In the 1830s, immigrants from Germany and Bohemia began settling in St. Louis, MO. Not only were these Central Europeans a natural customer base for beer, but their ranks also included many skilled craftsmen who brewed good beer with abundant local water, kept cool in limestone caves indigenous to the area.
Names like Anheuser, Lemp and Falstaff became synonymous with beer in St. Louis, and beyond. Today, a rich local brewing tradition continues along the Mississippi River. It’s easy to find terrific hand crafted beer in the shadow of the Gateway Arch, the city’s most recognizable landmark.
Brewing’s new chapter began in 1991 when the St. Louis Brewing Co. opened its doors. Its principal owner is local attorney Tom Schlafly. You probably recognize the product as Schlafly Brand Beers. He and a chap named Dan Kopman, who had worked at the famous Young’s Brewery in England, wanted to produce good, local microbrew. That they do, even though they’ve grown quite a bit since opening day.
The Schlafly Taproom, located at 2100 Locust Street (at 21st Street), was the first brewpub to open in Missouri. This beautifully restored historic structure was built at the turn of the century for a printing company that occupied it until 1969. It stood vacant for years and survived a fire, which destroyed several of the surrounding buildings in 1976. You can still see heat damage on some of the beams inside.
Park in the lot next to the rear door, and you’ll pass through a mini-hop garden on your way to the dining area and tap room. The brick walls and wooden floors call out “industrial,” yet it has a European aura. Be sure to look for the blackboard that lists Schlafly’s 100-plus tap accounts. Near the 15-barrel DME brewing system, you’ll see a running count of how many batches of beer have been produced this year.
Pale Ale is the flagship product, but you’ll find the full line of Schlafly beers from an American pilsner-style lager to a barleywine, as well as three rotating seasonal selections on tap. On a late September afternoon, we enjoyed a saison and an Oktoberfest. The menu, which is paired with house beers, includes moules frites, a liverwurst sandwich, and pretty much everything in-between.
There’s more to the St. Louis Brewery empire: the Schlafly Bottleworks, not far away at 7260 Southwest Ave. in Maplewood, opened in 2003. It was the first new production brewery to open since the end of Prohibition. Located in a former supermarket, it has a half-acre garden, where herbs and produce are grown for the on-site restaurant. There’s even an outdoor farmers market in the warm months.
If you can’t get to visit either location—although we highly recommend you do—it’s easy to find Schlafly beers at local bars and liquor stores. Even fans attending Cardinal baseball games at Busch Stadium can quaff a Schlafly.
Back to Square One
The Square One Brewery, 1727 Park Ave., is catty-corner from Lafayette Park. The building is St. Louis brewing history in miniature. Before Prohibition, it was an Anheuser-Busch tied house. A-B held on to the building until the 1970s. In 2006, it became a brewpub. Although it looks very small from the outside, the inside is spacious and comfortable.
Have a seat at the bar, immediately to your right as you enter, and look at the interesting back bar. It has a semi-circular glass window that looks out onto the patio. The bar itself is sturdy and wooden, while the window is bordered by intricate woodwork. The patio is a bit of the Old World transported to the heartland, with a mini-waterfall on one wall, tall shade trees, a separate bar, and an atmosphere that invites conversation.
The tap selections—you’ll find them on a blackboard behind the host station—are plentiful, varied and well brewed. September seasonals included Spicy Blonde, with strong hints of lemongrass and ginger; Keller, an unfiltered version of a helles; Amber in the Rye; and two “big beers”: Single Malt Scotch Ale—the malt is smoked at the brewery—and Portly Stout, an imperial stout aged in a port wine barrel. They’re brewed in a JV Northwest brewing system that stands behind glass.
The food menu is expansive, the staff is friendly, the prices are reasonable and parking is easy to find on nearby streets. After you visit, allow yourself a few extra minutes to walk around the neighborhood. Some serious money has gone into restoring this district that’s rich in brewing history.
The Lemp Brewery went out of business decades ago, but its facility at 1821 Cherokee St. is now the home of The Stable. Located on “antiques row,” it describes itself as a “brewhouse, distillery and eatzzeria.” At the time of our visit, this establishment was still wading through delays in getting a brewing license. Although we were disappointed, we consoled ourselves with selections from the diverse 24-tap lineup that ranged from Pabst Blue Ribbon to Blanche de Chambly. Also on tap was Arcadia Cereal Killer, Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout, Rogue Shakespeare Stout and Bear Republic Racer 5 Ale.
The interior was—well—eclectic: a Mona Lisa reproduction looks down over the bar; farm implements are scattered about, along with other antiques; the garden area has sofas, metal gates with fleurs-de-lis on top of the bars; and the way to the restrooms leads through a factory locker room. The menu features lots of “social food” such as cheese and smoked meat platters. You’ll also find oven-baked grinder sandwiches, pasta dishes and pizzas.
Having toured Miller and Coors, it was time for Paul to complete his macro-brew trifecta at Anheuser-Busch. Despite the pending InBev acquisition, there wasn’t any indication that we were at anything other than a large family business. From the portrait of August Busch IV near the visitor center entrance to the sampling room, and everywhere in-between, none of the Disney-esque tour guides uttered a word about the takeover that would leave the nation’s biggest beer producer in foreign hands.
“Why go?” you ask. Well, to begin with, this is an American icon. There are few products anywhere in the world that command the loyalty that Budweiser does. Coke, Pepsi, or Harley-Davidson perhaps, but the list is awfully short. It’s probably a safe assumption that few people in our tour group ever drink anything besides Bud.
Then there’s the sheer size of this brewery. A single 3,600-barrel A-B aging tank equals what a fair-size craft brewery turns out in an entire year. As the saying goes, “A-B spills more in a day than most micros make in a year.” Just think for a minute about what goes into running an operation of this scale and, at the same time ensuring consistency here and throughout the A-B empire.
A-B’s 100-acre campus includes a brewery, corporate headquarters, and more than a century of history. The tour is a must for fans of industrial architecture, as well as beer travelers. Several of the buildings—including the Clydesdale stable, with its stained glass windows and 600-pound brass chandelier, and the brewhouse, which dates back to 1891—are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The brewhouse looks like a train station with long track, or lines, of equipment. From a sixth story observation deck you look down at the kettles below. Around the corner is the Bevo Packaging Plant (Bevo was A-B’s near-beer product, sold during Prohibition). Gargoyle-like creatures—”Bevo Foxes”—inspired by a fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm, guard the plant. Big as it is, the plant would only provide the Midwest with an 18-hours’ supply of beer. It’s easy to understand why A-B is a 24/7 operation.
The last stop on the tour was the sampling room. Long gone are the days of endless pours. These days you get two beers and a bag of pretzels. We used the opportunity to sample the new Michelob offerings. And on our way out, we passed a gift shop stuffed with everything imaginable with a Budweiser logo. (Did we mention that Bud drinkers are a loyal bunch?)
Maybe there’s just something magic in the St. Louis water. Whatever it is, those old German brewmasters have certainly inspired some wonderful beer in the shadows of their ancient brew kettles.
Paul Ruschmann is a writer, editor and researcher. Maryanne Nasiatka is a writer and photographer. They travel as much as their budget permits visiting many of the places where great beer is brewed and enjoyed.