The Cat and The Cloud!
What would you think if someone wanted to make a beer for you? Ummm…sure. But it’s not like making a cocktail, you don’t just "make" a beer. It’s a process, right?
Turns out, it’s quite the process. And we were only asked to do the fun part—come up with a name and the can art. Easy enough!
Dr. Erica Moulton came to Saba with her husband for the 2021 annual Sea & Learn program. She was invited to share her expertise on ROVs, (remotely operated vehicles). They went diving every chance they could and Erica was one of our highlighted scientists for the Dennis Quaid Viewpoint Project* They were enamored by our program and the island. A year later, Erica contacted us to tell us she wanted to “give back” to the Sea & Learn Foundation and have a beer made for us. Her non-profit organization Center 4 Open Exploration supports marine education and particularly education with local people and women in coastal communities. Check!
Erica already showed us her superpowers by teaching kids how to make an ROV out of coat hangers and PVC pipe...but how was she going have a beer created for us? And not just another beer, but one with an evocative flavor profile. Here's where her husband Sean enters the picture--he's the Florida Guild Director. The what? The entertainment industry has the Directors Guild of America (DGA) that represents the creative and economic interests of film and television directors. But who knew that every state in the USA has a go-to person to do the same for breweries?! Sean Nordquist was that guy for Florida until just recently. So, he knows a few brewery owners and a bit about beer--so much so the beer label on the left is in his honor.
If you're going to create a beer for Saba with an evocative flavor profile, you need a brewer who can capture the unique essence of the island to create a beer like no other. Bastet Brewing in Tampa was the logical choice for Erica. She has known co-founder Tom Ross since their sandbox days. Together with Huston Lett, Bastet specializes in creating beers and ciders that are often inspired by fermentation traditions from other countries and cultures around the world. In order to capture Saba's essence, Erica asked us to send her bottles of Saba Spice--she appreciated the tradition of Saba women passing down their cherished family recipes to the next generation. Bastet set out to capture the essence of this rum liqueur's key ingredients--fennel, clove and cinnamon--to craft a truly unique beer.
Bastet's logo is an Egyptian cat—for a reason. Bastet is the goddess of protection (back to women!). “Our broad interest in the long history of beer led to our decision to pay homage to the first large scale beer brewing culture on earth, the ancient Egyptians. Many people don't realize how important beer was to the ancient Egyptians and there's a fascinating story in their mythology that's related to beer that has the Egyptian cat goddess, Bastet, as its antagonist." In short, that story is one of how beer saved the world. For the full story, check out the Bastet Brewing website” Better yet, if you’re in the area of Tampa, Florida, stop into their taproom for a flight of beers and hear the tale from owners Tom or Huston, whom you'll always find working behind the bar.
Having a Saba beer created was an opportunity not to be missed--not just for the Sea & Learn Foundation, but for the island of Saba! Part of Erica and Bastet's plan involved more than producing the beer for our 20th anniversary; it aimed to gift the recipe to a regional brewer for continued production. "We need to drink about it" was our saying for weeks as we pondered possible names. With an eventual goal of the beer being sold on neighboring islands, we imagined someone at a bar in St. Barths looking out on the horizon...Cloud Top!!
A craft beer is not a "grass cutting beer", but a beer to be experienced. Savoring each sip, reading the ingredients listed, and admiring the creativity of the label and enjoying the story behind it. Now that we had a name, our long-time designer, Malachy, could go to work. We became the detested client--one who rejects each idea sent but not providing any direction. Then the Eureka! moment occurred. We don't need to recreate the wheel, just re-style it! Emily and I headed to Malachy's house with a photo of the wall of the Eugenius Center. The Sea & Learn's 2016 "Saba After Dark" mural was created by Joan Bourque and represents the above and below beauty of Saba. Boom! With technological twist, Malachy magically created the label for Cloud Top.
Meanwhile behind the scenes in Florida, Erica worked on the financial aspects of making this happen. In addition to her foundation C4OE, the production of the beer was also sponsored by Geo Aqua Watch and Bay Tech Label. There was no hesitation from Saba's own "son of the soil" and beer enthusiast Vernon Hassell who graciously agreed to sponsor the shipping of the beer through Hassell Free.
Two 32-ounce crowlers arrived on Saba via Fed Ex in mid-July. We had everything in place! A secret tasting was organized with a variety of pallets…from not real beer enthusiasts (read: wine and cocktails preferred) to those more adventurous and eager to try any new brew. We set up a table with the google-suggested beer tasting musts--nuts, grapes, cheeses, smoked mussels and crackers—for photos and pallet cleansing. A variety of glasses were available to be certain we noted the appearance, took time to smell the beer, swirl it to release aromas and note its flavors. We recorded the pour and the glasses clanging; we took photos of the cloud-enshrouded Mt. Scenery in the background. We had 3-ounce custom-made tasting glasses produced. Erica and Sean were so excited to received our response...we cracked open the first crowler....Ruh Row!! We have a small problem: none of us really liked the beer. Did the customs-delayed crowlers not travel well? Oh no!! This is such a missed opportunity if the taste is not appealing. And the gift givers are waiting to hear from us...As they say on Saba “What to do?”
As a group we wrote the “honesty with diplomacy” text detailing our concerns which was relayed to the brewers. Surprisingly, the brewers were not insulted by our comments but welcomed them. With our honest feedback they knew exactly what to change for the next batch. They, too, wanted this beer to be right!
“I will carb at a slightly higher volume to help endure the beer’s long journey. (Note that there is some loss of carbonation when crowlering a beer. I’m sure that contributed to low carb on your sample crowlers.) However, to err on the side of caution I will carb just a slight amount higher so you all end up with a perfectly carbed beer. The IBUs in the sample beer were only at 20 (Range for amber lager being 8-25 IBUs). Just in case, I will drop it down to about 16 IBUs from 20. I will also mash at a higher temp to leave some residual sweetness in the final beer." The brew date was set and all we could do was hope we liked the next batch.
In this lively 2-minute video, Bastet streamlined the journey from Erica's vision of a Saba Spice infused beer to the Cloud Top canning process: Saba Cloud Top Beer - YouTube The double batch was created in just one day with the marination and magic part taking an additional 60 days. Here's some fun notations: 1) in addition to the time and date stamp, each can's bottom has the message "Love Huston and Tom" 2) the goal was for no plastic to be sent to Saba, the cases were hand assembled in to "high wall boxes"--no plastic rings or holders for each case of beer. 3) as a circular economy company, Bastet has a zero-waste policy. The hops and grains byproducts go to a cow rescue organization in the Tampa area--stay tuned for Saba milk updates :-)
Cloud Top departing Tampa
Cloud Top arrives in Palm City, FL
Cuchie swiftly moved it up the mountain
Opening Night Cloud Top Team
Now to get the Cloud Top to Saba for Opening Night. Oh, and the timing is smack dab in the height of hurricane season! Erica and Sean rented a truck to move 100+ cases swiftly across Florida. The Hassell Free team honored our request to have the beer loaded last into the container so that it was the first thing out. Within an hour of the container doors opening on Saba, the pallet of beer was being chilled. Four days later, it was time for the moment of truth....Members of Saba's hospitality sector were invited to Saba Tourism office. Heineken Regatta Director and owner of Shortcut2Success, Michele Korteweg together with John Leone, owner of Pelikaan Brewery/Sea View Hotel introduced the product and reinforced the value of this marketing tool for Saba. The cans were cracked open and samples handed out. Success!! A beer like no other, inspired by "a li' chip of Saba Spice" brought smiles to all. When can I start selling it? was the consistent response. And so it started...
Look for the sign at your favorite Saba bar: Bizzy B Bakery, Chez Bubba Bistro, El Momo, The Hideaway, Liam's Cuisine, Long Haul Bar & Grill, Queen's, Rendezvous @ Ecolodge, Tropics Cafe and even Sea Saba Dive Center. It's also being served at Sea View Beach Hotel in Philipsburg St. Maarten AND at Bastet Brewing in Tampa, Florida.
*Viewpoint Project with Dennis Quaid specializes in short-form Public Television stories. Each story highlights specific industries and topics around the world. The show highlights industry professionals and groundbreaking organizations as featured content providers.