Sante Adairius Rustic Ales is doing some amazing things with farmhouse ales and wild sours. Tim Clifford, the head brewer and man behind Sante Adairius, was kind enough to answer a few of our questions about his personal journey to brewing, his beers and the future of his brewery.
ABV Chicago: Who (or what) inspired you to become a brewer?
Tim Clifford: There are several people that have been inspirational in my pursuit of brewing. The most important inspiration is my partner, Adair Paterno, who has been the second half of my journey through beer for almost 20 years. Every beer I’ve tried, she has tried. Adair has a fantastic palette and thinks critically about every beer she experiences. She, more than anyone, was the catalyst for our decision to open Sante Adairius.
Another huge inspiration is my good friend and fellow brewer here at Sante Adairius, Jason Hansen. We worked previously together at the local homebrew shop, Seven Bridges, for several years before I started this and was able to bring him along. Jason is a super talented and passionate brewer, and is the only person I can really see eye to eye with when it comes to brewing philosophy. He just gets it, what we are trying to do here, and gives of himself completely to this venture. He isn’t afraid to challenge me on specific brewing procedures or ideas, and forces me to always bring my A game. If I slack, he lets me know about it. I believe that together we make an excellent brewing team.
ABV Chicago: Breweries are typically known for certain styles. Sante Adairius (to me) is known for its saisons and wild ales/sours (both barrel aged and not). Was this a conscious choice?
Tim: Our decision to focus largely on Saisons and other tart/sour beers was absolutely a conscious and deliberate one. These were the styles I was brewing obsessively at home, they were the styles I was seeking out as inspiration, they were the styles I believed were the most open to interpretation.
Barrel-aging, however, was something improvised out of necessity. We likely would’ve eventually turned to aging our beers in barrels anyway, but it was purely an attempt to keep up with demand when we started this little brewery. Santa Cruz County is a rich environment for excellent wines and we had easy access to barrels from world class wineries. Until we opened, I never had the space to put any of my beers in wood. I had added wood chips occasionally, but never liked the results—chips just don’t lend the same flavors and mouthfeel as barrels. Instead, I built beers using alternative yeast and bacteria that could stand on their own without barrel-aging.
The fact that SARA is now associated with making barrel-aged tart beers is the result of a series of very happy accidents. It was a great road for me to go down as a brewer and now our barrels are the most exciting part of our brewing for me personally.
ABV Chicago: What do you think of the recent trend towards brewing and appreciation of styles like Berliner weisses, saisons and American wild ales?
Tim: I am super excited about the growing interest in these beer styles. I am particularly stoked because these are all styles that are open to interpretation, both for the brewers who make them and the people who drink them. They don’t fit easily into established categories and require an open mind to fully appreciate. I believe strongly that beer ought to be shared, contemplated, discussed, and enjoyed collectively. Sour/tart/wild beers inspire a certain thoughtfulness that is very appealing to me. Whatever your experience has been with these styles, whether you like them or find them not to your liking, one has to admit that they are thought provoking. Beer, like any art form, should inspire us to think.
As a brewer of these styles, I am especially excited about the current American interpretation of making them. I’m generalizing here, but historically American brewers often tend to reinterpret styles by making them bigger and bolder than how they have been brewed elsewhere. That is all fine and good, so many of these reinterpretations now define what can be considered an American approach to making beer. However, subtlety, restraint, and those certain intangibles that make up the other side of “complexity,” are often lost in the chase to make the biggest, baddest-assed, flavor bombs we have come to associate with American-style beers. I am not being critical here, I brew these styles myself.
There is certainly room for us all, but I am most inspired and excited by those brewers who brew beer with a mind towards simplicity, balance, and a sense of themselves as brewers. Without question American brewers are at the forefront of this movement of reinterpreting what were largely European styles of beer. Brewers like Vinnie Cilurzo, Tomme Arthur, Shaun Hill, Gabe Fletcher, Cory King, Paul Arney, Jean Broillet IV, Chase Healey, and so many others are changing the landscape of known beer styles. Indeed, they are all responsible for what I believe is a beautiful period of flux and controlled chaos in the modern brewing world. Right now the definitions of what were then established beer styles like Saison are in a complete need of rethinking. The lines between Saison, “Wild” ales, and other sour/tart beers are blurred. I’m very excited to see the direction these brewers take these new styles in.
Tim: We work with a few different artists who design our labels. Mostly this falls to Adair who works closely with each artist and their interpretation of very vague design ideas we come up with. From the beginning we wanted to stay away from traditional methods of “branding.” We don’t necessarily care if you can tell it’s SARA beer by looking at the bottle from afar. We aren’t competing for shelf space, so having a thematic look to our bottles isn’t desirable. I liken it to music: each bottled beer is the culmination of a specific period of inspiration and work, much like an album of music. The label is the final touch that defines that effort. The fact that we work with such talented artists is purely luck. I’m continually amazed at each of their abilities to work from very rudimentary ideas, and then offer up something that expands seamlessly with what started as a blurred picture in our heads. Neither Adair nor I are artists; we don’t draw, we don’t paint, we don’t play music. But, I’d like to believe we each have a good sense of what we like, what we think is cool, what we believe is made from passion and authenticity. I believe our labels articulate that.
ABV Chicago: Sante Adairius recently expanded to the adjoining room (more than doubling its size). Has the growth and popularity been expected or a surprise?
Tim: Our recent need to expand has been a complete surprise. From the beginning, Sante Adairius was an exercise in folly. We never intended or predicted the interest our beers have garnered. We do this because we are propelled by a need to make the best beer we are capable of making. The sale of it is a necessary corollary, but it’s the creation of it that satisfies us. It is truly beer first and business second for us. But apparently we are doing something that can be appreciated because our business from day one has been on an amazing trajectory. The need to expand the tasting room was necessary because of the dedicated people who come day in and day out to drink our beer. The coolest people hang out here, and we try to treat everyone like family. They deserve a comfortable place to enjoy themselves. Of course, they drink a lot of beer so the need to expand production has always been there. We still produce just a tiny percentage of the demand for our beer, but it is our goal to grow this business slowly, sustainably, and always with the intention of selling as much of the beer we make ourselves.
Tim: We doubled the square footage of the brewery, now a whopping 4000 square feet, during the final quarter of 2013. With that extra space we were able to add a bunch of new barrels. But it is important to remember that this expansion should be viewed in context: we only produced around 750 barrels of beer in 2013. We are no behemoth by any set of standards. Currently we have around 50 wine and spirit barrels and one foudre. That is a significant jump for us and we will be able to put out more of the beers that people have come to want from us, like West Ashley, Appreciation, and Love’s Armor. That also means that I’ll have more barrel-aged beer to play with and blend into new beers as the year goes on. Our goal is to produce 1500 bbls in 2014.
Tim: I am very proud of every beer we have produced here at SARA. They are my babies, and like a parent, I’m reluctant to pick one over the others. But, we did a collaborative beer recently with Triple Rock Brewery in Berkeley that I am very excited about. It has been a fun project working with Jeff Kimpe, Triple Rock’s head brewer. We first brewed this Saison called Cellarman for San Francisco Beer week in 2013. We wanted to make a simple, straight forward Saison that paid homage to the classics, namely Saison Dupont. Then in September of 2013, Jeff came down to Sante Adairius and we brewed it again with the intention of aging it in some of our barrels. The resulting beer is exactly what I want in a barrel-aged Saison—dry, crisp, citrusy, with an emphasis on the nuances of our house culture at the forefront. Jeff and I poured it at this year’s SF Beer Week opening gala and it was very well received. We also bottled it so there are some bottles floating around out there. I’m looking forward to brewing this beer every year to celebrate the awesome beer community we have here in the greater Bay Area.
ABV Chicago: Anything exciting planned for Sante Adairius Rustic Ales in 2014?
Tim: There is always something exciting going on here at Sante Adairius. We just did a very limited beer club and several of the offerings are available only to the club members. We’ve worked really hard to make beers of special distinction for the club. If everything continues to go smoothly, we will likely double the amount of openings for 2015. I’m also really excited about some collaborations we’ve either already done or have in the works. Chase from Prairie and I did a batch here and we will be going out to Oklahoma soon to make it again on a larger scale. The Culmination festival in Anchorage put on by Gabe Fletcher was a blast last year and Adair and I are hoping to make it back up there for that. And, of course, we are hoping for another invitation to pour at Hill Farmstead’s Festival of Farmhouse Ales later in the summer. Besides that, we have a bunch of beers we are working on that I am excited about. Everyday is exciting here for me—I get to work with the best people I know, making a product that I am immensely proud of and obsessed with. I am such a lucky person to be able to do this. I’m never going to take that for granted by not being excited everyday.
A big thanks for Tim for agreeing to do this interview. Check out our review of Maiden Fields here, and be on the lookout for a full blown Sante Adairius show soon!