Even in the shadow of the largest brewing company in the world, small and independent American owned craft brewers are emerging and struggling to meet the demand and support of local beer enthusiasts. Earlier this year I spent a day touring a few craft breweries in St. Louis, better known as the birthplace of Anheuser-Busch, now part of the world’s largest brewing company Anheuser-Busch Inbev.
The Urban Chestnut Brewing Company is classic craft brewing exercise helping to renovate a city’s beer culture and also part of the renovation of former and abandoned St. Louis business area called Midtown Alley. With expertly purchased and installed brewing equipment, a new outdoor beer garden and the brewery’s tap room UCBC is a worhty hangout for beer enthusiasts seeking excellent beer in perfect balance. Their beer reflects both classically brewed and eccentric twists and turns on some of the world classic beer styles. German-style Zwickel, Double IPA, Smoked “English” brown ale, a balanced ale infused with just the right amount of spruce oil, A classic German Hefeweizen, a classic Belgian-style Witbier, Chestnut Brown ale, an American style IPA, a German IPA infused with the delicate qualities of French Strisselspalt hops were on hand for me to try on my journey through the brewery. Take a look at what’s being offered right now.
Florian Kuplent (former Anheuser-Busch Inbev employee involved with product development) and David Wolfe (former Anheuser-Busch Inbev involved with marketing) broke away from the day to day of Anheuser-Busch Inbev to form their own brewery opening in midyear 2010. These two guys are in love with beer and what they are doing. It’s a one-stop stay-all-day kind of tasting room/beer garden, but fortunately I had other brewers to visit.
In another part of St. Louis but still in the core of the city I found a real gem, Square One Brewpub and Distillery. The food is excellent and brewmaster John Witte has fine tuned his recipes and beers to the delight of locals and adventuresome out-of-towners like me. John’s been at Square one for more than 10 years and had worked for other area craft brewers before settling into Square One. There’s an extensive selection of their own craft spirits, but what was on my mind was Square One beer. I wasn’t disappointed. Classic ales and lagers as well as creative brews are delightfully reminiscent of a homebrewers pantry. What a treat.
4 Hands Brewery was my next stop, another brewry in the core of St. Louis. One of the city’s newest brewery it opened in February 2012 as the brainchild of Kevin Lemp. Kevin had a former work life with Glasers Distributing Company representing Gallo and Craft beer in the area. His new brewery footprint leaves much room for expansion. We kidded about how roomy the brewery was, but I suspected that at the rate he jump started this endeavor and with the quality of beer that was going out for delivery, he’d be filling up that space mighty quickly. Take a look at what they’re brewing right now.
In the corner I found they were aging barrels of maple syrup. Where does the innovation begin to diminish? It seems never. Maple syrup aged in a whisky barrel. Aged syrup packaged and sold as a specialty product; but it doesn’t stop there – because there are craft brewers involved. The “”mapled” oak barrel is destined to be used for aging whisky. Then the used whisky barrel (which you recall once aged maple syrup) now goes back to the brewery to make a maple-whisky barrel aged beer. And I couldn’t help but think, maybe when the staves are worn out, one might be able to use maple-whisky-beer barrel oak to smoke that brisket or pork shoulder? Those who laugh, lose.
I tried a 4 Hands Cherry Saison, a dark barrel aged saison with raspberries and blackberries – superb. Another memorable brew was Single Speed Session beer brewed with elderflowers. His head brewer Will Johnston began brewing in Colorado and his journey has led him to 4 Hands Brewery; I continued sampling: loved their Divided Sky Rye IPA and Reprise Centennial Red and called it an early afternoon. I headed to my next destination with a sample of experimental sour aged brew.
Next and finally for the day was a pilgrimage to St. Louis’ first craft brewery, Schlafly Brewing Company; opened in 1991. At the Schlafly Tap Room there were beers too numerous to list and a meal worthy of a James Beard Award. The most memorable beer I had was a Mosaic hopped “single hopped” ale that had the complex character of citrus peel, a bit of Simcoe personality and a Czech Saaz noble hop mouth feel. I settled down and enjoyed my evening while reminiscing about how great it was to be in St. Louis.