne got him started, buying Sylvester his first homebrew kit as a Christmas gift in 2001. He soon upgraded to a full homebrew system, and by August 2007 Saint Somewhere was incorporated and selling their beers around the state.
Saint Somewhere’s saisons are traditional, meaning they are fermented in open containers, allowing unpredictable critters from the air to inoculate the beer. And while Sylvester’s three varieties are brewed with herbs and spices ranging from peppercorns to hibiscus flowers to saw palmetto berries, this too follows the saison tradition, which is one of anything-goes experimentation. This suits Sylvester just fine. As he runs me through a partial list of ingredients he’s played with, Anne injects, “He doesn’t like recipes.”
Florida is ideal for his brewing style; saison yeast thrives in heat, meaning Sylvester can brew at balmy temperatures of 80 to 90 degrees to coax its full range of spicy esters. The hot climes are the main reason for his brewing tradition, said Sylvester, who has never been to Belgium but is hoping to vacation with his wife soon.
“I could make up some elaborate story [about why he makes saisons], but honestly the yeast lends itself to warm weather,” he said.
To further encourage the yeast, Sylvester uses wine fermenters, which have a flat bottom that give the yeast more room to float around — most beer fermenters have conical bottoms for easier filtration. And he cultivates two different strains of the wild yeast Brettanomyces, one more mild-mannered than the other, to dose out depending on the style of beer he’s after.
This attention to detail, combined with real Belgian ingredients (no scene-stealing American hops here) and an even hand with spices, make for a line of farmhouse ales that showcase their own character while sticking to tradition. Saint Somewhere entered the D.C. market about a year ago, and they’re on pace to double last year’s production this year to keep up with growing demand. For this small shop, that means only 250 barrels, but hey, I’ll take what I can get.
As the brewery expands, Sylvester has two new projects planned, one dedicated to each of his two daughters. One is a coffee fanatic, and the other loves orange juice, he explains, so the beers will feature coffee and Florida oranges, dried whole. When I ask him why he’ll use whole oranges when brewers usually take just the peel, he replies, “Why not? We’re in Florida!”