Thursday, December 6, 2012

AN INTERVIEW WITH TIM CLIFFORD OF SANTE ADAIRIUS RUSTIC ALES

It's not every visit to a brewery that results in effusive, frothing, my-life-has-changed rhetoric here at Beer Samizdat. We try and save our over the top pontifications for the true heavyweights of the craft brewing world, but then, it only took two brief visits to Capitola, CA's SANTE ADAIRIUS RUSTIC ALES before we'd realized that we'd stumbled onto a pretty special beermaker. Tim Clifford and his wife & business partner Adair Paterno have been in operation for less than a year, but man – you would not believe how amazing the beers they're making right now are. Or perhaps you would – or you will – when you read this interview we did with Mr. Clifford via email this week.

We caught up with Tim on the internet, through the magic of Facebook and electronic mail, after briefly meeting in person two weeks ago when I thought he was trying to steal my growler - at his own brewery. Here's what we talked about.

BEER SAMIZDAT: Sante Adairius Rustic Ales has been open less than a year now and it's already establishing rockstar status among folks who've visited and/or been lucky enough to get your beer on draft elsewhere. Knowing that you'll probably be overly modest, what do you think is going on & why are your beers getting such a cachet already?

Tim Clifford: We have been very fortunate to get the type of recognition we have received so far from our community of beer enthusiasts. Every week our tasting room gets busier and busier, and we are working our tails off behind the scenes to try to keep up with demand. We are truly humbled by that honor. Why this is so is hard to pin down, but I’d like to believe it is because of the quality of our beer and a palpable love for what we are doing. I think our customers can see our commitment to craft beer broadly, rather than a mere focus on our bottom line. We approach beer making with wide eyes every time because we know how lucky we are to be doing what we love to do for a living. In short, we give a shit, which is novel nowadays in our modern world. The fact that you can tell we do by tasting our beer is testament to the efforts we put into making a quality product nurtured with love. People will always support authenticity and we strive to convey that to our customers.

BEER SAMIZDAT: How would you explain your approach to brewing? I initially assumed that you'd be a solely Belgian-style brewer, but that's certainly not the case.

Tim Clifford: We approach brewing with the intent of making the best beer we possibly can. Anything that falls short of that gets dumped, no questions asked. We work with the best ingredients we can find and develop recipes with an eye toward simplicity. Indeed, developing beers that are simple in terms of ingredients allows us to focus on the complexities that come from fermentation. In truth, we consider ourselves more as fermenters than brewers. We try to let the beer do what it wants to do with a gentle guiding hand from us in terms of yeast, bacteria, barrel selection (meaning the decision to age in wood or not), and time.

You are right we are not solely brewers of Belgian–style beers. I take pride in being capable of making a wide variety of beer styles. We make hoppy, American beers. We dabble in traditional German-style beers like Berliner Weisse and Gose. We make English-style cask ales. The sky is the limit from where we’ll get inspiration to make whatever beers interest us. The fact is, though, that my favorite beers to drink and brew fall within the Belgian-style category. I love Saisons and I love working with alternative yeast strains like Brettanomyces, plus various bacteria. I truly enjoy making and drinking beers that evolve over time. Saisons in particular are such an open-ended style; they make the perfect base for experimentation.

BEER SAMIZDAT: What does the name Sante Adairius represent? (I'm going to assume some sort of connection to your wife and business partner Adair Paterno). That said, how would you define a "rustic ale"?

Tim Clifford: Our name, Sante Adairius Rustic Ales, comes from the initial forming of this brewery with my former business partner, John Benedetti. He runs a small winery called Sante Arcangeli Family Wines. Our original plan was to house a brewery and winery under the same roof, an especially challenging endeavor considering my love of working with brett and the general disdain brett gets from winemakers. So, “Sante” comes from John. “Adairius” is a pet name I gave to my wife many years ago when I was courting her. When we couldn’t get licensing for the brewery/winery and John left to focus on his wine, the decision was made to stick with a name that is arguably a mouthful for a brewery. It turns out, though, that “Sante” translates roughly to “to your health” in French, so Sante Adairius is a toast, then, to my wife and business partner, Adair Paterno, who has always been the biggest supporter of my beer and has helped me develop a flavor profile that is unique to us. With the ever-increasing development of breweries, Sante Adairius Rustic Ales is also a name that stands out. We like that.

What is a Rustic Ale? I’m sure there are others who might define it differently, and perhaps even roll their eyes at the notion, but to us “Rustic” defines our brewing approach and philosophy. We do this because we love it, indeed we are obsessed with trying to make beer that is excellent and world class. SARA is also a brewery built on a budget. Virtually every piece of equipment we use to make our beer is second-hand and repurposed. We generally eschew industrial methods of beer making for more traditional methods that depend on manual labor—a very hands-on approach, if you will. As home-brewers we used anything and everything to get great beer into our glasses. The same is true now that we are “professional.” It just happens to turn out that our “Rustic” approach is the best method for making the types of beer we like to make and drink. This approach means that our beers are decidedly “ours,” they speak to who we are as brewers. This approach also means that we can’t, yet, produce enough beer to satisfy demand. And that is the trade off: we could focus on quantity over quality, but we don’t. Great beer first, business second. 

BEER SAMIZDAT: How experimental have you been to date with your creations? Are there places you're looking to go with your beer making that you haven't quite achieved or tried yet?

Tim Clifford: Every batch of beer we have produced to date has been experimental in that we are still learning how to use our system, our barrels, and new ingredients to us like fruit. In terms of being an “experimental brewery,” though, I think we fall short. Really, we are making very traditional styles with very traditional methods. I’m not interested in developing new beer styles, not interested in building beers with “experimental” ingredients not usually associated with beer making. You aren’t going to see SARA putting out a beer with birthday cake in it. Still, I believe what we are making is unique and will encourage a lot of our beer consumers to think we are making beers that are on the cutting edge. I suppose it is all about context.

We have yet to achieve a true spontaneously fermented beer. In truth, we haven’t really focused on that yet, but I would like to see us do something along those lines. For me personally, I’d love to produce something along the lines of a Gueuze. The challenges associated with building and nurturing a beer that has many components and is aged for such a long period of time is intriguing. Will it happen? I don’t know. For now, we are happy producing the types of beer we are already making.

BEER SAMIZDAT: Does Sante Adairius have a "flagship" ale, or will you?

Tim Clifford: Our limited fermenting/tank space, and our desire to remain creative, has made it hard to produce a “flagship” beer in the traditional sense. Currently, we are very lucky in that the few vendors we work with have been open to allowing us to bring them whatever we have available to put on tap in their respective establishments. Still, in time, as we gain more fermenters, we would like to have a few beers always available. 831, our American IPA, should always be on hand but is not currently always available. Anais, our Spelt Saison, too. A beer that we haven’t released yet, Adairius, a sour blonde ale that doesn’t see wood, is one we’d like to be something of a flagship down the road. Finally, Saison Bernice, our farmhouse ale with brettanomyces, is a beer we always try to fit into rotation. Those are the four beers that we believe define SARA as a brewery.

BEER SAMIZDAT: Are there any aspects of Santa Cruz and the surrounding area that make it into your beer and your business – be it local ingredients, a marketing approach, a general attitude informed by the area…?


Tim Clifford: Well, several of us here at SARA are also co-owners at 7 Bridges, the local home brew collective, so we do some purchasing of ingredients there. Just this past October we did a collaborative wet hop beer with Corralitos Brewing, using locally grown hops. But I think the main thing that we take from Santa Cruz as a community is a need to be authentic. Locals here can smell a fake from a mile away, so being authentic, being yourself, is incredibly important to this community. In business, if you put greed before the quality of the product you make, you will eventually fail in Santa Cruz, whether your making beer, burgers, or bongs, etc. The other side of that coin is when someone comes along, believes in themselves, and puts their money where their mouth is by making a solid product, does anything of quality really, the community rallies in support of that authenticity. These are attitudes and rules that I can live by, and choose to, by both living and running a small brewery in Santa Cruz County.

BEER SAMIZDAT: Right now Sante Adairius bottles are only available at the brewery, correct? Why is this – limited supply? Alcohol distribution rules? A desire to bring people into the brewery? 

Tim Clifford: The sole reason why our bottles are currently only available at the brewery is because of limited supply. There has been one exception to that as our friend, Sayre Piotrkowski, did obtain a case of “Love’s Armor” for sale at St. Vincent’s in San Francisco. Plus, I like the presentation aspect of a bottle-conditioned beer in our tasting room, not to mention the overall better flavors that I believe come from beer that is fresh and alive. It is nice from a consumer’s point of view to have a bottle opened, poured, and described by a knowledgeable person and to be able to share that bottle with someone else. There is just something special for me to see bottles being shared between friends. When we can make more beer, we have every intention of getting it beyond the walls of our modest tasting room.

BEER SAMIZDAT: What does the bottling program look like in 2013, as well as general distribution of Sante Adairius beer?

Tim Clifford: I don’t plan that far in advance to know what will exactly be available in 2013. Admittedly that is a flaw of mine and I am lucky to have more business-savvy people working around me at SARA. I know that we were very excited with our first bottling, “Love’s Armor,” and have already re-brewed and barreled the components that make up that blend. “West Ashley,” our Saison with apricots, will be back around. “Saison Bernice,” too. We will be releasing a Berliner Weisse right around SF Beer Week that should be somewhat available. Plus, we are always doing one-offs and blends that make it into our 16e series of Belgian-style specialty ales. Our plan is to self-distribute, where our local market of Santa Cruz county gets first priority, but we plan on getting our beers into some of the more recognizable taprooms in the general Bay Area. There will always be bottled beers that you can only get at our tasting room in Capitola, though.

BEER SAMIZDAT: Finally, you've certainly got inspirations that led you to brew the way you do. What are your all-time favorite beers, and are there new brewers or styles or trends you'd like to let people know about that you're excited about?

Tim Clifford: Without question, my biggest influence in brewing, brewing philosophy, and approach to beer is Vinnie Cilurzo. I don’t think there is a modern brewer around who can’t attribute some inspiration from Vinnie and all he has done at RussianRiver Brewing Company. Besides just the types and quality of beers he has made, it is his openness about the brewing process that I am most influenced by. There seem to be no secrets for him and I have tried to emulate that. I want everyone to make better beer and will offer whatever kind of help I can to make that happen. I am lucky to stand on the shoulders of giants as a brewer, and I never forget those brewers and beers that help me grow as a brewer.

My Favorite beers of all time would include several of Vinnie’s including Pliny the Elder and Temptation. I love Orval. I love everything from Dupont. I am super excited when I find anything from Fantome. I am awe-struck by the hoppy beers Alpine Brewing Company is producing. Julian Shrago’s beers at Beechwood BBQ are always rock solid. The list could go on and on. I am a beer geek besides being a brewer. Indeed, the former inspired the latter and continues to shape the beers I make.

Whether they know it our not, and assuming how small and new we are I suspect it is not, I feel a kinship with brewers like Chad Yakobson at Crooked Stave, Shaun Hill at Hill Farmstead, and Gabe Fletcher at Anchorage Brewing. I am so inspired by the direction these guys are taking their beers respectively. In each case, a commitment to quality, progression, and a DIY approach define these brewers, and each is highly influential to me. Although only Gabe’s beers are available around here, I’d encourage anyone to beg, borrow, or steal to get their hands on anything these brewers make. 


(Thanks very much to Tim Clifford for talking with us, and to Beer-A-Day blog and Brandon F. for the photos. Read other Beer Samizdat interviews with Telegraph Brewing, Cigar City, Moylan's, and Blue Heron Brewing as well).

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