Art Farley readily admits that he spends most of his money on traveling like a gourmand: “The way most people are about professional sports players, I’m about chefs and brewers.”
So when the globetrotting foodie wanted to up the beer game in virtually craft-less Reno, Nev., he opened a beer bar called Saint James Infirmary, and gave distributors a list of 100 beers he wanted—only about 20 existed in Nevada. He persisted, and soon, the bar was serving up bottles from St. Bernardus, Bosteels and Mikkeller. At one point, it carried more than 120 brews, but the thirst he’d helped ignite came back to singe him: Reno’s demand for craft and imports outstripped supply, and by 2010, he couldn’t get his hands on everything he wanted. “That’s when I thought I should probably make my own beer,” he says, laughing.
The stars began to align: A historic icehouse was on the market, complete with its own water source, an underground artesian lake beneath the building; then the résumé of a promising young brewer, Josh Watterson, floated onto his desk.
Their shared love of European beer and food is the heart of Brasserie Saint James. Like the kitchen’s house-twisted blood sausage and oxtail/short rib beer braise, the brews are farmhouse-forward, with Belgian saisons and lambics, an oud bruin and a tripel rounding out the impressively complex lineup. Farley’s beer of choice, Sofia D’Oren, is a Belgian golden ale brewed with Italian plums, aged 12-plus months in syrah barrels—a feat owed to the brewery’s arsenal of 100 wine barrels and no less than 10 house yeasts. “We cultivate yeast. We blend yeast. Yeast is everything to us,” Farley insists.
The beers take time, but the brewery’s success has quickly fermented: Brasserie Saint James marked its second anniversary last fall with a Great American Beer Festival gold medal in the saison category and top honors as the Mid-Size Brewpub of the Year. On the horizon? A new barrelhouse and tasting room that will help to spread Saint James across the West, and a distillery where Farley plans to make whiskey and gin with local herbs and botanicals.
Farley, on a few of Brasserie St. James’ new bottles:
“We use three different yeasts, including Brettanomyces, and it takes more than three months to make. It’s like a lot of traditional saisons with a good citrus taste and a heavy barnyard note, but it also has green peppercorn in it, so it has some spice. And it’s not ‘overly-Bretted’; it just dries the sip out and gives it a crisp, peppery finish.”
Red Headed Stranger
“It’s a red saison, so you get a little bit of a malty background, but it still has crisp coriander and orange peel; plus, we add green and black peppercorn. It’s both spicy and fruity: It’s probably the one beer everybody loves. We make it as a traditional saison with saison yeast, but it ends up tasting like a hybrid between a saison and a red English ale. “
Third Man Tripel
“Every time we do a
traditional style, we blind-sample six favorite examples, then deconstruct and reconstruct the beer based on our notes, which is what we did for this tripel. Josh and I are both Champagne fans, and we like really dry beers, so this is really dried out in the finish. It has creamy banana at first, then it drifts into a sharp citrus bite and a crisp finish.”