Monday, July 1, 2013

An Alcoholic Tour of St. Louis- Guest Post

As I have mentioned before, one of my favorite things about writing about beer is that it has allowed me the chance to meet some really awesome people. One of those very awesome people is Heidi from we're better suited for a fictional world (Make sure you check out this blog, Heidi is brilliant, funny, and has a great sense of humor). Heidi very kindly agreed to do a guest post for me on some of the brews found in St. Louis (Thank you again!!)

The last year that I lived in Philadelphia, the city was really starting to gain a reputation as a great beer city. We have a good friend who is a brewer at Yards, and he had gotten my husband Dan a part time gig there. Dan did some quality control, worked the bottling line, made those variety cases (they pack up cases of single types of beer, then swap them to create the variety packs - high tech stuff), and sat down with the boss at the end of every day to taste the current production. It was was his dream job. Breweries were cropping up all over the Philadelphia area, Philly Beer Week was starting to be an actual important event for the city, restaurants started to have these intense tap lists. It was exciting. And then we moved to St. Louis. 

I only knew of St. Louis as the home of Anheuser Busch. As a lifelong horse girl, I do love those Clydesdales, but even at my low points I didn't drink Bud. We were bummed, to say the least. All of these wonderful things were happening in our city, and although our reasons for leaving (grad school for Dan at a top university with a more-than-decent chunk of scholarship money) were great, we still felt like we were going to be missing out on something important. 

Before we left, our friends, including the brewer at Yards, gave us a gift card for the Schlafly Brewery here in St. Louis. Schlafly is the largest independent brewery here, and is actually known to people outside the area, mostly because it was the first to boldly step up and challenge AB, and the notion that this was a one-brewery town. I hadn't heard of them, but that isn't unusual, I'm not really dialed into the craft brewers news, and with limited distribution outside of the state, we hadn't had a chance to try any. 

So, after we lumbered into town and unceremoniously dumped the contents of a sixteen foot moving van into our new apartment, we headed to the Schlafly Bottleworks to use our gift card for dinner. They have a good restaurant with an outdoor patio, and my brother still says the pulled pork sandwich he had there was one of the best sandwiches of his life. It was a nice way to end a long drive, and to get acquainted with the neighborhood and the city. Our waiter had a shirt on that said "Bier trinkt man nicht nur zum Frühstück" which my dad, a fierce German, adored and bought immediately. Beer is not just for breakfast anymore. 

Schafly Bottleworks

The Bottleworks, which is where Schlafly does the majority of their brewing and packaging, is only a few minutes down the road from us. According to their website, they brew over twenty different styles in this brewhouse, and fill over 1600 cases and 240 kegs a day. They apparently built this facility to meet demand and keep the production local. Later I learned that there is a second Schlafly restaurant and brewery located more downtown. The Schlafly Tap Room brews the smaller batches, Belgian-styles, oak-aged reserve beers, and fills the larger, 750ml bottles. The menu in the restaurant here is more traditional pub-fare, and, according to my husband, the beer on tap is better. I tend to find something I enjoy drinking at either location because, while their beers don't really ever blow your mind, they are consistently good. Also, not a Bud clone in the bunch. 

Once we got tuned into the local news, we realized that St. Louis was in the middle of a craft brewing renaissance just as Philadelphia had been. Small breweries were popping up everywhere, and within the first year we'd discovered Urban Chestnut, O'Fallon, Augusta, and 2nd Shift. To date, that list has swelled to include: Civil Life, Perennial, 4 Hands, Six Row, Square One, Morgan Street, Trailhead, Exit 6, and Charleville. Anheuser who? 

Allow me to take you on a tour of some of my favorites: 

Urban Chestnut Brewing Comany
Urban Chestnut Brewing Company - Traditional German styles. If you're a fan of the more unusual styles, or "girly" beers (look, I like the Abita Strawberry Lager - shut up!), you might have a hard time here, although they do have a pretty smooth wheat beer that you could probably get behind - the Schnickelfritz comes to mind. These beers all remind me of my dad - the smell as a young kid and the taste as an adult, and so I love it for that. They have a nice tasting room with a good, simple menu, a new outdoor garden. As with many of the new breweries, they are committed to sustainability and their brew house boasts solar panels, composting, and water conservation capabilities. They have cool merchandise designs, and t-shirts in girls sizes (!!!). These guys bottle and keg, and this is the local beer that you are most likely to see out of state - we've seen it on tap in Philly. In more recent news, they've acquired a new, second location across town from the current. Once operational, they will ultimately be able to boost their output to 100,000 barrels per year. 

Perennial Artisan Ales - Possibly one of my favorites. These would be at the opposite end of the traditional spectrum from UCBC. They're unusual, creative, very good, and you are likely to find something for everyone. They have very few beers that remain consistently available, most are seasonal or small batch.

Perennial Artisan Ales
They focus on using locally sourced ingredients, such as the Black Walnut Dunkel from Missouri Black Walnuts, or the special run (and insanely hard to get) Sump Coffee Stout, brewed in collaboration with Sump Coffee, a local coffee house and roaster. These guys manage to create a massive amount of hype on some of these limited releases, with people lining up for hours, and paying people to stand in line and buy bottles for them when there is a bottle limit on the sale. Don't know how I feel about that. Anyway, the co-owner and brewer is a Missouri native who previously worked as a brewer at Goose Island. The building is an old converted factory in South City and is, unfortunately, quite a hike from just about any place else you might want to go. The menu, though, is worth it. It's simple, changes frequently, is locally sourced, and compliments the beer nicely. They have an outdoor patio with a fire pit for cold days. This brewery bottles (the label design is fantastic) and kegs, but the bottles are all the larger size and are, unfortunately, on the pricey side. Better to stop by the brewery for a taste. 

Civil Life Brewery - This is more fun than your average brewery. The space is interesting in that it's one large warehouse, but has a tasting room built into one side. The tasting room has been designed to look like an old-world pub, including the outside, which is brick and has faux gas lamps. There is also an upstairs portion where you can look down into the brewhouse, or into the pub.

 They also have a garden outside to sit and sip, and a window to order from without going back inside.

 I know this isn't making sense - it's hard to describe. You'll just have to visit to see what I mean. Now, for the fun stuff: The pub has an assortment of games available for you to play while you drink, including a wooden version of Connect Four for you to verse your bother in and relive your childhood (I did). Then, in the space between the pub and the brewhouse there is a wall with two dart boards, and a bulls head.

What's the deal with the bull, you ask? Well, there is a ring hanging above it from a string, and there is just enough length of string to get the ring over the bull's horn. So you swing the ring and hope for the best. It might be the greatest parlor game I've ever seen. When my brother was in town, we spent an hour on it at least (he's a guy who loves to throw things). When my brother came back to visit a year later with my mom, we even got her to play. I desperately want to show you the photos, but I think she'd be mad at me.

 But back to the beer. These are all leaning more toward the traditional side, 4-6% alcohol range, and are solid and consistently good. Not too many knock-outs, but better than Schlafly in my opinion. They actually have a pretty big selection, and the cool thing is that they sell them in 8-ounce sizes for a mere $2.50, which allows you to try them all. They have a good, simple menu with decent sandwiches. As a Philadelphian, I'm not often impressed with the sandwiches here, but these get the job done. Civil Life's Brown Ale is on tap all over town, and is one of my favorites, hands down. They currently don't bottle, so the distribution is limited. 

4 Hands Brewing Company - A small brewery all the way downtown, but within walking distance of Busch Stadium. On many summer days, the tasting room is full of people wearing Cardinals gear, which doesn't bother me unless it's a day my Philadelphia Phillies are in town. The selection here is smaller, but might be the best out of the ones that I've described. Again, they're a little more on the traditional side, but they do occasionally reach that mind-blowing level. They have a terrific menu in their tasting room. It is simple, affordable, and changes frequently. It was developed with a local restaurant owner, Dave Bailey, a guy who seems to be single handedly attempting to revive St. Louis's somewhat desolate downtown through food. All of his restaurants are pretty damn good. I should note that I have, on occasion, seen 4 Hands on tap in the Philly area, and was surprised, but excited. In talking to the bartender at 4 Hands one night I learned that it is because the brewer's wife is from the area, and they used to live there so they still have connections. Cool.

While the brewery isn't as entertaining as Civil Life, they do have a Foosball table, and they frequently host food trucks in their parking lot. Obviously I like the brown ale because that's my thing, but I also drink the Single Speed Session and love it.  

This concludes our tour on the up-and-coming world of brewing in St. Louis. I am sure that I could write another post in a few months time and I would have several new breweries to add to the list. Despite my frequent gripes about the city, great things are, indeed, happening here in terms of beer, and dare I say it - you should consider checking it out! 

**I have been asked to include this picture of  Connect Four at Civil Life, make of it what you will, I sense just a little sibling rivalry***

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