The Biggest Little City in the World just got a little more worldly.
Brasserie Saint James is located in the historic Crystal Springs building in Reno. Crystal Springs was both a spring water distributor and ice house, which pulled water from a private underground lake. Art employs the same soft water source along with German pilsner malt as his base malt to generate more authentically European style beers. Most of his beers are fermented in classic conicals, but a handful of them, of the Belgian variety, do their work in a giant open fermentation vat. This lends a unique and traditional flavor profile to beers like their Red Belgian Farmhouse Ale – Red Headed Stranger.
Art has been a leader in Reno’s craft beer scene for a while now. With the success of Saint James Infirmary, one of the first craft beer bars to open, and now Brasserie Saint James, the “Saint James” name has become synonymous with Reno Craft Beer. Like the owners of Beachwood BBQ, Stuffed Sandwich, Verdugo Bar, and Blue Palms in LA, Art has been cultivating craft beer appreciation in Reno since day one. And it’s catching on. Of course there are still the traditions and staples in Reno; Great Basin Brewing Co and Silver Peak, but the new craft beer wave is also spreading. Places like Craft Wine & Beer, the Brewer’s Cabinet, and now Brasserie Saint James have opened and met with great success. Reno’s young craft beer crowd is thirsty and eager to support local beer hot spots.
Art is focusing mainly on the success of Brasserie Saint James and keeping his already established Saint James Infirmary strong, but he also has plans to pair up with some of his brewery buddies north of us. With his focus and love of Belgian beer traditions, it would be wise to keep you eye on Saint James so you can prep yourself for some really cool collaborations.
They are looking at installing a bottling line in the near future. Until then, patrons can enjoy the beers in the pub and via take home growlers. The growlers aren’t cheap, but they are really nice. They are the German-engineered giant flip top variety, and your first purchase comes with a free fill! Brasserie Saint James is currently working on distribution, and as soon as that clears maybe we’ll see Saint James beers outside of Reno, maybe in Southern California, maybe Los Angeles?
The Beer & Food
Many of today’s brewpubs suffer from a narrow focus on either the beer or food program where one of the two ultimately suffers for the benefit of the other. This is not the case with Brasserie Saint James. The food here is exceptional. Based on traditional and updated gourmet Belgian and French cuisines, there are options for everyone ranging from frites to fancy. Bone marrow canoes, portobello fries, Thai coconut moules-frites, gruyere truffle mushroom mac and cheese, so many options. The main issue, and this is only for a non-native to Reno, you can only choose one thing. Repeated trips will be necessary for the full effect.
Beer is not taken lightly, and there are many varieties – 12 to be exact. Monks Milk, The Witte Album (Track 2), The Pils, The White Downs, The Black Gate, Ardennes to India, Jamison’s Station, The Third Man, Red Headed Stranger, Hopalong Cassidy, Saison of the Witch, and Fullers Crossing. Rather than choose one, unless you know which one to choose, just order the entire set of tasters. It looks something like this!
Highlights (with brief tasting notes) among this line-up, though they were all good, include:
- Red Headed Stranger – Red Belgian Farmouse Ale – *Grainy, quaffable, complex & toasty
- Monks Milk – Table Beer (Small Beer) – *Super Complex, light, silky, citrus, with a peppery tart funk
- Saison of the Witch – Barrel Reserver Fall Farmhouse Ale – *tart syrah oak, very earthy
- Fuller’s Crossing – Barrel Reserve English Brown Ale – *bourbon notes, roasty english
- The White Downs – Belgian Saison w/ white sage and butternut squash – *balanced sage, silky mouthfeel from squash, very crisp
- The Black Gate – Schwarzbier – *a very clean hoppy dark lager
Variety is something unique about the barrel program at Saint James. Although they do have Imperial Stout, Quads, and other giant beers in oak, they also have low alcohol varieties as well. Both Saison of the Witch and Fuller’s Crossing were barrel aged, and they are each below 6% ABV. What does this mean? One can enjoy the beautiful and complex oak flavors without the obliterating ABV. The barrel aged brown ale was particularly delicious in this regard. It is a wonder that there aren’t more low ABV oaked beers out there.
Another welcome sight was the inclusion of a “Small Beer” in their everyday line-up. Brasserie Saint James calles this beer, Monk’s Milk, their “Table Beer,” but it is, in fact, second runnings from their belgian Quad. Small beers are incredibly traditional but are somewhat hard to find these days. Anchor Brewing has a pretty easy to find version, Anchor Small Beer, made from the second runnings of Old Foghorn. Monk’s Milk has a lot going on in it and had a really nice toastyness. At 2.8% ABV it’s one you can enjoy a few of, and it’s a nice counterpoint to the massive beer-geek beers flooding the shelves lately. It would be interesting to pair this one with the Quad when it becomes available.
All in all, Brasserie Saint James was a delight. The beers were top notch, the food was delicious, the atmosphere is cozy, and the hospitality was impeccable. While I’m not planning to move to Reno any time soon, Brasserie Saint James is making me think twice.
*Special thank you to owner, Art Farley, for showing us around. Your generous hospitality was appreciated, and we wish you the best of luck this coming year and in years to come. Also special thanks to our server, Jamie Farley, who, while juggling a double masters program and two kids, gave us incredible service. Can’t wait to visit again. Cheers!