It’s a Small World
Sante Adairius Rustic Ales expands to stay small
By Aric Sleeper
Sante Adairius Rustic Ales is coveted among the craft beer cognoscenti of Santa Cruz County and beyond. With just a mention of the brewery’s name to those in the know, their eyes and salivary glands suddenly activate, like a dog whose bell was just rung.
And that’s by design. Everything associated with the microbrewery is artfully crafted, from the beers and their whimsical names like “Meh…” and “Four Legs Good,” to the bottles, the barrels, and the black walnut table that adorns the taproom inside the brewery’s new Santa Cruz Portal on Water Street, which opened in the fall of 2017.
“We’ve always loved this space,” says Sante Adairius Rustic Ales (SARA) co-owner, Adair Paterno. “We had originally wanted to rent this building when we were planning the first brewery [in Capitola], but we thought it would be too small, and because it’s Santa Cruz, we couldn’t afford it at the time.”
In its former lives, the site housed Staff of Life, and before that, Mission Linen, among other incarnations. Paterno and SARA’s other co-owner, Tim Clifford, gutted the building just after they got the keys in September 2016. And what was originally intended to be production and storage space evolved into something more.
“If you know the history of the brewery, you know that everything that’s happened to us is kind of accidental, but always works out to our advantage,” says Clifford. “And this is in line with that. We got the space for barrel storage and the taproom just took over.”
Despite the recent expansion, Paterno and Clifford are committed to staying small, and are done buying new real estate indefinitely. In fact, they’ll be pulling back from some of their usual summer festivals so that they can keep improving the space they have.
“We think about expansion from a different angle,” says Clifford. “There’s a finite limit to the amount of beer we can actually make, so we [focus on the] quality of the beer, and that can always get better. We’re never satisfied. And now that we have this space, we’ll be focused on guest experience and other, more creative ways to improve upon what we’ve built.”
Now that they have more room to work, and taps to pour from, SARA’s team is making more and different types of beers beyond their signature saisons. They even have a number of guest taps for local wines and ciders.
“The new space has … helped us to expand our offerings, and we also have different beers on tap here compared to our brewery in Capitola,” says Clifford. “We now have a brown ale we’ve made here on tap called “Old Ghost.”
“We probably never would have had made a brown ale without the additional taps,” adds Paterno.
In the new taproom’s kitchen, the ingredients are as local as can be, and their head chef, Chris Pester, formerly of Companion Bakeshop, is constantly concocting imaginative pairings for everything on tap. But Paterno and Clifford don’t intend to become a restaurant.
“We’re always evolving the menu, and trying to offer the highest quality local ingredients that we can,” says Paterno. “But the food will always be incidental to the beer.”
So far, they’ve added handmade, locally sourced wooden tables, barrels, a bar, a wall of taps, and a kitchen in the back. The rustic furniture and wood walls, coupled with the high ceilings and exposed trusses gives the taproom the feel of a modern mead hall, or the inside of an old ship.
“The space is going to continue to evolve,” says Paterno. “It’s a work in progress and probably will continue to be forever. I don’t think we’ll ever stop trying to make it better.”