The Hoosier Beer Geek 6 Pack is a feature where we run six questions by the folks behind the scenes at breweries to get a little more insight into what they do and like and how they got their start. A while back we sent out a questionaire to more than twenty-five breweries - and received zero replies. Well, until last evening, when I received a message from the folks at Schlafly.
Schlafly is brewed in St. Louis, and is available pretty much everywhere in the St. Louis metro area - the airport, bars, the brewery's two brewpubs, grocery stores - even smack dab in the middle of big beer's namesake baseball park - Busch Stadium, home of the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals (at least for the rest of the week).
As a St. Louis area transplant, I couldn't be more thrilled that the folks at Schlafly have extended a hand. Of course the rest of the Knights of the Beer Roundtable would also like to thank our fifth guest, Mitch Turner from St Louis' Schlafly Beer.
1) Who are you and where do you work?
Mitch Turner, Brand Manager, Schlafly Beer
The Saint Louis Brewery, Inc.
2) What inspired you to start brewing beer? How did you get your start?
I was really into trying all of the new American micros in college and would routinely try every single new beer our local grocery store would bring in. My girlfriend at the time bought me a homebrew kit for Christmas. Any girl that likes beer this much, you should marry (and I did). At the time, I was pursuing a degree in Biochemistry and figured I could make better beer than I was buying at the store. While I was initially wrong (the first batch of Porter tasted great but was 2% abv), as college students it was our duty to drink every drop. Subsequent batches (ESB, Bavarian Weizen) got better and better. Upon graduation, I decided to put my Biochemistry degree to good use for humanity by making beer at Bohannon Brewing Company (makers of Market Street Beer) in Nashville, TN. From there, I moved to Louisville, KY to take the Head Brewer position at Pipkin Brewing Company and then on to Schlafly in St. Louis where I direct our marketing efforts in 6 states (MO, IL, IN, KY, TN, and MS).
3) What's your brewing mission? What are you trying to accomplish with your beer?
Our goal is to be a respected regional brewer of classic European beer styles and turn people on to how flavorful and enjoyable beer can be. Brewing beer in the shadow of the largest brewery in the world makes you focus on the variety, history, tradition, and flavor diversity of beer and try to get people to see beer not just as a commodity, but as something that will enhance whatever situation you add it to. This can be as simple as going to a baseball game and ordering a hot dog. If you get any beer and drink it while you eat the hot dog, both will taste better. But, if you choose a beer that goes better with that hot dog, like our Pale Ale (the caramel malts match the flavors in grilled meats), it will make it taste even better. Every day we try to explain to people that this is not rocket science-beer makes food taste better. All you have to do is think about what you drink and you will enjoy it (and everything else with it) a lot more.
In addition to these classic beer styles, we are also beginning to push the envelope of traditional beer styles and consumer perceptions of beer. For example, we now have a Special Release series that features beers styles that are all 8% abv and up and full of intense flavors. This is the antithesis of the current low carb/ultra-light beer craze. We have perfected adding coffee to beer to make a Coffee Stout. We have introduced a Reserve series of beer styles that are oak aged. For our Reserve Bourbon Barrel-aged Imperial Stout we use used Jim Beam barrels for aging to accentuate the already intense flavors in the beer. While large domestic and international breweries are focusing on less flavor and lighter body, we are trying to show people the full potential of beer.
4) Was there a beer that you benchmarked your own against? How did you know your beer was good enough to take to the general public?
There were a few classics that we were shooting for-Sam Smith’s Oatmeal Stout for our Oatmeal Stout and Young’s Special (Ram Rod in the bottle in the US) for our flagship Pale Ale. We also saw what was going on in the Northwest in 1991 with Widmer Hefeweizen and thought that unfiltered wheat beer would be a good choice (ours is an American-style wheat as well). The main thing we wanted to do was to bring these classic beer styles to people, but show them what it is supposed to taste like fresh. So many times, people drink an import and think that this is the way “good” beer has to taste. If we could just get one pint of fresh craft-brewed beer into every import beer drinker’s hands, they would never go back.
It was a good sign that our beer was good enough when we ran out of beer shortly after we opened on December 26th, 1991. We actually had to pour another brewery’s beer at the Tap Room pub for a few weeks until we could catch up. We have been playing catch-up ever since actually. We made the list of the top 50 craft breweries in the US last year and continue to grow and expand every year.
5) What beer are you proudest of? Which of your beers is your personal favorite? Why?
Personally, I am proudest of the Reserve Bourbon Barrel-aged Imperial Stout. It was a recipe and methodology that I helped to formulate when I worked in Louisville and it took several years to come to fruition at Schlafly. Now, every time we bottle it or I get to have a sip of it, it takes me back to the first time I served it to customers at my first beer dinner ever at the Rathskellar in the Seelbach Hotel in downtown Louisville.
My personal favorite is our Witbier from this year. We actually went to a farm in Alhambra, IL and filled 50 pound bags of wheat straight from the combine in the field! We added this as the unmalted wheat portion of our grist (weeds, chaff, and all) and the resulting product was unmatched. The clean, fresh, crisp bite balanced by wheat sweetness, orange, and coriander flavors made for a perfect beer.
6) Which beers outside of your own do you enjoy? What beer do you wish you came up with? Why?
I love Witbier and wish I had been reincarnated as Pierre Celis back in the day. Hoegaarden is one of the best beer brands in the world and I can only imagine what it would taste like at the brewery (when they move production back there soon). Sunshine Wheat from new Belgium, while a good beer when served in the Midwest, is a classic when enjoyed at the brewery. Upland Wheat is a great one that you can actually get fresh around here. I had one from Japan last night (Hitachino White Ale) that was pretty good too. Honestly, though, I enjoy our beer as much or more than anybody else’s. Since we make 50 different styles of beer, I always have a lot to pick from. And it is always the freshest (I am pretty picky about freshness if you can’t tell already).
Anything you'd like to add?
Come by and see us at one of our two pubs in St. Louis-Schlafly Bottleworks and The Schlafly Tap Room. All the info you need to find them and what is going on at each pub is at www.schlafly.com.
We have several new and seasonal beer styles coming out that will be available in very limited quantities in Indiana this year. Since I was born a Hoosier (grew up in Lebanon), I can’t wait to see these beer styles in stores all over the homeland.
Schlafly Special Release Christmas Ale
8% abv, 30 IBU, spiced with clove and cardamom, big malt flavor, 6 packs only, around $9.99 retail.
2007 Schlafly Reserve Oak-aged Barleywine
10.2% abv, 50 IBU, huge malty sweet beer with strong American oak flavor and hops balancing it out nicely, silk-screened 750mL bottles only (in commemorative box), $9.99.
2007 Schlafly Reserve Jim Beam Bourbon-Barrel-aged Imperial Stout
10.6% abv, 50 IBU, roasty, extremely bitter Stout meets sweet bourbon wood character, silk-screened 750mL bottles only (in commemorative box), $9.99.
Schlafly Bière de Garde
7.5%, 25 IBU, bottle-conditioned French farmhouse ale (similar to Saison) with tart, fruity yeasty flavors, silk-screened 750mL bottles only, $8.99
Schlafly Winter ESB
5.3% abv, 50 IBU, Copper colored, malty, English hopped ESB with the addition of rye for spiciness, 6pks only, $7-$8
Schlafly Coffee Stout
5.7% abv, 40 IBU, Black, rich roasty Oatmeal Stout with locally-roasted organic, free trade, Italian roast coffee added. We soak the ground coffee in cold water for two days and inject it into the Stout, adding clean coffee flavor without the bitterness or earthiness of a hot-brewed coffee.
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Hoosier Beer Geek wishes to again thank Mitch for taking the time to answer our questions, and for his dedication to good beer.