Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Beer drinkin' in St. Louis...ain't what it used to be..UPDATED 01/24/14

Update 01/24/14:  Schlafly came upon my blog post and got a hold of me soon after publishing.  Come week's end, I was sitting in the Downtown West neighborhood at the Schlafly Taproom with the CEO/Co-Founder drinking a rauchbier and talking the future of Schlafly, politics and city vs. the county and how some folks think St. Louis and Maplewood are both cool and soulful places, yet are still entirely different places still, undeniably part of the metro region.  And furthermore, how others like to feel the entire County is St. Louis, and others draw the line at I-170 east to the river.  It was fun.

Shared beers, debate, eye-contact and a hand shake upon parting ways are respectful communications that I cherish.  And I'm thankful that we have local breweries that care enough about their legacy, reputation and future to invite STL lovers to talk about it one:one.  Even if we have different ideas about what defines St. Louis, it is great to debate it and Schafly's future.

The one thing I walked away with was that Schlafly wants to stay and grow in St. Louis if the cards are in their favor.

After listening and trying to understand the situation, here's my take:

Settling down in St. Louis will be  a challenge.  Schlafly wants 40 acres and rail access; and, as you might expect, 40 acres don't come easy in a city this geographically small.  Think about it...the south side is out of the question.  Then, you are beholden to working with Paul McKee if the city gives you the shaft on the riverfront from the Patch to the Riverview neighborhood.

I wouldn't be surprised if Schlafly has a couple very simple options:

1. McKee's NorthSide

2. the St. Louis suburbs/county within the I-170 belt

I think St. Louis has an amazing brewing history.  Have the suburbs of St. Louis ever had a brewery other than Schlafly in Maplewood, MO?  I can't think of one, but Schlafly sits on a turning point in STL history.  Build on our already rich brewing history, or move to the burbs and try to establish the new brewing culture in St. Louis County.

If Schalfy chooses St. Louis, it will be historic.  If they move to the inner-ring burbs it will be historic.  History will tell the story.  I love being along for the ride and I hope Paul McKee and Schlafly choose St. Louis and not a tiny town in the burbs for the future of our brewing history.  I hope a city that almost unanimously votes (6-1) to subsidize a local utility (Laclede Gas) to move a couple blocks within the same city to the tune of $7M can come up with incentives and a deal to keep Schlafly growing in St. Louis.

Readers, what would you like to see?  Would you like to see Schlafly as a St. Louis entity, or does it not matter whether they settle down in Maryland Heights, Fenton, East St. Louis or Hillsdale?  As long as they are X miles from St. Louis, is that good enough?  If so, what is "x"?  Secondly should a beer label bare the name of the city it is brewed in?  Meaning does it matter when InBev has St. Louis, MO on the label of every Bud Light whether or not is was bottled here or Wiliamsburg, VA.; or, does it matter for craft breweries small or large to identify with a true and honest place?  Is there a difference?

Viva la STL and Schlafly!  Mark Groth.

_________________Original Post__________________________________

Okay, I've read that a blog post should be no longer than 800 words, but I'm off work for a few days around the holidays and I'm thinking about my list of predictions for 2014...and one of them has something to do with Schlafly's desired expansion of operations.  I can't stop from ramblin' on on and on like a 60's folk poet on the potential of STL's beer scene...so this is a long post.

You may know the popular Dos Equis ads of late where you have the aged, seemingly distinguished gentlemen with the elegant Spanish-tinged accent speaking about Hemingway-like adventures...and at the end of the day when it's time for a drink...he chooses Dos Equis.

"I don't always drink beer, but when I do...it's Dos Equis..."


You get it...anyhow, like that guy I don't drink beer as much as I'd like to either...but when I do, dammit it's a local brew for this St. Louisan...but this wasn't always the case.  The Dos Equis guy above is just the latest in a long line of guys schilling for the mass produced, in this case, slightly above average beers owned and produced by huge publicly traded multi-national corporations.  I am not at all against Dos Equis, Budweiser or Stag or any other mass produced lager...it's just that I'm old and I want to enjoy a tasty beer these days as opposed to a cheap coldie.  Beer is a celebration in middle age, not a guzzling marathon as in days of old.

So what's my call these days?  Urban Chestnut...it is the greatest beer I've ever had, anywhere, anytime.  I'm loving this beer.  I know beer is like pizza...some people just like what they like and can't explain it in a convincing way why one is better than the other.  It's so subjective and just an academic argument...but man, I love the St. Louis brewing scene.  For my money, UCBC is the best call.  That's not to say I don't love the great comfy cozy space and crazy delicious sandwiches and Jenga and checkers at Civil Life  at 3714 Holt Avenue in the Tower Grove South neighborhood.


That's not to say I don't love the Saison from Perennial Artisan Ales at a bar stool in the renovated Coke syrup plant at 8125 Michigan Avenue in the Carondelet neighborhood.

That's not to say I haven't drank 8 bazillion Schlafly pale ales and pie holed countless mussels at the Downtown West Tap Room (pioneers of DTW).

brewed in St. Louis? Or Maplewood or Wisconsin...too confusing

That's not to say I don't love the wheat ale (whale) from Six Row Brewing at 3690 Forest Park Avenue in the Midtown neighborhood.


4 Hands Brewing Co. brings a great amount of traffic to the Old Rockhouse area just north of Soulard and just south of Busch Stadium at 1220 S. 8th Street; the PiPA (an American pale ale brewed specifically for Pi) is my call when I visit Pi Pizzeria in the MX building.  Many of my friends say this is the best call in town.


When I'm downtown and in the mood for a beer, I've gotta stop by Alpha Brewing Company at 1409 Washington Avenue in the Downtown West neighborhood; I love how their tasting room opens up onto an alley and is tucked away from the traffic on Washington.


Square One Brewery and Distillery at 1727 Park Avenue in the Lafayette Square neighborhood is dangerously close to my house and never disappoints.


I haven't even been to all the microbrews in town:

Heavy Riff Brewing Company at 6413 Clayton Avenue in the Clayton-Tamm neighborhood of Dogtown

Morgan Street Brewery at 721 North 2nd Street in the Downtown neighborhood on Laclede's Landing.

Point is, I love the beer culture that is brewing and crowning in St. Louis.  I think we have the history, the great spaces, the momentum and the fucking chutzpah to brag, just a little (we are self deprecating folk here).  Again, I've never...never...NEVER...had a better selection of beers than at UCBC.  I'll tell anyone that will listen that the Czech Pilsner was the best Pilsner I've ever had...I've sat in the biergarten and yakked about it...but they don't brew it any more....this is part of the fun.  They make amazing, kick ass, expensive and highly crafted beer and then pull it.  Like they said in the Godfather, they keep pulling me back in.

The biergarten at Compton and Washington so reminds me of my small town Illinois upbringing in Millstadt, Smithton, Freeburg, etc complete with chat surface, yellow light bulbs strung across picnic tables with Winston and fish fry smells melding into a 1970s dream.  We kids could buy beer and bring it back to Mom and Dad at the table (Sweet was playing on the a.m. radio).  UCBC has the same vibe.  They and Civil Life even have toys and a sandbox for kids while parents socialize.  Love it.

So it's great to see UCBC expanding their operations to bring this goodness to the masses.  They chose a location for their new, larger brewery in the former Renard Paper Company on Manchester Avenue in "the Grove" or Forest Park Southeast neighborhood.

They are taking a building that was formerly an uninviting distribution dead space along the hip Manchester stretch between Kingshighway and Vandeventer and are adding windows and softening the pedestrian and passer-by views along this stretch.

From this:
google street view image

To something along the lines of this:





But hey, let's not get so love struck on the newer kids on the block.  Let's show some respect to our first entry into the micro brew scene in STL.  It was Schlafly.  They taught me how to like beer that tasted like something.  They taught me that it was fun to go Downtown after 5:00 pm.  At one point in my life, I said Schlafly was the best beer in a bottle.

As a point of reference, I'm no better than the common beer drinker. I'd been sneaking Hamm's from my dad's garage stash since the 1980s.  But, I grew up on Natural Light from the 1980s through the 1990s (we called it "Natch" as opposed to people around here who call it Natty Light) and MGD and Busch and Red White and Blue, Stag and Beast and other worse malt liquor swills like Crazy Horse and others that I beg to forget...when I wanted to have a special night, we bought Michelob or Lowenbrau (which tasted just like the previously mentioned beers, but the T.V. commercials made you believe otherwise).


Fast forward to the early-mid 1990s when I moved to St. Louis and Schlafly was my fancy time, my gentleman's call.  I felt like I was a sophisticate when I ordered Schlafly...I love them for making me want to taste something in a beer.  I felt so BIG CITY when I went to the Tap Room, remember kind readers, I am a Belleville, IL product, St. Louis was a foreign and awesome place to me as a 20-something person...as foreign as some dude from Kirkwood, but I never claimed to be from St. Louis :)

Schlafly is big time now.  They are the biggest micro (oxymoron?) brew in Missouri now that Boulevard in Kansas City sold out to the Belgians.  But, I feel Schlafly is at a historical decision point.

Schlafly came on the scene around 1991 and carved out the perfect alternate niche that Sam Adams and other distributed beers of the time offered...more so, they survived the Busch's when that suburban St. Louis family still ruled the beer scene in these parts...before the Belgian In-Bev took over...when all the micros have proliferated in the wake of the big brewery becoming a global commodity vs. a locally driven American brewery.

Schlafly got bigger and bigger...they had the opportunity to expand their bottling operations in St. Louis yet chose the suburban city of Maplewood, MO, just outside the western borders of St. Louis like so many historically St. Louis companies have abandoned St. Louis for the staid burbs.  I don't blame them for striking a good deal that makes economic and business sense, but Maplewood is not St. Louis and I thought this was a traditional St. Louis thing.

The St. Louis brewing history was extended outward to the burbs by Schlafly...not unlike the Busch family that eventually moved from Lindell Ave in the city to Grant's Farm and later Huntleigh, MO where the last ruling Busch still lives.  If I'm not mistaken William Busch, the guy behind the Kraftig label is not a St. Louisan either and lived in Sunset Hills, MO/Grants Farm for most his childhood and in his adult years has not chosen to live in St. Louis either...but he has the opportunity to come back to St. Louis and brew his beer here instead of Wisconsin.  There are amazing opportunities to set up in the original brewing community near ABI and stick his middle finger up at the Belgian's across I-55.  I would support him for the simple fact that it would be an awesome "keep it local" play.

Anyhow, I let these details go.  I have friends/family in Maplewood, and I get the allure, but it is NOT St. Louis (yet Schlafly falsely claims our good name...partially because no one outside of our region knows what Maplewood, or O'Fallon or any other tiny suburban enclave in the burbs is not really St. Louis by any logical, factual or otherwise stretch of the imagination.

What I'm saying, I guess, is that I hope Schlafly doubles down on St. Louis and bets on the future of St. Louis as a destination place for American brewing.  They are looking to do a major expansion.  I envision a beer tour someday which puts us on the map for hard core beer drinkers to visit.  Can you image if Schlafly set up shop in Fenton, MO or Maryland Heights, MO or some other boring, out of the way suburban city?  I wouldn't go out there.  It would suck the soul from the tour.  It would dilute the brand.

I dream of micro-brew tourist agency teaming with Metrobus to make tour maps of all the breweries with ride schedules publicized so people are allowed to "taste" every brewery and get a safe ride home or to the hotel.  Metro could use the opportunity to teach people who don't normally use buses how to do it and people would be in a social setting and would feel more comfortable trying something new to them in a group.  That would be awesome, riding from micro brew to micro brew.  Midtown to Carondelet to Downtown, to Lafayette Sq...architecture and beer and St. Louis.  I don't see O'Fallon or 2nd Shift or any other exurb micro brew being part of this...no soul, too far, lame-o spaces, etc.  They aren't St. Louis either, and this vision would be a St. Louis Brewing Tour.  Can you imagine the impact this would have for our reputation as people are taking from neighborhood to neighborhood and given a little history of each neighborhood and the brewing tradition of our forefather?  The opportunity is huge.

Hey, Schlafly, you're getting bigger...move 1 was to go to Maplewood, move 2 was to go to Wisconsin...move 3 can be a further move from the home base or a huge statement to St. Louis and its brewing history.  Do the right thing please.  I want you guys to continue as a St. Louis entity.  Wow, NorthSide would be perfect.

Stay true to the label and keep the beer brewed in the one and only St. Louis, MO beer capital of North America!

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

The word on the street is to expect Schlafly to consolidate its operations in Wisconsin and Nashville, TN. Somewhere on North Broadway....

Timothy Thomas said...

There is already a brewery tour kind of like the one you mentioned. It's called STL Brewery Hop. They do go to some breweries in the county. So, I guess it's not perfect, but it's close.

http://stlbreweryhop.com/

Mark Groth said...

Anonymous, that would be AWESOME! Can you imagine having Bissingers and then Schlafly rooting down on North Broadway?!?!

Timothy, I'd like to see Metro get involved too. Could encourage people who've never ridden the bus to do so.

Anonymous said...

Love your post! Thanks so much for taking the time to write this, I can't wait to explore these brewery's!
Cheers!
-Johnny
http://www.allmysons.com/stlouis/

tom havel said...

we all know that Zatec is the greatest beer ever