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Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Drinking with the saints

Today is All Saints' Day. No worries, though; I don't have plans to get religulous with you. We're not drinking with those saints; I'm talking about some of the following saint-related beers and breweries. And while we may be talking about saints, let's agree up front that we won't be discussing St. Ides. If I've missed any that deserve mention, feel free to drop a comment below and share.

I could start with the brewery closest to my house or go with the beer that I drank most recently.

Let's go with Saint Somewhere, of Tarpon Springs, Florida. Established in 2007, Bob Sylvester's brewery was an early member of the burgeoning Florida brewing scene, which, since then, has grown by roughly a dozen new breweries. How his tiny brewery supplies around 20 states (via Shelton Brothers) with a 256 barrel brewhouse is incredible.

The two easiest to find beers are, in my opinion, two of its best. That speaks well for quality when the two most common are viewed as two of the best. Saison Athene is a solid food-pairworthy saison (as are many saisons) with an herbal spiciness and weighs in around 7.5% ABV. The Lectio Divina is a notch higher at 8% ABV and is a heftier saison based on a Belgian Dubbel grain bill.

Coming back closer to home for me is where I'll have the best shot at finding fresh St. Victorious (doppelbock) and St. Boisterous (bock) during the cold Northeast winter months. Victory Brewing Company loves it lagers and these are two big ones weighing in at 7.6% ABV and 7.3% ABV respectively. Think rich, solidly malt-forward beers with slight Noble Hop bitterness and you've got yourself a couple of world-class beers.

Next up are two pioneering breweries in their respective states: Saint Arnold and Schlafly (aka St. Louis Brewing Company) in Houston, Texas and St. Louis, Missouri.

Opened in 1994, Saint Arnold is Texas' oldest craft brewery. Brock Wagner founded the company at a time when Houston was the country's largest city without a brewery. They're now brewing over 30,000 barrels and are fighting for a bill to allow them to sell beer on-site after a tour, something many other breweries across the country are able to do.

St. Arnold of Metz is recognized by the Catholic Church as the Patron Saint of Brewers and reportedly sheltered lepers and others rejected by society (not brewers and beer drinkers, right?!).

My favorite when I visit Texas? Glad you asked. Saint Arnold Fancy Lawnmower is a German-style Kölsch and a dependable world-class beer perfect for quenching thirst in the sometimes stifling heat of south Texas. If the timing of my travel takes me there in the spring, I love reaching for a Spring Bock to properly celebrate the season. For more divine consumption, the Divine Reserve set of beers is a series of single-batch beers, each brewed with a completely different recipe.

St. Louis Brewing Company brews a line of beers under the name Schlafly. That's why you'll run across few who refer to it as the former. But, we've got a saint theme here, so let's keep going with it!

Schlafly was opened in 1991 by Tom Schlafly. The Tap Room was the state's first brewpub and has since been the number one sold craft beer in Missouri. Their original location is nearly a mile or so from the Arch and Busch stadium near St. Louis University in a 100-year-old building that originally housed the Swift Printing Company.

Their second location, Bottleworks, opened in 2003 and can be found in the outlying St. Louis neighborhood of Maplewood, more residential than the downtown, warehouse-like neighborhood of the Tap Room. Since Anheuser-Busch "sold out" and became a Belgo-South American (like that play on words?) company, Schlafly proudly flies its flag as the largest American-owned brewery in Missouri.

And, they're about to get even larger with a new brewing plant near Iowa City, Iowa called Backpocket Brewery which will nearly double capacity to 60,000 barrels. This will serve to support an astounding 30% growth in 2011 to 45,000 barrels. While Schlafly may be a mere fraction of a fraction the size of Anheuser-Busch -- 150 employees and no endless factory tour buses for visitors -- their beer can now be found much more readily then ever at the home of the World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals, Busch Stadium. The brewery website even has a helpful map for finding the beer at the stadium.

One of the country's more interesting (debatable, I suppose, but that's okay) brewery projects of the last couple years has been Pretty Things, a brewery without a system to call their own. But that's all part of the plan. Based out of Somerville, Massachusetts and brewing at Buzzards Bay Brewing in Westport, owner Dann Paquette sets off to brew beers that are inspired by a style, a thought, a flavor, or an aroma. Then he grows it from there. There are no rules, no tick boxes. Just the desire to brew some of the most interesting and palate-provoking beers he can.

For our saint theme here, Pretty Things' St. Botolph's Town is an Old Peculiar-inspired English brown ale. It's got plenty of Yorkshire malts, is lightly hopped, fermented with German and English ale yeast strains, and results in a 5.9% ABV winner of an English brown ale.

According to the Pretty Things website, "The name 'Saint Botolph's Town' is in tribute to our great home in America: Boston. The original Boston in Lincolnshire, England is an abbreviation of 'Botolph's Town' or 'Botolph's Stone'. When we were back in Yorkshire recently, we found a churchyard where St. Botolph spoke in the year 675; a 'stump' (broken old cross) marks the spot. Saint Botolph is a 7th century saint from England whose feast day is June 17.

Finally, going from the most recent past to the way-back past, would any beer/saint theme be complete without discussing Abbaye de Notre-Dame de Saint-Rémy? It's the home to Brasserie de Rochefort, where many of you enjoy Rochefort 6, 8, and 10 from.

Often referred to by connoisseurs as some of the best beers in the world (particularly the Trappistes Rochefort 10), these beers are brewed by Cistercian monks and help to support their way of life.

Perhaps nothing sums up perspectives on brewing, God, and life at Rochefort than what follows the tasting notes on the website:

"Make no abuse of this gift of God. Let your Rochefort moment also be a moment of reflection. Enjoy it, drink a second glass, and a third for special occasions, but never more. Be heedless of the way of living of the monks, who devote their life to God, and who, with respect and worship for the components that nature gives us, deliver quality products. Let their silence and their austerity persuade to you, and be amazed over and over again, which beautiful results love and belief can produce."

Here concludes today's beer-y reflection on saintly beer. Go forth and commune tonight with a great beer and friends to ponder those that have gone before us.

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