The owners of Capitola, CA’s Sante Adairius Rustic Ales describe their approach with the following adage: “Complexity through simplicity.” They’re a brewery I’ve heard quite a bit about in the last couple of years, but never sampled until recently—first at the Shelton Brothers Festival held in Atlanta only a few weeks ago, and then again in the Paste office. We were fortunate enough to receive a few bottles from a California reader—just a supporter of this brewery who wanted us to have a chance to try their beer—and I was suitably impressed by the lengths to which he went to get this beer into our hands on the other side of the country. So hell yes, I’m going to review them.
But first, back to that Sante Adairius mission statement:
Our approach to beer making is one of whimsy, highly inspired by the Belgian tradition, but also in harmony with brewers all over the world who push against boundaries of style with a nudge, not a shove. Often our beers are barrel-aged, usually in wine barrels, with various yeast and bacteria. As often as not though, Sante Adairius brews beers more approachable and traditional in nature, yet no less flavorful or distinctive.
What is implied is a brewery that splits the difference between traditional and experimental—one that has the utmost respect for classical Belgian brewing, but is interesting in contributing subtle twists that aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel. That sounds good to us, so let’s try a few of these 750 ml bottles of Sante Adairius beer.
Bright sea blonde is, at its heart, a Belgian blonde ale that was kicked up a notch in terms of complexity with the addition of lemon zest and grains of paradise, both in moderation. It was then aged in wine barrels with wild yeast, and the results are pretty sublime. Both myself and Paste editor Josh Jackson used the word “lovely” to describe the nose—soft and funky, but with plenty of bright citrus and cantaloupe fruitiness, and the suggestion of moderate tartness. It’s very inviting—I actually wrote the word “mouthwatering” in my notes, but I may just have been particularly thirsty at the time.
On the palate, Bright Sea Blonde hits first with a punch of acid, which softens into clean citrus notes and touches of peppery spice, presumably derived from the grains of paradise. Melon fruitiness is there as well, and a bit of lip-smacking quality that almost seems like a touch of salinity, or perhaps that’s just evoked by the tartness, before a dry finish. Regardless, this is both refreshing and complex. It would be a perfect beer for a seaside catch of the day, accompanying a whole grilled fish or oysters. Really, really impressive stuff, and one of the better sours I’ve had in 2017—which is saying something, given that we blind-tasted 143 wild ales just a couple months ago.
Now, where the Bright Sea Blonde is at least a familiar concept, Love’s Armor is much more unusual and unique. The website describes it as a cross between two different barrel-aged beers: Farmhouse noir, a dark saison, and Chavez, the brewery’s rye porter, which is refermented on cherries.
That description pleases me, because the reference to cherries is not included on the beer’s label, and yet I went out of the way to note it in my tasting notes. On the nose, Love’s Armor is a little bit schizophrenic, but I mean that in the best way possible. Roasted nuts and cocoa nibs are what I pick up initially, but then flashes of funk and tartness make the drinker question, “what exactly is this I’m holding?”
On the palate, the first thing one notices (especially tasting these two beers side-by-side) is a considerably fuller mouthfeel. This beer is fairly tart, although like the other the initial burst of sourness seems to mellow on repeated sips. Vinous fruit flavors of black cherry and plum are stars, along with roasted nuts and chocolate. It’s very unusual stuff—you’d almost expect for it to be Valentine’s Day-themed, given the flavor combinations at play here. What impresses me is the degree of balance between all of its disparate elements—nothing is out of proportion or comes to dominate. It’s an almost perfect balance between elements of “strong robust porter” and “American wild ale,” with fruit. I’ve had a few other beers attempting to do this very sort of thing, but few of them have handled it with half as much delicacy. Fascinating beer.
All in all, these two beers from Sante Adairius strike me as hugely promising. I haven’t yet had enough from the brewery to get a full feel for their lineup, but I appreciate their focus on subtleties and complexity rather than just sheer assertiveness of flavors. I’m hoping that we’ll see some more from Sante Adairius in the near future, including perhaps getting them into some of our blind tastings.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident beer guru. You can follow him on Twitter.