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Southerleigh Brewing continues Pearl tradition

Artist Renderings
Artist Renderings

Tradition. Without it we have no sense of our past and who we really are. The history of the Pearl Brewery provides that for San Antonio’s brewing community. It's an identity that wasn't lost on brothers Tim and Alex Rattray when they opened The Granary 'Cue and Brew in 2012 bringing brewing back to the Pearl area placing their brewpub in the former home of Ernest Charles Mueller the original cooper at the Pearl Brewery. As if that wasn't exciting enough, this fall will have many in San Antonio brimming with historical pride.

Brewing inside the original Pearl Brewhouse returns after 13 years, with the arrival of Southerleigh Fine Food and Brewery with an expected opening of October or November of this year. Headed by Chef Jeff Balfour, recently of Citrus at the Valencia Hotel, and brewer extraordinaire William Les Locke, former head brewer at Branchline Brewing, Southerleigh looks to pay homage to the the Pearl's past, but with a look to the future as well.

Balfour had the bug to open a brewpub for a while prior to getting in contact with The Pearl in 2011 and felt the original Brewhouse was optimal " when you look at the space and the artists renderings, it's just perfect" said Balfour who, along with Locke, sat down with me recently to discuss Southerleigh.

"The Pearl had always wanted brewing to return to the brewhouse" said Balfour, who had looked at a couple of other locations prior to The Pearl. With this revitalization of brewing tradition, both Balfour and Locke hope that it serves as a model for other defunct regional breweries like Fallstaff Brewing in St. Louis, MO. "We're excited to continue the Pearl tradition with Southerleigh" said Locke "it's a feeling that can't be put into words".

Southerleigh will do more than just continue the brewing tradition of the area. Most of the building will incorporate a large amount of the original brewery. Much of the original equipment will be incorporated as part of the brewery's motif. Four fermentors, original to The Pearl, will be kept on the upper level, visible to patrons of Southerleigh's south dining room. The building's original arches will also be kept, in addition to some of the original pumps and firkins (a cask, or small barrel, just under 11 gallons) and the brewpub's north wall will feature one of The Pearl's original Brewhouse blueprints along with a timeline of its history.

Southerleigh will feature a menu that will adjust with the season, reflecting Balfour's upbringing in Galveston, Texas with that traditional Southern dishes. Some menu items will include hand-rolled pretzels, Texas Longhorn jerky, wood fired meats, traditional shellfish boils, beer braised meat, among many others. Patrons can expect to be dazzled with Balfour's creativity and passion for traditional foods that often take on a modern flare.

This creativity and innovation doesn't just stay on the food side of the house. Balfour advised that he and Locke will have an open collaboration with the food and beer menus. "We will be constantly working to create beers that have our dishes in mind and vise versa" said Balfour, who went on to say that when looking for a head brewer, he never expected to get a brewer of Locke's caliber.

This philosophy is definitely shared by Locke, who envisions a symbiotic relationship with Balfour and the food side. Locke has in the past been known to use unusual ingredients in his beers that can easily pair with almost any dish. "I'm excited for the building and equipment to be completed, so that Jeff and I can begin working together. He has the same philosophy as I do when it comes to food and with the unlimited versatility of beer, the pairings will be endless." Said Locke.

Southerleigh expects to have 10-12 house beers available, with several guest taps as well. Look for regular offerings to include a California Common (what a steam beer other than Anchor Steam is known as), a Helles Lager and what Locke refers to as a Darwinian IPA, that is an IPA that will always be evolving. A barrel program to include sour ales is also in the works, with the Helles being used as the base for the sour program.

Locke and Balfour are expecting to start brewing prior to the opening, allowing patrons to have their brew on day one. Plans are already in motion for a bottling line prior to opening, which would allow the brewpub to distribute almost immediately upon opening. There is also the possibility of a canning line at some point. With all this production in the works, Locke will be putting his brewing system through its paces, likely requiring a second shift brewer within the first year.

The 15 barrel system from Portland Kettle Works is in production this month and will showcase what Balfour and Locke are wanting in the overall feel of the brewery, using as many American ingredients and equipment as they are able. "It's important to us that all aspects of the restaurant and brewery reflect an American and specifically southern feel, from the ingredients in the food, the beer and equipment." Said Balfour. The system should be in place by July, allowing Locke to begin testing the system so that they are ready for a planned October/November opening.

"We want our customers to feel that they can relate to us when they are here" said Locke, " we want all aspects of the restaurant to be approachable, so that regardless of your income level, you'll feel at home here."

Don't take this laid back approach for granted though. All chefs will be up to Balfour's high standards for culinary knowledge, as well as his philosophy on food. Servers will be no different when it comes to the beer side. "We plan to have all servers obtain their Certified Beer Server designation" said Locke. A Certified Beer Server designation is step one on the way to becoming a Certified Cicerone, the beer industry equivalent to that of a wine Sommelier and give a server base knowledge of beer styles, proper pouring and serving of beer. "It's important that everyone at Southerleigh buys into what we're doing" said Locke. In fact, they look to have their future General Manager, pursue his Cicerone Certification.

To see such a revitalization of a historic regional brewery is almost unheard of in American history and Locke hopes that Southerleigh serves as a model for other defunct regional breweries throughout the country. It means a lot to San Antonio's burgeoning craft beer scene for sure, but the effect on San Antonio's over all history is phenomenal.

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