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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.

As a regular at 33 Wine Bar over the last few years, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know the fine people who have worked there. One of those fine people will soon be the new head brewer of The Civil Life Brewing Company.

Dylan Mosley had the job of picking beers to bring into 33 and soon he’ll have the job of designing beers to be brewed at Civil Life.  Dylan was kind enough to answer a few questions about finding their identity and what beer is in his fridge.

STL Hops: With three breweries opening in 2011 and fourteen currently within an hour’s drive of St. Louis, how do you differentiate yourself from everyone else?

Dylan Mosley: Breweries, Pubs, Taverns, Drinking Halls, whatever you’ve got… always reflect the heart and soul of any community. The building we purchased is in Tower Grove South, Oak Hill to be exact, and our first goal is to become a vital part of this neighborhood. We’re going to focus our efforts on session beers, supporting local restaurants and bars, and beer education. I’d like to think that the last point, Beer Education, is where we’ll try and make a definitive mark. Beer is booming right now and its a great time to get people educated about the importance of beer, how its made, who farmed the ingredients, and how they can make beer too.

We’ve worked on the bar side of things for quite a while too and we want to share our experiences to help other Bar and Restaurant Owners and Employees make their establishments more beer friendly and successful. This is a person to person type of business and naturally our own experiences will differentiate us from the start.

STLH: We talked briefly at one point about finding your identity, could elaborate more on this?

DM: I also often need help finding my cell phone… Luckily, The spirit of The Civil Life is already there. Its all the people that we’ve come to trust over the years and helped us this far. We’re just taking that spirit and squeezing beer out of it. There really isn’t a type of beer that’s off our radar, we just want to make sure (through our tasting room) that we’ve hashed it out enough to recognize it as ‘ours’. Jake, Superman (yes, another un-named Civil Lifer!), and I all need to like it enough to drown in a vat of it ala’ Strange Brew.

As a brewer at The Civil Life my identity is pretty concrete: be friends with my little yeast friends and put the hurt on everything else. On a personal note, I’d love to get more Brown beer out there – it just screams Midwest….

STLH: Are you concerned or scared off by brewing styles that other local breweries are already brewing?

DM: Concerned? No. Scared off? Nope. I think you just have to go after the tastes you relate to. ‘Local’ beer isn’t a benchmark for us and really shouldn’t be for any brewer. When you just look down the street you could miss something really important elsewhere.

STLH: Is there any concern about this sudden boom of breweries? Is St. Louis ready for it?

DM: It seems sudden I suppose, but this was a long time coming. There are some issues surrounding management of fresh beer, but ultimately I think the benefits of having more craft beer here outweigh the deficits. The problem beer has is that it doesn’t wear its age like a banana so brewers need to work hand in hand with their distributors and retailers to make sure their product is well cared for. Thats a big disadvantage if you are out of state! Not to mention brewers overseas! As I’ve read on the website, a lot of STLHoppers have a perspective on this and one that stands to reason is that not all beer will survive our market. That’s ok. I’m a bit of a regionalist, but we need beer from other states and parts of the world to put what we make in perspective.

STLH: While we’ve already gotten a bit of a look at what may be in store for Civil Life (an American brown ale, a rye pale ale and a British-style extra special bitter), I think that knowing what a brewer drinks gives a bit more insight into what they may brew. What beers have currently been in and out of your fridge?

DM: A quick search of my recycling bin points to Schalfly Oatmeal Stout, Avery Ellie’s Brown, and O’Douls! (we’ve got a 8 month old!) I drank O’Fallon 5 Day at the Bleeding Deacon. The last beers at ’33’ were Scrimshaw Pils and Struisse Black Mes. Out of brite tanks were 2nd Shift WheatFreak and UCBC’s Hopfen. Right now? Home Brewed Rye Pale.

STLH: Sometimes it’s difficult to see it as you’re still building the brewhouse, but what do you think the next 5 years will look like at Civil Life and in the St. Louis beer scene?

DM: I just don’t see either faltering. We’ve got so much energy in this thing already that I might pop. And I’m thinking about the Missouri beer scene at large right now; not just St. Louis as a stand-alone market. People like good food everywhere, you just have to bring it. I’m hoping that other entrepreneurs get involved for the right reasons and not just riding a wave. This boom has more to do with an earnest “this tastes good!” than “I saw this commercial with a dog in it and he said to drink this”. Beer is grassroots. I think the breweries already here get that – especially since they did the hard part! I’d love to see twice the breweries we have now open in the next 4 years and I don’t ever want to see “Schlafly” listed under “Imports” ever again.

Big changes are afoot at The Stable, first bit of news is that they’re hired a new chef.  Chef Ben Welch was hired in mid-September and from what I hear he plans having an emphasis on local ingredients.  For those that loved The Stable beer selection but weren’t crazy about some of the menu options, this is welcome news.

The other big news at the Stable is that they have a new headbrewer.  If you’ve been around Schlafly or been homebrewing for any number of years, it’s a good chance you know him.  The Stable’s new headbrewer is Augie Altenbaumer.  Had a chance to sit down with Augie and ask him a few questions:

STL Hops: How long have been headbrewer at The Stable?

Augie Altenbaumer: Since about late August.

HOPS: Any big changes we should be expecting to the beer lineup?

AA: Not anything really big.  We’re still going to have an emphasis on German lagers.  We will be introducing more ales to the regular line up.  We’ll probably have an American-style IPA and a Porter on this fall.  Otherwise, we’ll still have the Märzen, Helles, and Zoigl.  We’re also looking at a few Belgian styles.

HOPS: Has brewing picked up?

AA: It’s not really picked up, but we have a much better handle on demand.  We’re still brewing about once a week.

HOPS: The Stable has a 1.5 barrel brewhouse. Has having a smaller brewhouse taught you any tricks?

AA: When you have three pots for mash and three pots for boil, you have three chances to have problems.  So we’re always looking to fine tune things.

HOPS: Well, and you also used one of your mash tuns as a hopback.

AA: Yeah, all of our pots are identical, so we can use any of them for any part of the process.  Using the mash tun as a hopback allowed us to do something new with the Wet Hopped Zoigl and the Hop Harvest Brown.

HOPS: The Stable did a little distributing in the past, might we see more of that in the future?

AA: Well, anything is possible.  But at this moment I think we’re going to be keeping everything in house.

HOPS: If the brewing job hasn’t changed, is there something new for you as a headbrewer?

AA: The biggest new thing has been paperwork.  I have to keep a close eye on doing the tax paperwork and inventory. It’s important to keep track of what you need and what you’ve used.

HOPS: Any plans for barrel aging some beer?

AA: Because The Stable makes its own [85 Lashes] rum, there will probably be some beer aged on the rum spirals at some point.

HOPS: Any last comments?

AA: I promise, for those of you that are fans, the Zoigl will not be changing.

Big thanks for BeerNews.org and @Hoptopia for pointing this one out.  In an interview posted on WineLibrary.tv today, Gary Vaynerchuk interviewed Bill Covaleski from Victory Brewing in Pennsylvania.  At the 11:15 minute mark:

Gary Vaynerchuk: What’s the biggest state you’re not in?
Bill Covaleski: What’s the biggest state we’re not in?  We’re hearing a lot from Missouri and we’re not in Missouri.
GV: You’re not in the St. Louis market?
BC: No, we’re not.

Later:

GV: So is that because you haven’t found the right distributor or distributors haven’t come to you or you just want to feel it or you’re not ready there with volume?  Where are you at?
BC: Great questions. Basically we utilize the internet to listen to demand and so we’ve been told these are ready audiences. We’ve just had to add some additional capacity for fermentation. And then finding the right wholesalers, these are life-long relationships you really need to do the right thing.

If this means we’re at the tipping point, maybe it’s time for a push from the STL Hops crowd? Call, Email, Twitter, and Facebook them, let them know that St. Louis wants Victory. Just be nice about it, we want them to know we’re passionate, but please be courteous. Here’s the contact info:

Phone: 610-514-7000
Email: Anne Shuniak, Communications
Twitter: @victorybeer
Facebook: Victory Fan Group

This is the time to put the power of STL Hops to work.  Hopefully we’ll find a distributor that wants to pick these guys up.

sauce.jpgThis month’s Sauce Magazine features their annual Wine and Beer Guide, detailing some of what’s going on in the world of beer and wine in St. Louis. While one of my favorite features of the guide is a list of St. Louis area breweries and some of the services they offer, they also feature a dynamite interview with Brian Owens, head brewer at O’Fallon Brewery. Here’s a small excerpt:

Owens, however, relishes every minute of the brewing process, especially savoring the early morning. “The best time in my day in any given week is mashing in the first batch of beer during the day. The beginning of the brew. Nobody’s here usually. It’s 5:30 in the morning. It’s quiet. You’ve got the place to yourself. The smell is absolutely wonderful!”

If you want to read the whole article, you’re going to need to seek out a free Sauce Magazine, as this article is only available where Sauce is distributed now available online! If you don’t know where to find a Sauce, use the handy-dandy Zip Code feature here.

picture-017.jpgLarry Chase is the Worthouse/Brewery Manager for , a new local Brewpub located in Creve Coeur. Larry was kind enough to answer some of my questions about how they brew their beer, how the ferment it and what some of his favorite styles are. (You can read my initial thoughts of GCFB here.)

STL Hops: How many styles does GC produce in a year?
Larry Chase: GC serves 4 regular house beers: Northern Light Lager (pale lager), Brother Benedict’s Bock (bock), Duke of Wellington IPA (IPA), and Broad Axe Stout (dry Irish stout). We also brew 6 seasonal beers. The current line-up includes Burning Barn Irish Red Ale, Ostara’s Spring Ale, Wag’s Wheat (Hefeweizen), Belgian White Ale, Oktoberfest, and McK’s Scottish Ale. All locations have one 350 gal batch of the seasonal to serve.

STL Hops: How much room for experimentation do the brewers have?
LC: Our head brewers experiment with recipe improvement through process controls and lab testing. Certain seasonal beers are sometimes tweaked on a year to year basis to improve flavor. Experimentation for developing new beers is limited given that the current seasonal rotation is set in place.

STL Hops: Can you quickly explain how the Fermentus Interruptus process works?
LC: Granite City’s business model for beer production is designed for flavor consistency and attractive financial leverage across a multi-unit restaurant concept. We are a restaurant with a microbrewery. A centralized brewery for wort production gives us the opportunity to consistently control the flavor inputs of the brewing cycle. We also remove from the restaurants both the capital cost of brewing equipment and the square footage cost of a manufacturing facility.

We then ship the wort in a customized tank truck to each location. After off-loading into fermenters we pitch yeast and finish the production cycle through fermentation, maturation, and filtering.

Shipping wort instead of finished beer allows us to avoid the complex legal hurdles of shipping alcohol across state lines.

STL Hops: How does the wort arrive at the stores?
LC: The wort is shipped in a straight tanker truck. Our trucks have a series of 4 or 6 individual pods (all insulated) at 400 gal each. This set-up lets us ship multiple styles of beer to multiple locations in one trip. We use hoses and a pump at each restaurant to transfer the beer from the truck into the fermenters.

STL Hops: How do you avoid problems like contamination?
LC: We follow standard cleaning, sanitizing, and testing procedures like all breweries. We simply pay attention to the extra step of wort shipping. The wort is chilled to 40oF and stored in a 37oF cooler prior to shipment. Like all breweries we have the constant challenge of maintaining clean and sanitary conditions.

We have a lab at the central worthouse for on-going sample testing.

Every brewery manager is trained and follows a set of SOP’s for the brewery operations at each restaurant. Our brewery field manager, trained in brewing science, oversees the work of all brewery managers.

STL Hops: How do you deal with things like aging with the limited capacity at each store?
LC: We serve 2 ales and 2 lagers as part of our regular beer line-up. We have enough tank space (5 fermenters, 8 cellar vessels) to ensure our required maturation time for each of the beers. Through our volume and usage reporting system we are able to schedule deliveries to ensure each location has wort on a just-in-time basis.

Running out tends to be only an issue when we experience mechanical failures with equipment at the restaurants. That’s no different from any other brewpub.

We only serve one batch of each seasonal. This increases the demand and the urgency for customers to come try the beer before it is gone.

STL Hops: What’s your favorite style of beer right now?
LC: I lean towards hop flavored and bitter beers. The bigger winter seasonal beers are always fun to drink during this colder time of year.

Thank you again Larry for providing STL Hops readers with a little more information on how your process works.

logo190gif.png I got the opportunity to interview Mike Atwood of the blog Hoosier Beer Geek. Mike, and the rest of the Knights of the Beer Roundtable, are doing for Indiana what I’m trying do for St. Louis; promote beer and the culture surrounding it. In a bit of a cross promotional event, think Marvel/DC, he also asked me a few questions about STL Hops, feel free to read his interview with me here.

So I see there are 7 Knights of the Beer Roundtable, is there a King? Do you have a full knighting ceremony?

If there was a king, it was Chris Maples, who started the whole Hoosier Beer Geek thing. He started inviting others along pretty early on, and recently he’s been so busy with work that we never see him. We’ve all kind of taken over for him in the meantime. All decisions, from what we’re drinking on a particular evening to the design of the web site are voted on by all seven members.

The knighting ceremony is highly secretive and if I told you about it I’d have to kill you.

How does it feel to live in Three Floyds country and have the rest of the US extremely jealous of you? (Oh and who do I have to kill to get some Dark Lord?)

None of us are currently beer traders, but it’s definitely nice to know that if we were, we’ve got an ace up our sleeve.

We’re all well aware of Three Floyds (or at least you should be STL Hops readers, if you’re not already) but what other Indiana breweries are you proud to call your own?

We’re really blessed in that there’s a wide variety of brewers in Indiana doing all sort of different things. In Indianapolis and now Terre Haute we’ve got Ted Miller at Brugge Beer doing really fantastic work in a Belgian style. Also in Indy we’ve got the Broad Ripple Brewpub, which is pretty much where craft beer got its start in Indiana. Just outside of Indy in Noblesville we’ve got Barley Island, who won silver for their Black Majic Java Stout at the 2006 GABF. In Fort Wayne we’ve got Dave Holmes at Warbird doing really fantastically drinkable and wonderfully tasty “entry level” sort of craft beer. Down in Bloomington we’ve got Upland, another brewery that’s won gold and silver at GABF, and bronze at the World Beer Cup. We’ve got New Albanian down in New Albany, who currently have us head over heels in love with their Hoptimus. And that’s really just the tip of the Indiana beer iceberg.

You all call yourself “beer geeks,” how do you feel about the term “beer snob?”

Right off the bat we want to let people know we’re geeks, not snobs, hence the name Hoosier Beer Geek. I think we all consider it our mission to include as many people in this wonderful thing that is craft beer, and that’s not a snobby thing at all, is it? The way we see it, the more people that know about craft beer, the better the chances that we’ll be able to find it in restaurants and bars all over the state.

Were you aware that the term “hoosier” has a completely different connotation in St. Louis?

For the first twenty-three years of my life, I lived in a little town called Trenton Illinois, ten or so miles from Scott AFB. When I moved to Indy, I couldn’t get over how often the word Hoosier was used in everyday speech – the news reports: “Five Hoosiers Killed In An Eastside Car Crash”, the words “Hoosier Hospitality”, the IU basketball team… Hoosier this, Hoosier that…

Of course growing up just outside of St. Louis, I was thinking the same thing you are:

Peach fuzz moustache, butt cut
El Camino pick-up truck
Aerosmith, Loverboy, Motley Crue
Holding hands just me and you

We don’t need no high school
I think we’re too cool
We’ll have kids at seventeen
Getting laid at Dairy Queen

Hoosier love, Hoosier love
South Side City Hoosier love

“Hoosier Love” – St. Louis’ own MU330

After a while, Hoosier grows on you though. Like a fungus.

How far have any of you knights traveled because of your beer obsession?

Though it wasn’t a beer-only trip, Gina (my girlfriend and fellow Knight) and I recently returned from DC, where we took in the Brickskeller and one of Dogfish’s brewpubs. We’ve been to Cincinnati on a trip that was basically built around buying beer. I was just at the Tap Room in St. Louis. I think once you’re into beer, every trip becomes a beer buying opportunity.