In the two years that St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Evan Benn has been working the Hip Hops beat, he’s taken the area by storm. Not only has he made numerous appearances on radio and television, but he just produced a new book about beer in St. Louis called Brew in the Lou.
Evan’s new book details the past, present and future of beer in St. Louis. To help him get out the word on the new book I asked him some questions about the St. Louis beer scene.
In the course of the few years you’ve been in St. Louis, what are some of the most impressive changes you’ve seen?
I’ve been most impressed with the emphasis that restaurant and bar owners have put on craft beer in recent years. When I moved here in 2009, there was no Farmhaus, no Cork, no Brasserie, no Milagro, no Peel, no Bridge, no PW Pizza, no 1904 Beerhouse — places that have really decided to give beer more prominence than a few throwaway light lagers on the back page of the wine list.
Similarly, there was no HandleBar, no Global Brew, no iTap Soulard — beer bars that are proud to be beer bars. And other bars/restaurants (Pi Delmar and Royale come to mind) didn’t have as many tap handles then as they do now. Ferguson, Six Row and Urban Chestnut all popped up since my arrival, and now we’re about to see a new wave of brewery/tasting room openings from Civil Life, Perennial and 4 Hands. It’s all movement in the right direction, and I’m excited to see where St. Louis’ beer scene goes next.
Even with all of the changes we’ve seen, what do you think is missing from the local scene?
I think we need to buy some megaphones from whomever Greg Koch’s supplier is and tell the world how much great beer St. Louis has to offer. Denver, Portland (Ore.), Philadelphia — these are cities that actively market their breweries and beer scenes. Are we as impressive, beer-wise, as those places? Not yet. But we’re getting there, and with the help of all the new breweries coming online — and the continued strong work of the long-established ones like St. Louis Brewery (Schlafly) and O’Fallon — we’ll be there soon.
It’s time to do something to promote our beer scene on a national scope. I understand that some local brewers have recently laid the groundwork toward forming a St. Louis Brewers Guild. I think that’s a brilliant idea. A group like that could help drive marketing efforts like brewery/brewpub tours. And it could get people from close to home as well as from far away excited about St. Louis beer.
Your book looks at the past, present and future of beer in St. Louis, what was one discovery that really surprised you?
I knew that St. Louis had many, many breweries before Prohibition, but I was a little surprised to find out how prolific some of them were. Lemp Brewery produced about 100,000 barrels of beer in 1878. Pretty impressive, considering people didn’t even have refrigerators in their homes back then. For comparison, St. Louis Brewery made about 35,000 barrels of Schlafly beer last year.
While the number of new American craft brands have increased in the area, the number of imports have declined. What do you make of this trend?
I’m happy to see that American brewers have taken on some classic and forgotten styles from overseas, as opposed to just making the biggest, hoppiest IPA imaginable. And I’m happy that American drinkers have realized that imported beer is often (as you’ve astutely pointed out on the site) more expensive and less fresh than similar beers brewed stateside.
Many people, myself included, will continue to seek out the imported beers I love from breweries like Orval and Cantillon. But I think we should also cheer for U.S. breweries like Michigan’s Jolly Pumpkin and California’s Russian River for emulating some of those brewing styles, and doing so with great success. Unfortunately, many people also will continue to buy skunky, over-marketed Heineken when they could get a fresh six-pack of Schlafly Helles-Style Summer Lager.
Beer drinkers’ tastes never seem to remain staid, what has recently excited you?
My tastes have been all over the place recently. On the sour side, I fell in love with Boulevard Love Child No. 2 when I tried a sample at Microfest, and I liked the New Belgium Love Peach Felix that was on at the Bridge this month (although I’m bummed I missed the Blackberry Oscar — heard that one was amazing).
On the hoppy side, the new Ale Mucho Hoppo double IPA from Charleville put a smile on my face at Microfest — can’t wait for that one to be released later this summer. And in the anything-goes category, Urban Chestnut’s new Urbanator (a maibock/doppelbock hybrid) is a winner, just an absolute pleasure to look at, smell and drink. And the batch of Hommel Bier (a dry-hopped Belgian-style pale ale) that Perennial made at Highlands to debut at Microfest, Beerfest and Heritage Fest is also pretty delightful and makes me eager to see what Perennial has in store when it opens this summer.
What do you think the future holds for beer and St. Louis?
With the way things have been going in terms of new breweries, beer-focused bars and restaurants, and an ever-growing community of craft-beer enthusiasts (Hi, STL Hops!), it’s hard not to be optimistic about what the future holds. In the book, I make a few guesses/predictions about what beer trends are likely to stick around.
One of them is that I think (hope?) that the style pendulum will swing back toward flavorful, sessionable beers, as opposed to some of the extreme, biggest-hopped, highest-alcohol, most-barrelly barrel-aged beers spiked with rabbit thighs that we’ve seen in recent years. One of my favorite beers at Urban Chestnut is Half Crown, its session IPA that is so flavorful, I have to double-check the menu to make sure I haven’t misread that it’s only 4 percent ABV. I also have high hopes that the Civil Life will produce similarly session-worthy beers that require no gimmicks to sell.
Where can STL Hops readers find your new book?
The book is available now at www.thepost-dispatchstore.com and www.barnesandnoble.com, and should be available in area bookshops in the next week or so. Also, my autograph is worthless, but if anyone would like a signed copy, they can email me and I’ll take care of it. I’ll also be selling and signing both days at Heritage Fest next month.
You can follow Evan on Twitter @EvanBenn and also find him on Facebook as well.