rft2008.jpgAh yes, the yearly “Best of” list from the Riverfront Times. If you were reading STL hops way back last year, you may remember I had a few gripes with last year’s lists. So how does the RFT do this year? (And yes, I’m choosing to ignore the people’s choice stuff.)

Best Beer Selection in a Restaurant
The Shaved Duck

Where do you find the beer list in most St. Louis restaurants? On the last page of the wine list – if you’re lucky. More often than not, it exists only in your server’s brain. It’s not too tough, after all, to commit to memory a “selection” of Bud, Bud Light and Bud Select. A server might try to memorize the beer list at the Shaved Duck. A photographic memory would help. The new gastropub in Tower Grove East stocks a terrific selection of beers. It’s not the longest in town, but it’s curated with great care. American craft beers are featured, from local folks like Schlafly and O’Fallon to industry “giants” like Bell’s, New Belgium and Anchor Steam to lesser-known but not lesser lights like Charleville and North Coast. There are only four taps, but the restaurant rotates in new brews with some regularity – all the more reason to return again and again.

Be still my heart. This is a category I suggested last year and low and behold and to see it actually in print brings a tear to my eye. As for the selection? Brilliant. I mean, let’s be honest, if we had seen The Stable, Erato on Main, Mangia Italiano or the Rotten Apple as the winner, would we have been any less happy? We’ve become very fortunate in the past year to see so many new restaurants pop up that really put an emphasis on great beer. I’m glad to see the RFT recognize that.

Best Beer
O’Fallon 5-Day IPA

India pale ale was born of necessity. How to preserve Britons’ beloved beverage during its long voyage to the far-flung corners of the empire? The solution was elegant in its simplicity, its genius so profound that it has become a rallying cry for craft brewers across America: “Add more hops!” O’Fallon 5-Day IPA – so named because the beer sits atop dry hops for five days during the fermenting process – might not be the hoppiest beer around, but it’s a beautiful example of this essential style. The color is a rich amber, the nose floral. The flavor is explosive: malty sweetness and then that unmistakable hoppy rush of citrus and spice. It is delicious anytime, anywhere, but should you find yourself at Iron Barley (5510 Virginia Ave.; 314-351-4500; www.ironbarley.com) in Carondelet or Dressel’s (419 N. Euclid Ave.; 314-361-1060; www.dresselspub.com) in the Central West End, try it in cask-conditioned form. Held at cellar temperature, the beer’s flavor is pure and utterly perfect.

Even if the article may continue to misrepresent the history of the IPA, it’s good to see one of the best beers in St. Louis get its due. Last year, I was disappointed to see Wheach take this honor, and 5 Day was my choice for best beer in St. Louis. As my tastes have changed over the past year, the question is, would this still be my best beer this year? It would probably be top 5 for certain. Schlafly makes a very strong showing with their Cask APA and their Reserve Series. Buffalo Brewing’s Rye IPA is sublime. But I do love, love Cask 5 Day IPA. I guess it’s great I don’t have to choose.

Best Beer Selection in a Bar
The Stable

Want to locate a beer connoisseur in a bar? Look for the guy staring daggers at the same half-dozens taps you find everywhere else in town. Maybe, if he’s an optimistic connoisseur, he’ll be leaning over the bar, peering deep into the fridge, seeking that one token bottle of something decent. Want to locate a beer connoisseur at the Stable? Close your eyes and point. This new Benton Park restaurant and bar from the owners of the Rotten Apple in Grafton, Illinois, is becoming a mecca for beer lovers. The bar boasts more than a dozen taps and features numerous beers you’re usually lucky to find in a bottle, let alone on draft: Old Rasputin Stout, Bell’s Two Hearted IPA, Unibroue’s Éphémère and Duchesse du Bourgogne, to name a few. The bottle selection is strong, too, starring hop bombs like Great Divide’s Hercules Double IPA, rich stouts like Rogue’s Shakespeare Stout and the great Belgian-style Three Philosophers from Ommegang. Not a beer connoisseur? Order up a sampler and you’ll be well on your way.

My comments above about the great options for beer in this town again ring true. The Stable is a fantastic choice for a beer lover in St. Louis to get a pint, though I’ve been told that some of the service still leaves a bit to be desired at times. If given the option, I may have chosen 33 Wine Bar, Bailey’s Chocolate Bar or Johnny’s Sidebar given that they’re true “bars.” But this is just splitting hairs.

Overall I think these choices are much more nuanced that the ones I’ve seen in the past, so my applause goes out to the RFT staff for doing a damned fine job representing beer this year. As for some future category options, how about “Best Brewpub” (we’ve had four pop up this year alone), “Best Outdoor Spot to Have a Beer”, or even “Best Food Blog”? Mine excluded, we have a number of fantastic food bloggers in St. Louis and they should get their due. Hell, the music section has a “Best Music Blog” maybe it’s time for local food bloggers to get their due.

Also, maybe I should stop giving away all of my damn ideas and run my own best of?