Bella Vista’s James is the latest restaurant to partner with a brewery to develop a private label beer. In April owners Jim and Kristina Burke will debut Saison du James, a Belgian style farmhouse beer that their sous chef Josh Evans brewed with Baltimore’s Brian Strumke, the “gypsy brewer” behind the highly coveted Stillwater Artisanal Ales. Evans, a onetime home-brewer and devout craft beer enthusiast, met Strumke last year, shortly after he was put in charge of making beer decisions at James. The two hit it off well and teamed up during Philly Beer Week for a dinner pairing James’ dishes with Strumke’s hard-to-find ales. Following that, they hatched a plan to brew up a collaborative beer. “I bounced some ideas for flavor profiles off of him and he seemed to dig them,” Evans told Grub Street. “So I went down there with some ingredients and we brewed it.”
James joins Pub & Kitchen, which has a house beer made by Brooklyn’s Sixpoint Craft Ales, and Stephen Starr’s Dandelion, which recently began commissioning local breweries to develop proprietary beers, in the private label beer game. Evans said the James beer was brewed with green cardamom leaves, basil blossoms, yuzu and traditional saison yeast. He adds it will have a light body, a dry finish and 7 percent alcohol. But do to the limited production, will be in short supply.
“We brewed enough that we should have it around for a few months,” Evans said. “But it’s most likely going to be a onetime batch.”
Strumke, who has developed a cult like following for the rare yields he creates in Baltimore and overseas in collaboration with European brewers, will return to James in April for the Saison du James debut and another beer pairing dinner that will feature some of his rarest and most obscure beers.