Yeah, you read that right. Over eleven percent. Mexican chocolate. Imperial stout. That’s what St. Louis’ new Perennial Artisan Ales is making, or to be more precise, that’s one thing they’re making. In reality, Perennial shows every sign of being a thriving new craft brewer that will push the boundaries of the nascent St. Louis craft beer scene. Along with their contemporaries, 4-Hands Brewing, Perennial looks to encapsulate the “extreme” side of the craft beer game in a city that until recently, had very little beer that was truly “out there.”
I was able to visit Perennial on my St. Louis Brewery roadtrip a while back, and I even had the extreme good fortune to arrive on the day of the brewery’s soft opening. I had a chance to take in the place as it opened to local beer geeks and writers for the first time, as well as interview its co-founder and brewmaster, the uber-friendly and engaging Phil Wymore. In all honesty, it was probably the best place I stopped during my two days in St. Louis–needless to say, I was very impressed.
I must apologize, then, for taking so long to get the interview I conducted with Wymore onto the site–I have been busy writing quite a few other things in the interim. This is the last interview I collected on the trip to get typed up, and unfortunately it is partially incomplete. The reason? My digital recorder ran out of space in mid conversation, as it was full from all the other interviews I had conducted earlier. Sorry!
I’m just going to launch into the interview with Wymore here, but if you want to see more about my impressions of the Perennial brews I was able to sample during my visit, check out the first day of my trip. And for more info on Wymore himself, a former brewer at both Chicago’s Goose Island and Half Acre breweries, this older piece is helpful. It contains a quote that I think describes him perfectly: “I don’t want to be the 12th guy making pale ale [in St. Louis] when I can be the first making wheat wine. We’re not trying to please everyone. We’re not trying to be the most palatable. We’re servicing the beer geeks, the enthusiasts.”
Has there ever been a more encouraging quote from a brewer than that? Here’s my own conversation with Wymore, as far as my recorder captured.
Kid Carboy Jr.: I was thinking earlier today (after visiting The Civil Life Brewing and 4-Hands Brewing) that this might be one of the single most significant days for St. Louis craft beer in a long time, with both you guys and Civil Life having your soft openings.
Phil Wymore: I guess you’re right, it might never happen again where two places open on the same day.
Carboy: You are the former Half Acre guy, right? Because I love Half Acre to death. How long were you there?
Wymore: I was there for 13 months; I came on when it was still being contract brewed in Wisconsin and it was just getting ready to transition to Chicago, and I was there for the first brews in-house. None of the current base beers are my recipes, but I formulated about nine other beers for them in the time I was there.
Carboy: Which ones?
Carboy: So how about that Abraxas mexican chocolate stout you’re making now? I couldn’t believe the cinnamon character to it. It reminded me of the smell of a brown sugar cinnamon pop tart.
Wymore: *laughs* This one is not packed with preservatives, however.
*At this point he gestures me toward all the barrels sitting in a corner of the brewhouse*
Wymore: Did you see all of our wine barrels? We’re hoping to start filling those in November.
Carboy: What kinds of brews?
Wymore: I think the first one on deck is going to be a sour kriek, I made one at Goose Island and always felt that it would be one I would make again wherever I went.
Carboy: What were you doing in the Goose Island days?
Wymore: I was actually the cellar manager there for the production brewery for a few years, so I managed all the fermentation processes, barrel aging, etc. *
*Believe it or not, he was actually there at Goose Island at the same time as Will Johnston, the brewer at 4-Hands. Weird coincidence, or beer karma that they both got out in time?
Carboy: Alright, well I asked Will Johnston this, so I’ve gotta ask you this, “What do you think of what’s going on at Goose Island now?”
Wymore: Well, when I first started at Goose it was completely independent of any other entity, and it was an exciting time. When I came on, that’s when the cash infusions started happening, we doubled our production capacity. I really felt like I got to ride the wave a bit and then jump off the surfboard before…
Carboy: *interuppting* …before it jumped the shark! Sorry, I couldn’t resist.
Wymore: Pre-shark, it was a fun ride. I’m just glad I’m not gasping for air now.
Carboy: The thing that really kills me about Goose Island today is that I hear about how they’re supposedly making these spectacular beers, but they’re only available for extremely short periods of time at one brewpub. Do you intend to put your creative brews in more people’s hands?
Wymore: We wanted our barrel-aging program to be a bigger proportion of what we’re doing as a brewery. Still, we don’t have access to nearly as many actual barrels as they do.
Carboy: Philosophically, it’s almost seems like you’re splitting the difference between Civil Life and 4-Hands in some ways, when it comes to how your beer will be consumed. Civil Life is the friendly neighborhood pub, and 4-Hands is a full-on production brewery with a tasting room but no true bar. You guys, on the other hand, have the bar and the full brewery, a kitchen and menu, etc.
Wymore: I think you’re seeing just the early part of the timeline of all three—or four, because I should include Urban Chestnut—of these breweries, because down the line I think we’d all like to fully expand our reaches.*
*At this point my digitial recorder abruptly shuts down, but I believe the rest is mostly Wymore agreeing that YES, the brewery is awesome, and YES, he wants to make more beer that I can write nice things about. At least, that’s my memory of the events from that point forward.
If you get down to St. Louis in the near future, the list of places to visit is growing at an extremely rapid pace. Perennial Artisan Ales is just one more. I wish I could go back today to try beers like the “Fresh Hop Red Saison,” or the “Heart of Gold Wheatwine.” You can be sure that next time I have an excuse to visit St. Louis, I’ll be making a beeline back to Perennial to see the latest that Wymore and co. have cooked up. Here’s hoping there’s any beer left in the tanks when I arrive.