In the first day of my two-day St. Louis beer sojourn I focused mostly on the brand new breweries having soft openings or ones that are still in the planning stages, places like The Civil Life Brewing, 4 Hands Brewing and Perennial Brewing. On the second day of the trip, I hit a few more newcomers, and also the craft brewery that made things possible for St. Louis to be entering the golden age that it is today.
And it is a “golden age”–as a craft beer fan and especially as a roadtripper, there’s no better time to be visiting or living in St. Louis than right now. It’s home to what will soon seem to be a very well balanced craft beer scene, with some places making excellent interpretations of traditional beers and session brews, and others pushing the envelope with more extreme offerings. So let’s pick up where I left off.
Brew Trip, Day II
Urban Chestnut Brewing Company
There’s no better place to start when explaining St. Louis as a craft beer city embracing both tradition and experimentation. In fact, if you’re going to St. Louis, there may be no better place, period, to start than at Urban Chestnut, who I’m not afraid to crown as “the city’s best brewery”…for now, anyway.
It all comes back to their concept of “beer divergency”—two branching trees of beer that form their overall lineup. All beers belong to one branch or the other. The first, “Reverence,” attempts to create the best possible versions and examples of classical beer styles, mostly continental European and British in origin. The second, “Revolution,” takes those styles and runs them through the blender, coming up with uniquely American results.
I had been to Urban Chestnut once before a few months ago when I was in town for a wedding, and was super impressed with their selections, from traditional choices like the Schnickelfritz hefeweizen to revolutionary items like the Hopfen “Bavarian IPA,” an incredibly tasty and well-executed beer. And if you ask your way through St. Louis and the craft beer fans there, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anybody with something different to say. This time, when I arrived, I quickly set out to try a few of the beers that weren’t available last time.
— Harwood Myth Porter: A brown English porter that I had heard quite a lot of good things about. Quite rich for its low ABV, it was a surprisingly substantial brew, especially as it warmed up. 3 hops
— Delta Hop: A single-hopped IPA made with new “Delta hops,” described as a cross between Fuggle and Cascade. Last time when I was here I had a similar beer made with “Calypso” hops and thought it was just okay, but this brew was awesome. The very definition of balance between malt backbone and citrusy, earthy hops. The skill of the brewer is apparent here. 3.5 hops
— Apotheosis French Saison: Another incredible beer; arguably the ideal saison. Dry and spicy, delicate and extremely complex flavors. A lot going on here. I wish I was drinking one right now. 3.5 hops
I probably would have stayed all day, but I had to leave and have lunch at the nearby, cult BBQ joint Pappy’s Smokehouse. I initially intended to go from there straight on to see Schlafly, the big boys in town, but I couldn’t pass up the brewpub right next store…
Buffalo Brewing Company
I really had no real intention of going to this place, and it wasn’t on my list of contacts, simply because in the research I’d done beforehand, it didn’t seem to be anything too special. But damnit, when you walk right past a brewpub, YOU GOTS TO GO IN.
As you might guess from the web site, it’s just not the nicest place. It looks like a very average sports bar/diner combination inside, and the people tending bar are “bartenders” first, servers second, bus boys third, and beer experts maybe seventh or eighth. One gets the sense (and one would be right) that beer just isn’t the biggest focus, and that’s perfectly okay. Not every place that BREWS beer has to be super geeky about it. I bellied up to the bar and ordered the only thing that sounded interesting,
— Buffalo Brewing Company Rye IPA: Really not a bad beer at all. I was afraid that it might kinda suck, but it’s a perfectly solid representative of the style. It’s got hops. It’s got rye. If I ever found myself here again, I’d get one of these amber-colored brews. 2.5 hops
My obligation abated, I moved on to my next stop, the place that started all that craft brewin’ buzz in St. Louis 20 years ago, way back in 1991…
I chose to visit the Bottleworks because it’s the bigger location and where most of the beer is made, and I wanted to go on the official brewery tour.* I did, and we had ourselves a fun little time observing the brewhouse and bottling line in action. It was one of the more static tours I’ve taken, despite the efforts of this fellow:
*Don’t worry, I made it to the Taphouse by accident later in the day.
The best part was mostly just getting to taste some Schlafly brews afterward. I was able to check off a few that I’ve never had before:
— Belgian Single: I like Belgian singles, although you never really see them. Session-strength Belgian trappist beer? Yes please. This is a brewpub exclusive that packs a lot of flavor into about 4.2% abv. 3 hops
— Schlafly Porter: This is a new beer, which confused me a little. I asked why they just started making a porter now and the guide essentially told me “because people won’t stop asking us why we don’t make one.” Then he said that for all intensive purposes, it’s essentially the same beer as Schlafly Oatmeal Stout. I found that to be weird, and the beer to be a little bit bland, and I don’t have much memory of it now. 2 hops
— Schlafly Pumpkin Ale: This is a really well-regarded and highly anticipated seasonal release from them, and after tasting it I can finally see the appeal. I don’t usually like pumpkin beers very much, but this was really pretty good. Spicy and sweet and a lot like pumpkin pie. I don’t know if this is what pumpkin beer is supposed to be like, but if they were all like this I would probably drink more of them. 3 hops
I then moved on to a place that I feel is sort of flying under the radar in the St. Louis craft beer scene. I hadn’t heard much at all about it beforehand, but I left pretty impressed with…
Square One Brewery/Distillery
To begin with, this combo brewery/distillery is just a cool-looking place. The inside is like an old-fashioned Victorian-style bar, and they have a nice variety of beers available. I was glad for an opportunity here to actually visit a fully functional brewery that I hadn’t had any of the beers at before, so I could finally order a beer flight for the first time on the trip. Amazingly, I had nearly made it through this trip without drinking one! Unreal. These are the four beers I picked:
From left to right, that’s
— Classic American Pilsner: Good, solid pils with a good jolt of noble hops. Reminds me favorably of Avery Joe’s Pils. 3 hops
— Classic Cascade IPA: A single-hop cascade IPA. It’s been a little while since I’ve had a single-hopped cascade beer, so I’d forgotten just how grapefruity this hop can come across. This is their very first in what will be a series of single-hop IPAs. Wish that I could try the rest. This one was tasty. 3 hops
— Single Malt Scotch Ale: Rich and tofeelike, but not as strong as you might think it would be. Complex; a more sessionable version of “cigar beer.” 3 hops
— Maple Stout: Now this was something interesting. Extremely rich and very apparent maple flavors. The bartender behind the bar said that this batch was more “mapley” than most of them have been, and it came through hardcore. This would be incredibly delicious on pancakes. I’ve never had a maple beer that tasted like this one. If I can get my hands on some Canadian Breakfast Stout, I hope the maple is like this beer. This is unique stuff. 3.5 hops
I have to mention–this place has some really impressive-sounding and good-looking food as well. I didn’t eat because I already had plans for dinner after this, but the menu is beyond bar fare. Andouille grinders? Bouillabaisse? Cashew-encrusted mahi mahi? These people are not kidding around. If I came back here again I would definitely make a point to eat.
The Good Pie
Where I ate, though, was this Neopolitan Pizzeria back near Buffalo Brewing Company, as I had heard that it had an excellent beer list and “good pies.” I had a chance here to try another beer from 2nd Shift Brewing, a very interesting brewery located west of St. Louis. I had decided I couldn’t go out there to visit them, so I was on the hunt for 2nd Shift Brewing beers throughout the weekend. So I tucked into a crazy tasty pizza and HAD A BEER!
— 2nd Shift El Gato: Unsurprisingly, this columbus, amarillo and citra-hopped DIPA is delicious. Quite dry for its 8-9% abv, reminding me a bit of Avery’s DuGana. 3 hops
The Bridge Taphouse
The final stop on my trip is this small beer bar in downtown St. Louis. It’s a bit of an odd place, with an extremely strong selection of brews but a bit of a froo-froo atmosphere. Observe:
Anyway, I took the opportunity to try one final 2nd Shift beer.
— 2nd Shift Wheat Freak: A hop-charged American wheat with cascade and centennial hops. Actually tastes like an even hoppier version of Three Floyds Gumballhead, for those who have had that very popular brew. I really like this style as a summer quencher, combining the softness, grain flavors and creamy mouthfeel of wheat with the sharpness and cirtusy nature of American hops. If these tastings are at all indicative, then 2nd Shift really is impressive. 3.5 hops
That’s it! It was a pretty epic trip and a hell of a lot to get done in two days, I must say, but I think that I acquitted myself pretty well and hit almost every stop that I would have wanted to make it out to. From Mexican chocolate stouts to Bavarian IPAs and maple beer, I pretty much ran the gamut.
Now it’s your turn to tell me what I missed. If I was going back to St. Louis tomorrow, what would I have to hit? What beers did I leave out that were unforgiveable omissions? The one location I missed was undoubtedly International Tap House, but I was undone by their late opening on Thursday. Anything else?