There’s a little brewery in an industrial park outside of Santa Cruz that’s making a big name for itself as one of the area’s, if not the country’s, most inspired breweries. Sante Adairius Rustic Ales (SARA) is “enamored by saison,” says SARA Co-owner Adair Paterno, who opened Santa Adairius in 2012 with her partner Tim Clifford. For SARA, saison represents an ancient approach to thinking about beer: using ingredients that are local and seasonal, working with what you have.
SARA’s house saison, Anais, is a dry, lightly acidic, fruity Belgian-style beer that serves as the base for many barreled and blended beers. It is brewed with Pilsner, barley, wheat, and spelt malts and fermented with American-grown hops of European origin.
SARA also crafts Lucybelle, a crisp saison brewed with Brettanomyces, and West Ashley, a saison aged in French oak pinot noir barrels with apricots and their house yeast culture.
Then there’s Saison Bernice. In 2015, this beer was named one of twenty best beers in the world by TIME and the best Belgian-Style Ale on ratebeer.com. Bernice is a dry, mixed-fermentation and bottle-conditioned saison. It receives multiple yeast additions, including Brettanomyces. “Bernice showcases our mixed culture nicely,” Paterno says.
“Some might say our beer is yeast-driven, and to some extent that may be true,” says Clifford. “We have a very vigorous and expressive house culture that produces very balanced tart to sour beer.”
Unlike a lot of SARA’s mixed fermentation beers, Bernice does not spend any time in oak. Its lack of barrel profile allows the aromas and flavors of the brewery’s house cultures to shine. When barrel aging is employed at SARA, Paterno says, “Imparting a lot of wine or oak character is not our ultimate goal. Instead, the barrels become great vessels to keep our mixed cultures active and alive and help us add depth of flavor and roundness to our beers.”
Clifford and Paterno take advantage of their close proximity to California’s wine country and use wine barrels almost exclusively for any aging they do. “Most barrels are fairly neutral in flavor by the time we receive them,” Paterno says, which adds to the eventual well-roundedness of their beers.
There’s also a well-roundedness to the beer lineup at Sante Adairius, where Belgian-influenced beers are the norm but hardly the only selections. The brewery also offers 831 IPA, a big American-style IPA with notes of citrus-forward, dank hops flavors, as well as Chavez, a roasty Robust Porter with notes of chocolate and coffee.
“The real secret to our beer, if there is one, is our water,” Clifford says. “And it’s no secret that our water, from a brewing standpoint, is terrible. Besides being incredibly hard, our water is also very mineral-rich; there is almost a quality of the sea to it, no surprise perhaps due to our location on the coast. This awful water, though, makes great beer. It offers a unique salinity in our barrel-aged and mixed-fermentation beers, and its alkaline heft makes hoppy beers shine. When people ask what we mean by ‘rustic,’ among other things we mean working with what you have—in this case, our water.”
“When we use the term ‘rustic,’ it is in relation to our beer-making process, the ways in which we think about making beer,” Paterno continues. She explains that she and Clifford shy away from using the term “farmhouse” to describe Sante Adairius because it’s disingenuous to breweries (such as Jester King or Plan Bee) that are actually operating farmhouse breweries.
SARA is in an industrial park and not a rural farmhouse because, as Paterno puts it, “We didn’t really have a ‘concept,’ so our location choice fit into anything resembling a concept. We just wanted to make and sell the beer that we like to drink in a community that felt like home,” she says. “We chose our location based on the community we felt connected to, wanted to become more integrated with, and wanted to live in; and it has served us well.”
Although SARA is in a “hard-to-find location in Santa Cruz,” Clifford says, “a good portion of our regulars are from surrounding areas such as San Jose, even San Francisco and the East Bay. We are blessed with one of the most genuine, loyal, generous, and warm-hearted tasting-room cultures I’ve ever experienced. And that is directly related to the people who come day in and day out to support us.”
PHOTO: TED HOLLADAY
Tim Clifford brews world-class beers out of a remarkably small brewhouse in an industrial park in Capitola, California.