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The Craft Brewing Trend Thrives in St. Louis

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Welcome to Taking the Temperature, in which Eater checks the vital signs of various food scenes across the country to find out what's exciting and what's DOA. Today: craft breweries in St. Louis.

The scene at 4 Hands [Photo: 4 Hands / Facebook]

To an outsider, St. Louis might be symbolized by Anheuser-Busch and its trotting Clydesdales. In recent years, though, a wave of craft breweries that has grown organically, without taking too many cues from other metropolises, has started to complicate that once-dominant image.

There's the pioneer, Schlafly, which was founded in 1991, but the city has seen a healthy and promising number of nanobreweries popping up everywhere in the past three years. Specialization is the name of the game, with each one claiming a different area of expertise: there's traditional German (Urban Chestnut), session (Civil Life Brewing), Belgian-style farmhouse (Perennial Artisan Ale), and much more. It's also worth noting that many of these have started to link up with food trucks, which brings two national trends into one.

But none of it is snobby or nauseating, as Riverfront Times critic Ian Froeb assures in the following interview. As he explains it, it's all in the spirit of learning and enjoyment, and perhaps most importantly, it's all very St. Louis.

Tell me a little bit about the recent craft brewery boom.
Obviously St. Louis is known as the home of Budweiser or Anheuser Busch or Anheuser Busch InBev, as it's known now. But the brewing tradition goes back well before Anheuser Busch was the behemoth that we know today. About twenty years ago, the St. Louis Brewing Co. was founded — they're better known as Schlafly — as the first modern craft brewery in St. Louis. They now have two brewpubs and restaurants, and you can get there stuff at any gas station in town.

Then within the last two or three years, the beer community started to become more prominent. There was a website called STL Hops that sort of became the focal point of beer news and discussion in the city. And then, suddenly there were all these nanobreweries, to use the term of art, popping up with very small, specialized operations.

What are some of your favorites?
There's one called Perennial Artisan Ale, and they specialize in Belgian-style farmhouse ales. In fact I think they just released one that was specifically made with sort of a wild yeast, the way they would in Belgium.

There's one called Civil Life Brewing, which specializes more in session beers. It's not this high alcohol or over-hopped beer but rather more traditional stuff like English bitters.

There's a brewery called Six Row, there's 4 Hands, there's one out west of St. Louis in a town called New Haven called 2nd Shift. One is called Urban Chestnut, which was actually founded by a former brewmaster from Anheuser Busch who was born in Germany. They specialize in both traditional German styles but also adventuresome New American beers.

They all seem to be gaining an audience at the bar and they are slowly trickling into stores. The beer community is so supportive out here — it's wonderful to see.

I was going to ask if there was a large or strong community around it.
It's a growing culture. Schlafly hosts a lot of events — they have an annual repeal of prohibition fest, for instance — and it's just remarkable to see how fast the tickets sell out. I drive by on the event days I can't believe people can even move. There seem to be more and more of those events every year.

A lot of the breweries do a great job of reaching out. It's not the Portlandia stereotype of the coffee shop where you order the wrong thing and everyone sticks up their nose. It's very open. They want people to learn about beer and talk about beer in a context that isn't snobby. It's really fascinating.

And craft brewing is booming in general: Anheuser Busch just bought Goose Island in Chicago, because their Budweiser sales aren't exactly what they used to be, but craft beer is.

You mentioned in another conversation that a lot of the great food trucks have started selling at the breweries, which is sort of two trends in one. Can you talk about that?
Some of these places have their own kitchens, but with the exception of the Schlafly restaurant, none of them are trying to do anything particularly ambitious. But what they'll do is have a food truck or two come and set up in their parking lot. It's a really nice spirit of collaboration — there isn't a lot of backfighting or jealousy, at least not publicly. It's the idea that you're literally inviting other businesses into yours.

What's an example?
Here's three trends in one: there's a guy in St. Louis named John Perkins, who was known as the Underground Chef and was anonymous for a while. He started Entre, which was the name for all of his underground restaurants, ventures, and catering. But he does a trailer that's a bit larger than the traditional food truck, and he has become the de facto food truck for Perennial.

Any last words? What excites you most about all of this?
What excites me most is that it feels really organic, in the sense that it's grassroots. Obviously with food trucks we were following in the footsteps of other cities that had the Kogis and things like that, but the beer just grew out of organic communities that were really passionate about brewing it or talking about it. It feels like something that has come about naturally, and it's raised the level of discussion about beer in a fun way that isn't snobby at all. And the beer is good. People will come here and be impressed by what they find.

A Selection of Craft Breweries in St. Louis

Did we miss any of your favorites? Let us know in the comments.

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Schlafly Bottleworks

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The Schlafly Tap Room

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Perennial Artisan Ales

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Civil Life Brewery

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Six Row Brewing Co.

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Four Hands Brewing Co

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2nd Shift Brewing

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Urban Chestnut Brewing Co.

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