The Beer Nut: Florida beers shine on Bay State
Not many beers from the South make their way to the Bay State.
The Saint Somewhere Brewing Company, in fact, may be the first craft brewery from Florida to distribute its beers in Massachusetts.
If the Saint Somewhere (the name comes from a line in the Jimmy Buffet song, "Boat Drinks,") beers are a good example of what is being brewed in the Sunshine State, I want more of it up here now.
The first two beers from the Tarpon Springs brewery Saison Athene and Lectio Divina are fantastic Belgian-style ales.
Brewer/owner/bottler/maintenance man Bob Sylvester took a different route to brewing than many people. He opened the brewery last year, when he was 46 years old, with nothing more than homebrewing experience.
"I'm still a homebrewer, just on a much bigger scale," said Sylvester. "I blame my wife for that. She got me a Mr. Beer for Christmas one year, and that's all she wrote after that."
Mr. Beer is a homebrewing kit that simplifies the brewing process. I got one for Christmas a few years ago, but the beer I produced was terrible.
Sylvester had been working in retail for about 30 years when he decided he wanted to change careers.
A brewpub chain had gone out of business, and he tried to recruit members of his local homebrewing club to buy some of the equipment and start a brewery of their own.
"Everyone looked at me like, 'Are you crazy?"' said Sylvester. "Nobody like the idea, so I said, 'To hell with it, I'm doing it."'
Sylvester ran into a problem early on in the planning. It took him about a year and a half to get approval from his community and county to build the brewery.
"They didn't understand," he said. "Florida is not real beer friendly."
It didn't take long, though, for Sylvester to decide what kinds of beers he wanted to make. Though he loved most beers, Belgian ales were his favorite so he decided to model his brewery and his beers after those from Belgium.
All the beers are bottled conditioned, meaning they ferment in the bottle, and are packaged in 750-milliliter caged and corked bottles, similar to many Belgian brewers.
The first beer was the Saison Athene. This was a wonderful farmhouse style ale a strong, spicy, peppery flavor abounds in this beer.
"This is somewhat of a traditional saison," said Sylvester. "It's a real funky farmhouse ale. It's a spiced saison rosemary, black pepper and chamomile. It really blends together to make a pretty interesting brew."
The second beer is the Lectio Divina, which is Latin for "divine reading."
This beer is stronger than the Saison Athene 8 percent alcohol by volume to 7.5 and with a sweeter flavor.
"It could technically be considered a saison, but it's different than the Saison Athene," he said. "It starts out as a fairly typical Trappist ale recipe. We use pale malts and caramelized candy sugar."
The third beer, which should be in stores by winter, is the Pays du Solei, which is brewed with palmetto berries and hibiscus.
The Pays du Solei was inspired by Florida itself, Sylvester said.
"It's a pretty hardcore Florida beer," he said. "I want the whole company to stay pretty true to Florida. It has palmetto berries, which are easily identifiable for Florida."
To emphasize its Florida roots, every label features an image taken from 1960s-era Florida Department of Agriculture pamphlets that were designed to entice those from other states to visit and move to Florida.
Saint Somewhere is by far the smallest brewery thus far featured by The Beer Nut, but Sylvester said his company is growing.
Originally, he was only going to sell his beers in Florida and produced but 4,650 gallons his first year. However, a Pennsylvania distributor got a hold of Sylvester's beers and asked him to sell in that state.
Then, a New York distributor came calling not long before Sylvester decided to approach a Massachusetts distributor Shelton Brothers of Belchertown and now he is in his fourth state.
He said he hopes to more than double his output in his second year. His first anniversary was in September.
"My original idea was to just stay in Florida, but being kind of a quirky product, I realized I needed to branch out," said Sylvester. "For me, it's a great way to go."
Saint Somewhere beers have only been available in Massachusetts for a month, and are currently only available at Julio's Liquors in Westborough and Gordon Liquors in Watertown.
Norman Miller is a Daily News staff writer. For questions, comments, suggestions or recommendations, e-mail email@example.com or call 508-626-3823. Check out the Beer Nut blog at http://blogs.townonline.com/beernut/.