I guess I’ll need to put one of these lists together eventually, but for the time being we’ll go over what the RFT chose for the best beer items in St. Louis. We’ll start with the easy ones:
Beware a bar that offers you the Bible-size tome of available beers. Do you have the time to search through that many choices? How confident are you that your bartender really knows the difference between, say, a dubbel and a doppelbock? The beer selection at Erato falls into that ideal range: long and varied enough to catch your attention, focused enough to keep it. Start with the tap selection: Paulaner Hefeweizen, Grimbergen Dubbel, Lindeman’s Framboise. (You might even find O’Fallon Smoked Porter, a cult favorite and former RFT Best Beer winner, on tap.) Serious beers. The one concession to “popular” taste? Guinness. The bottled selections are no slouch, either: the great Belgian beer Duvel; La Fin du Monde and several other fantastic selections from Quebec’s Unibroue; and a few of American brewer Rogue’s more intriguing varieties, Chipotle Ale and Morimoto Soba Ale. Once you’ve worked your way through the list, you’ll just want to start all over again from the beginning. You might not need another bar, ever again.
I’ve actually never been to Erato, so I’m going to trust the RFT’s judgment on this one. I took a quick look at Erato’s beer selection and it looks pretty nice so I’m leaning to agree with this choice. I’ll even say that I agree with them that having a telephone sized beer menu doesn’t do much good to the average beer drinker if you don’t have a staff that is very knowledgeable when it comes to beer.
Which is why when people ask me where my favorite place to get a beer in St. Louis I usually tell them Bailey’s Chocolate Bar. It’s obvious that when they put the beer selection together at Bailey’s it’s done with a purpose, it’s not just adding another pils onto the menu so they can claim to have the most beer choices. (Oh, and while we’re at it RFT, why does wine get a special spot in the restaurant section while the beer is relegated to the Bars/Clubs part? C’mon…)
So there’s more to drinking than happy hours and hangovers. Liquor, you’ve learned, is a universe far larger than Jäger – a universe of tannins, acids, fruits and oak. You’ve realized, over the years, that winemaking is an endlessly fascinating process, crafted with one part art, one part science – and now you, too, want to be a vintner. First stop: St. Louis Wine & Beermaking, a great little shop in Chesterfield that has all you’ll need to get your bacchanal on. From simple winemaking kits to advanced reflectoquant meters and microscopes, the helpful staff will guide you each step of the way. You say beermaking’s your bag? They’ve got that covered too, with a full complement of barley, malt and hops. Time to take your drinking to the next level.
Absolutely no complaints about this, St. Louis Wine & Beermaking is the best homebrew shop in St. Louis and I’m happy to see homebrewing getting a little bit of recognition.
Now let’s move onto the one choice that’s sticking in my craw:
Best Beer (2007)
Yee-haw! Hey, everybody, it’s me: the Wheach peach. Surely you’ve seen my likeness emblazoned on a six-pack of O’Fallon Brewery’s fine summer brew. That’s right: I’m the li’l guy who looks like the lovechild of Pac-Man and Scooter the Talking Baseball. But I’m all peach, baby, and you need only one sip to fall for me. Not to knock my buddies at O’Fallon – Pumpkin Beer, you’re autumnal happiness in a glass, and Cherry Chocolate Beer, you are sumptuously sexy (call me!) – but I truly am the greatest. I combine two of summer’s most singular pleasures: biting into a juicy, freshly picked peach and sipping a crisp, smooth wheat beer. Tempted? Of course you are. Go ahead and have a taste. First you’ll get the sweet-tart notes of a peach at its prime, then the tongue-tingling delight of a perfectly crafted microbrew. You should expect nothing less from me, or from the good people at O’Fallon Brewery. You won’t find me in every season, of course. But when you do see me, you’ll know that the long, sultry days of summer have come ’round again at last. I gotta say it once more: Yee-haw!
Let me start by saying that I love O’Fallon Brewery, I think they make two of the best beers that St. Louis has to offer (more on that in a bit) but unfortunately in my opinion Wheach isn’t one of them. I’ll admit that having a hot dog while drinking a Wheach on a hot summer day isn’t too bad, but when I’m drinking it on its own I find that the peach flavor in the beer is kind of synthetic tasting. Brewing and selling fruit beers can be a difficult thing, if your beer says “fruit” people will be expecting it to taste like fruit. From there it’s a difficult balancing act that to me requires a subtle fruit flavor while not overpowering the malt. After all you want to remember you’re drinking a beer.
Now, my choice for best beer in St. Louis right now is O’Fallon’s 5 Day IPA. I’m not a huge hop-head, I find that many breweries nowadays are trying to one-up each other when it comes to hops. It’s almost seems like a game to see who can pack the most bitterness in a bottle. This does nothing for me. But O’Fallon has come out with an IPA that not only has a hop bitterness, but also is a refreshing drinkable beer. It’s a well crafted beer that has you craving more after you’ve finished your first glass.
Now I also know that no brewery is going to get by selling IPAs and Smoked Porters (their other fantastic beer I alluded to earlier) alone, that they’re going to need the Wheaches of the world. But that’s OK, I like to think of beers like Wheach as gateway beers. It’s one of those sorts of beers that you can hand to someone who says “I don’t like beer.” (That’s a blog entry for another day. ) But best beer in St. Louis? Nah.
But that’s it? These are only beer items in St. Louis? Why not a category for best brewery or best brewpub? Why not best store to buy beer? I’m sure if we can list “Best Place to Buy Rubber Stamps” we can find a place to laud the best brewery in St. Louis.