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While doing a bit of business out in San Diego, Lohr’s Craft Beer Manager, Cory King, was lucky enough to try a bit of Russian River’s much sought after beer, Pliny the Younger.  When asked about his thoughts, Cory responded on Twitter: “Great beer = yes! Life changing = no”

While over-hyped beers can certainly live up to expectations on occasion, is there a point where any beer ever be life changing? I know for me, the answer is yes. I wish I could say that the beer was Pliny the Younger, or Dark Lord, or Hopslam. But the reality is, it was Newcastle Brown Ale.

It was because of a few friends and their love of Newcastle that I swerved out of the American light lager lane and saw just what beer could be.  It was (obviously) a very slippery slope from there.  Not only did I embrace beer, I learned to brew it at home as well.

Then there’s the little subject called STL Hops.  Not only have I gotten to attend cool events and try awesome new beers, but I’ve made a lot of really great friends and acquaintances from the site.

Now this is just one man’s perspective and obviously not everyone is going to have the same experience as me.  But it’s amazing to look back and see what a single glass of beer has done to change my life.  What has beer done to change your life?

Well, the New Year is upon us and what’s a new year without making some sort of list.  Rather than try and concentrate on a list of resolutions (because those always seem to fail) I’m going to make a list of things I’d like to see in the upcoming year in St. Louis.

Better Beer in Better Restaurants
Sure I’m going to sound like a broken record on this one, but why do some of the best restaurants in town have some of the lousiest selections of beer? In my mind there are about 4 or 5 upper tier restaurants in the St. Louis area and only two of them have above average selections. You put so much effort into your food, wine and even coffee, but then continue the same beer that I can get at a local chain restaurant. For the record, the beer selection at probably the best restaurant in town, Niche, is much improved.

New Breweries Available in the Area
I know a lot of people would like to see Dogfish Head, Three Floyds or Founder’s in St. Louis, but I don’t think it’s that big of a deal to drive across the river and pick up these beers. Personally, I would prefer seeing breweries that we can’t already get in the Metro area into St. Louis. Sure it would be nice to get something like Stone, but what about something like Oskar Blues, Green Flash or Great Lakes in Missouri as well?

More Homebrewing!
My attempt to brew 30 different beers last year didn’t quite pan out as well as I would have liked, but with a new brewing system on the horizon I’m looking to put in a ton of brewing time in the upcoming year. But I’d also like to see more homebrewing from some of the craft beer nerds in the area. It’s a relatively cheap hobby to start up and it gives you the satisfaction of brewing your own beer.

A New Festival Beer For the Heritage Festival
This is obviously a request if the festival happens next year, but enough of the Dark Lager. Enough.  You have a lot of really talented and exciting brewers in the area, let them stretch their wings and try something different.

More People Drinking Craft Beer
This one is up to us to make happen. I think the InBev/AB deal really helped our cause a bit locally, but this is something we need to set down and try to make happen. We need to have our friends and family try new and different beers and make them realize that drinking a light American lager doesn’t make you a fan of “beer” it makes you a fan of light American lagers.

What are your wishes for 2009?

As we’re winding up the year, I thought I would go over my top moments in the beer world over this past year.  Please feel free to leave some of your top moments this year in the comments or in the forums, I’d love to read them.  In no particular order, my top moments of 2008:

beer 1338_1280x960.jpgGreat Taste of the Midwest
I honestly can’t say enough good things about this event. I can now easily understand why it’s one of the most sought after tickets in the beer community. A lovely setting, wonderful weather and some of the most rare beers available all in one location. If you find yourself in possession of a ticket, you must go.

beer 1618_1280x960.jpgSTL Hops First Anniversary Party
This is probably the event that means the most to me this year, it was great to see a local gathering of people that care so much about beer. Not only did we all get to hang out and drink some great beer, we also got to raise $800 for Stray Rescue. Just a fantastic time.

denver-056_1280x960.jpgGoing to the Great American Beer Festival
While I may not have enjoyed the actual festival very much, I did really enjoy all of the things that were going on during the festival. It was also pretty neat to meet Vinnie Cilurzo, Sam Calagione, Peter Bouckaert, Tomme Arthur and Garrett Oliver.

Two Hearted Cask at 33
beer 1709_1280x960.jpgHave you ever seen those nature films where it’s all quiet in the middle of the Savannah and then on the horizon comes a black cloud of locusts? That was what it was like that fateful night when 33 Wine Shop decided to bring in a cask of Bell’s Two Hearted IPA. And not unlike the locusts on the Savannah, once the land was left destitute they quickly disappeared. I hope this happens again soon.

Schlafly Cabin Fever
I may have had more fun at this year’s Hop in the City or Repeal of Prohibition Festival, but there was something extremely enjoyable and exhilarating about standing outside in 18 degree temperature watching huge beers like the Imperial Stout or the Barleywine start freezing to the serving tables.

Coming later this week, Photos from 2008 and my Wishlist for 2009.

While the official first day of Fall this year was Sept. 23, 2007 no one seemed to inform Mother Nature. fall.gifIt’s been unseasonably hot so far and it’s been completely driving me crazy. Fall is one of my favorite times of year and it almost seemed like we were going to miss it. But then Mother Nature finally woke the hell up and Wednesday’s high in St. Louis was a beautiful 64 degrees. While the cooler temperatures, changing of the leaves and Halloween make for a great time of year, what makes it especially important to me is the fact that it’s time for strong beers.

I have a confession to make, while I love almost all beer, I’ve never been a huge fan of wheat beers. Oh sure, I’m a big fan of Belgian Wits, but that’s because when they’re made right they have this complex spicy/yeasty flavor that I find facinating. On the whole I find that most wheat beers are pretty boring. But when it’s 100 degrees and you’re trying to enjoy some outdoor entertainment, you’ll have a difficult time downing an Imperial Stout.

But now it’s on. It’s the time of year where you walk outside and think to yourself, “This is drinking weather.” The time of year where you may sit around a fire-pit with some friends and sit back and sip a beer with an ABV that would require an extra digit or two if you needed to count it out on your fingers. What’s even better is that most of these big beers are sold in big bottles which makes them perfect for sharing with friends.

This is an exciting time of year to see what brewers are going to dazzle us with next. Is it going to be a big malty Belgian beer or is it going to be a roasty porter that seems to warm you with each sip? No matter what the style is, try and make an effort this Fall to find a beer that excites your taste buds and makes you happy that Summer has finally ended.

bierwelt.gifAs I mentioned in an earlier post my girlfriend Irene and I have started to become more involved with the local St. Louis Slow Food convivia. One of the objectives of Slow Food is “preserving and promoting local and traditional food products, along with their lore and preparation.” After one of the recent Slow food meetings the discussion of beer and distribution came up. I discussed that while I’m not too hep on AB buying up a lot of the smaller craft brewers around the nation, as a beer enthusiast it’s exciting to see new beers from around the US and the world now being available in the St. Louis metro area.

After which I heard (not surprisingly since I was at a Slow Food event) “You should be drinking locally.” I don’t disagree with this entirely, one of the purposes of this blog was to celebrate the crafts brewers and beers produced in the St. Louis region. My problem with only drinking local products is two fold:

One, that beer you’re drinking may have been made locally but I can guarantee that the only local ingredient in a St. Louis beer is water (and very rarely yeast.) Neither the hops nor the malted barley were locally produced, in fact many times they weren’t even produced on this continent. The second thing (and the one that bothers me most as a enthusiast) is that if I’m only drinking locally I’m denying myself of everything that the world has to offer. Sure St. Louis brewers make some fine beers, but it’s a very limiting experience on the whole.

On Stan Hieronymus’ blog Appellation Beer, there was some discussion about the variety of local beer versus global beer. One of the things I found most interesting is the ferocity in keeping a nation’s beer styles local to that nation. Comments like, “I don’t want to drink a Kölsch brewed in the UK or USA. That completely misses the point about the beer,” seem absolutely foreign to an American like me. If we follow this logic then drinking locally for us in St. Louis means we’re stuck drinking the pale lagers as there isn’t anything else indigenous to this area (and you could argue that it’s not really indigenous either.)

If brewers had been denied the opportunity to experiment and try new things just because they were not in the right region then we all would have been drinking pale lagers. Drinking globally allowed American brewers to learn about new beers and develop new beers thus allowing these “new” styles to be drank locally. In my mind there is always a place for global and local beers, as long as they’re made with the same passion.

It’s shaping up to be a pretty quiet week here at STL Hops (blame Halo 3) but I’m going to do what I can to provide some content (I can’t promise it’s going to be insightful or interesting, but I’ll do what I can.)

But in the meantime I had a pretty interesting beer related weekend here’s a quick rundown:

Cruised over to Whole Foods on Friday evening in the hopes that I’d get to introduce myself to Andy (the beer buyer) and maybe pick up some Great Divide, but unfortunately he wasn’t there. But I did get a chance to talk to Mike at Whole Foods who is not only a beer fan but also works at St. Louis Wine and Beermaking. Got to chat with him for a little while about all things beer and homebrewing and got to pick up a bottle of Great Divide Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout.

After that we decided to have dinner at Wm. Alandale Brewing Company. Had the good fortune to meet Daran Churovich the chief brewer at Alandale, we got to have a nice discussion about his beers and brewery. He also informed me that they’ll have two new seasonals coming out to celebrate their Fall Harvest Festival: Chocolate Stout and Pumpkin Ale. I’m hoping to set up some time in the future to interview Daran and get his thoughts on the local beer scene.

On Saturday I braved the traffic at Telegraph and 255 (stupid construction) to make my way over to Columbia, IL to visit Andrew Traughber at Bon Vivant Wines. I just have to say that Bon Vivant is a craft brew mecca for those in Southern Illinois and South County. While Andrew may not have the hundreds of beers that Coral or Lukas have, he makes up for it with a wonderful selection of hard to find beers in Missouri. Here’s a list of what I picked up:

  • Three Floyds – Behemoth Blonde Barleywine
  • Three Floyds – Brian Boru Old Irish Red
  • Jolly Pumpkin – Oro De Calabaza
  • Brasserie d’Achouffe – Houblon Chouffe Dobbelen IPA Tripel
  • Ommegang – Ommegeddon
  • Ommegang – Three Philosophers
  • Sam Adams – Imperial Pilsner
  • Dogfish Head – Raison D’etre
  • Dogfish Head – Festina Peche
  • Sierra Nevada – Anniversary Ale

If you’re in the area (or just want to make a special trip) make sure to stop by Bon Vivant and say “hi” to Andrew.

As with almost everything in Saint Louis, we’re behind the times. We always seem to get things a few years after they’ve arrived on the coasts. Our newest omission is that of the gastropub. It’s all of the casualness of a pub with a more upscale menu. Most importantly is that the menu is made to compliment the beers (and wines) that the pub has to offer.

We currently have one gastropub in place (The Dubliner) and another one the way (Newstead Tower Public House.) I’ll have to admit that my first look at the Dubliner’s beer menu left me a little disappointed. I mean I realize that it’s an Irish pub, so by law they’re required to carry Guinness, Smithwicks and Harp, but after that it’s pretty much the standard Saint Louis beer menu:

  • Double Dragon
  • Blue Moon
  • Schlafly Pale Ale
  • Schlafly Hefe
  • Fat Tire
  • Stella Artois
  • Magner’s Cider
  • Dubliner Amber Ale
  • Bud
  • Bud Light
  • Bud Select
  • Kaliber
  • Coors Light
  • Miller Light
  • Corona
  • Corona Light

Sure you have some more unusual choices like Double Dragon and Magner’s Cider, not to mention a special beer brewed by Old Dominion Brewery ( Dubliner Amber Ale.) But after that the list just seems lazy. If you’re trying to tell me that you’ve prepared your menu around your beer selection, well I can’t say I’m too hep to eat there.

I’m excited to see what Newstead Tower Public House has in store for the gastropub and to see if they can pull off a menu that truly does compliment the beer.