On the muddy banks of the mighty Mississippi, great beer’s a flowing. Flying into St. Louis, Missouri in early May, the Mississippi River was flexing its muscles, low lying areas in danger of flood. Though the weather was close to +30 C and sunny, there had been mighty rain in the Mid-West. But life goes on, regardless of Mother Nature, the airports are full, the streets are busy and research must continue. Business brought me to St. Louis, but the business of craft beer in St. Louise is what really impressed me. Sure, it’s the home of global giant Anheuser-Busch, the Cardinals, the Blues and the Rams, but the burgeoning craft beer industry has created a buzz in this spread-out city of 3 million.
18 craft brewers call the St. Louis area home these days, the scene is young and ambitious, independent and certainly adventurous. Schlafly Brewing Co. has actually been around a long time, but is the first one you’ll notice, if you fly into the city, because of their pub/restaurant at the airport. You can try all their beers there and even pick up a 6 pack on your way. They also boast two locations in the city, The Schlafly Tap Room and Schlafly Bottleworks. They have big penetration in the market here after 20 years in business and they are the largest, independent brewer. Schlafly’s line of great beers can be found in most bars and restaurants and they produce up to fifty styles each year, specialties and seasonals, half of which appear only on tap at their brewpub locations. Their flagship brew Schlafly Pale Ale (4.4%) is a deep amber colour, with a quickly dissipating white head, nice balance, neutral nose, but enough hop on the palate to balance the malty overture, hints of biscuit and caramel, finishing smooth and refreshingly dry. I found a dry-hopped version of this too in my travels, much more aromatic! Their Hefeweizen (4.1%) is a very pleasant, pale gold American style wheat beer, slightly hazy, long and smooth, hints of distant spice, soft and grainy. Nice to find was their seasonal American India Pale Ale (7.2%) deep gold and full bodied, a lovely bitterness adorns the malty architecture, hints of fruit, citric nose, balanced and beautiful. The Oatmeal Stout (5.7%) is creamy smooth, deep black, with a palate of roasted malts and enough hops to dry the long finish, hints of raisins, coffee.
There are many great beer bars and restaurants in St. Louis and they were not that hard to find. Locals were happy to point us in the right direction, and even offer personal fave spots and what to try. I managed to spend a lovely afternoon downtown with friends, pub crawling in the Washington Avenue loft district. Whether enjoying the game at Flannery’s , hanging out in the elegant Copia or catching some rays on the patio at The Over Under, there are some great local brews to be found wherever you go.
4 Hands Divided Sky Rye IPA (6.5%) Pale gold in colour, flora hop nose, tight small head, dissipates quickly but laces well with every sip, good balance towards bitterness, malty architecture, smooth with some elements of rye and spice which dries out the finish.
Urban Chestnut Zwickel (5.1%) Light gold/straw, fresh nose, light palate, dry, refreshingly more-ish! Bavarian style lager.
Six Row Whale (5.5%) A pale wheat ale, cloudy gold, light on the palate, complex malty-wheaty elements, some bitterness, smooth, balanced, long fresh finish
Perennial Artisan Ales Saison de Lis (5%) Good example, pale orange, floral, citric nose, crisp, clean. Mild spiciness, thirst quenching, made with Chamomile flowers.
O’Fallon’s Wheach (5.1%) local wheat-peach beer, great aromatics, fruity, light, fresh, low carbonation, no head, but refreshing, easy to drink, definite overtones of peach, some sweetness, light lingering finish.
Civil Life American Brown (4.8%) delcious, dark brown, creamy head, lovely malty tones, nutty, smooth middle, some dark malt sweetness,lovely, long finish.
4 Hands Contact High Hoppy Wheat Ale (5%) comes in a tall 650 ml. bottle. Pale gold, orange hues, big hop nose, great white head, excellent lacing, balanced toward bitterness, long dry finish. Dry hopped with orange zest, wheat based spring seasonal, exceptional brew!
On another occasion a number of us managed to get to the Soulard district of historical old St. Louis. Located between the Gateway Arch and the Anheuser Busch Brewery, this vibrant and diverse neighbourhood is minutes from downtown and features over 30 bars, boutiques, restaurants, galleries, pubs and clubs, outdoor courtyards, jazz and blues venues, sidewalk cafes and a famous Farmer’s Market. Here, there is truly something for everyone.
Llywelyn’s Pub (Soulard) 6 locations around St. Louis, the quintessential sports bar for catching the Cardinals or the Blues any night of the week, good pub grub and a very decent selection of local, national and international brands.
O’Fallon’s 5 Day IPA (6.1%) More of a pale ale really, but nicely balanced, gold/amber, somewhat herbal nose, smooth malt with a lingering bitter palate, dry finish (5 days on fresh Cascade & glacier hops)
Boulevard Boss Tom’s Golden Bock (6.1 %)- another older player, brewing since 1989, golden bock – very smooth, clear, clean brew, malt accented with a long lingering finish
Urban Chestnut Schnickefritz (5.2%) Bavarian Weissbier, sweet malt nose, some spiciness, slightly hazy pale colour, served in a short, stout tulip glass, nice white head, slowly falling lace, citric tones permeate the palate, some funkiness detectable, lovely with the curry I had.
Right across the street is the International Tap House or iTap, as it’s affectionately called by the locals, and there just so happened to be a ‘beer event’ going down. I had to check it out, so after our meal I abandoned my dinner mates to their hockey game and made my way to this fabulous beer bar. iTap features 40 rotating taps and almost 500 varieties in bottles. As it happens, Deschutes Brewery from Bend, Oregon, was sponsoring an event partnered with local brewer Perrenial Artisan Ales. The full food-pairing event was sold out (and basically over at this point of the evening), but the public was welcome, many Deschutes brews were still available as they had their mobile tap room was parked on the street, shaped like a giant beer barrel, serving many of their beers. As part of this celebration, there was a Collaboration Brew, a beautifully, hoppy Belgian style IPA, fruity nose combined well with the heavy bitterness, pale gold, yeasty complex and very tasty, well balanced, good carbonation, very Belgian indeed!
Both brewers were on hand for Q&A with local home brew attendees at back of pub, Phil Wymore from Perennial and Brian Faivre from Deschutes. I chatted with Joey Pleich and Gina Schauland about Deschutes partnerships with smaller breweries, plans for expansion (they are building a production brewery on the east coast) and the wonderful varieties available with the current surge in the craft brewery industry.
I was fortunate enough to get a taste of Collage, a collaboration brew between Deschutes & Hair of the Dog, an 11% wood aged, vinous barley wine, mysterious and seductive, fruity, strong and demanding.
Also tasty this night, Charleville Nitro ESB (5.3%)This is a delicious, creamy brew, malty aromatics, deep amber, copper colour, earthy, smooth, nutty notes, sweet malt hints, balanced long finish. Also, 4 Hands Single Speed Session, a crisp, golden and delicious session brew, floral, fruity, easy to drink, light on the palate, pilsner malt accented American blond ale. Oh yes, I really like these 4 Hands beers. A few other brews crossed my lips this night, as my Deschutes and iTap hosts were quite generous with both beer and conversation, but the night was quickly slipping away. I promised myself to make it to a brewpub, and the 4 Hands Brewing Co. was just around the corner. So off I went.
I arrived as the front door was being locked, but was welcomed in anyway as the bartender recognized me as perhaps another beer geek like himself, a lone beer hunter at last call. He gave me the quick history of the brewery, only 18 months old, and generously lead me through a tasting of the current taps.
Bona Fide Imperial Stout (9%) black, smooth, roasted malts, coffee, dark chocolate, dried fruit, long finish.
Mosaic Pale Ale (5%) pale, herbal nosed, hop balanced malty ale. Straight up!
Pyrus Saison (6%) a winter Saison made with pear juice, white pepper corns and the zest of oranges. It pours a hazy gold, complex nose, funky palate, just a wonderful brew!
And a little something called Breakfast Beer, a traditional German weizen, with banana, wheat, cloves notes, cloudy, frothy, double plus good.
I did finally buy a couple of bottles of Contact High to bring home with me, yes they sell off sales of their own beer. So, adieu 4 Hands! St. Louis has a vibrant craft beer scene, and I feel like I only scratched the surface. One needs more than a couple of days to find the great local beer available here from some of the best local breweries in Missouri.
One last place… Flying Saucer Draught Emporium. Giant gastropub, has a growing number of locations in the US, new to St. Louis. Maybe 40 beers on tap, many more in bottles, a cross section of very good local, national and international styles.