One of the challenges we face at Hoosier Beer Geek is getting everyone together to hit the road and hit some of the fine beer establishments outside of Indianapolis. It is kinda embarrassing the places that we haven’t been to.
The fine folks at Schlafly have been inviting us over for a visit for a while, so a St. Louis visit has been on the drawing boards for a while. A few months back, we finally said, “Dammit! Let’s set a date and go!” And most of us were on board.
Personally, not only was it a chance to drink beer all weekend, but also an opportunity to get my better half, the lovely wife, out-of-town and away from parenting duties for a weekend. And since she had never been to St. Louis, she was on board, despite the fact that she doesn’t like beer and would eventually become the group’s D.D.
A babysitter was found. A hotel room was reserved. An itinerary was set. Guests were invited. The road trip was on!
As the weekend approached, people started dropping out. The economy played a large part as somebody became busier at work, somebody started losing commissions, and somebody lost their job. Add to it illness and family issues, the large gathering became smaller. The lovely wife and I were joined only by Mike and Gina, who are St. Louis-area natives.
But we wouldn’t let that rain on our parade (though it did rain the entire time we were driving through Illinois, which prompted the creation of a new state motto: “Illinois Sucks!”). After arriving in St. Louis and checking into our hotel, we met up in the Lafayette Square neighborhood.
First stop: Square One Brewery. The food was pretty good. We ordered pretzel breadsticks which were very fresh (read: hot) and served with a mustard and cheese sauce for dipping. I ordered a bowl of their flank steak chili, which is great for a cold wet day, and their burger of the week, which was suppose to be lamb, but ended up being kangaroo. Yeah, kangaroo. To answer your question, a lot like beef only drier, like meatloaf consistency. Not gamy at all.
Mike was a copy cat and ordered the burger too. The lovely wife had pot roast, which was a bit tough. And Gina had a salad. I’d go into more details, but who cares. It was a salad.
More importantly, we had beer. I had their IPA, which is a standard tasting IPA, though one of the better IPA’s that I have had from a brewpub. I followed that with an Imperial Stout, which was big on flavor but not on mouthfeel. Very watery, which was a bit shocking given the intensity of the flavors. Gina had the Pale Ale, which was okay. Mike had the Dubbel and the Christmas Beer, which is a Dubbel with added spices. The Dubbel was lacking, but the Christmas Beer was tastier.
After dinner, we went a couple of blocks down the street to Bailey’s Chocolate Bar, a dessert bar with an expansive drink selection, including a wide variety of beers on tap and in the bottle. It is rated well on many beer review websites, including Beer Advocate. Unfortunately, we caught them in the middle of completely revamping their beer menu. Normally they have around a dozen beers on tap. On this night, only four taps were flowing. Well, piss.
That didn’t stop us from eating and drinking though. I had a shake made with Young’s Double Chocolate Stout and cinnamon ice cream. I’ve never had such a combination. And I was delighted. A very tasty concoction that I will attempt at home for friends in the future. I also had a very large and rich bread pudding. The lovely wife had an ultra rich triple chocolate milkshake. Gina had a Don De Dieu from Unibroue and Bailey’s signature dessert, a chocolate cake layered with Bailey’s butter cream and drizzled with chocolate. This was definitely meant for two. She took half of it back home with her. Mike ordered a float made with Hitachino Ginger Ale and green tea ice cream, which he had a previous visit here and enjoyed greatly. Instead of Hitachino, he got Left Hand’s Juju Ginger, which has a much stronger ginger presence. He didn’t enjoy it as much initially, but warmed up to it after a while.
After a quick tour of town, we headed back to the hotel and passed out. On Saturday, we headed to Anheuser-Busch for a tour of their massive complex. We were joined by Dave and Barb, who are St. Louis friends of Mike and Gina. We had previously considered doing the Brewmaster’s Tour, which is more extensive but also $25, but elected to take the standard free tour. I’ve done the Miller tour in Milwaukee. This tour was far more entertaining.
The short version: beautiful horses, beautiful old buildings, vessels bigger than air craft carriers, bottling lines that bottle more beer in a minute than I have consumed so far in my life (and based on my beer gut, it is a lot), and free samples of beer at the end.
In the tasting room, there were about a dozen taps that they apparently rotate what they serve. You are limited to two samples, but an added benefit of having a wife who doesn’t drink beer: you get her samples. I had an American Ale (Bud’s answer to Sam Adams has a strong metal taste to it, but is my beer of choice at Lucas Oil Stadium whenever the team forces me to drink), Winter’s Bourbon Cask Ale (tastes like Cream Soda…but where’s the bourbon?), and Shock Top (Bud’s answer to Blue Moon; easy to drink but not a really great witbier). I didn’t use the lovely wife’s second sample. Ultimately, the tour is very worthwhile, even if the beer isn’t.
We had some time to kill before our scheduled appearance at Schlafly’s Tap Room, so we headed to the Morgan Street Brewery, a brewpub “at the landing” (near the river in the shadow of the Gateway Arch…of course in St. Louis, what isn’t in the Arch’s shadow? The Arch is EVERYWHERE!). Everybody who was drinking beer ordered a sampler of the five beers on tap. Today, they were three wheats (honey, pumpkin, and dark), a golden pilsner, and Decades, which is a India Pale Lager.
That’s right, a lager. It wasn’t nearly as strong as most IPA’s I’ve had, but it was different. The hoppiness of an IPA in a lager. Basically, a watered down version of an IPA. Interesting and, for me, enjoyable. The Pumpkin Wheat was my favorite there and, so far, my favorite pumpkin beer. Full of pumpkin pie flavor and a full mouthfeel. Very satisfying.
We left Morgan Street and headed for Schlafly’s Tap Room. There are two Schlafly brewpubs in town. The Bottleworks contains their fancy, schmancy German bottling system. This is where the majority of their beers are brewed. They serve a California-style menu there. The Tap Room is their first brewery and currently produces seasonal beers that are served in kegs or in bombers. Their menu was more gastro-pub in style. Between the food and the wider variety of beers, we opted for the Tap Room.
Along with Dave and Barb, we were also joined by another of Mike and Gina’s friends, Nate. Mike of STLHops was suppose to join us, but he had to back out due to illness. Sorry Mike, maybe next time.
Our host for the afternoon was Mitch Turner, brand manager for Schlafly. We’ve often had the opportunity to talk with Mitch via email, but this was our first face-to-face meeting. He is an intelligent guy who knows the beer business, especially from a marketing and brand development/expansion point of view. And he is very entertaining to listen to. Even the lovely wife enjoyed our time at Schlafly.
Mitch spoke of many things, including the pending InBev purchase of A-B and how it will affect St. Louis and its residents. Even if you hate the beers they produce, you have to be somewhat concerned about this purchase. The jobs that could be lost (especially the better paying jobs) and the philanthropic concerns in St. Louis could be felt all over town.
He spoke of a Schlafly employee who is married to a front office A-B employee. She may lose her job, and since there isn’t any other jobs like that in St. Louis, it is possible that Schlafly will lose an employee if the family moves. Negative impacts on St. Louis are felt by all.
But the InBev/A-B merger has prompted Schlafly to accelerate their expansion schedule. This means a larger distribution area for Schlafly in the future (they are successfully expanding into Kansas) and a greater presence in Indiana.
At the bar, we sampled from their on-tap lineup of Pilsner, Hefeweizen, No. 15, Pale Ale, APA, ESB, Oatmeal Stout, Coffee Stout, Belgian Dubbel, Porter, and Christmas. I won't go into much detail on these beers as we have some St. Louis guests reviewing these beers very soon.
On top of the taps, Mitch brought out some of their Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout and Oak-Aged Barleywine. We've reviewed these beers before. This time, we sampled the 2008 and 2006 Barleywines and the 2008 and 2007 Imperial Stout.
The 2008 Barleywine was woody with a strong flavor. But aged, like the 2006, the scent becomes a complex blend of aromas and ends up with a smooth, but strong, caramel flavor. The 2008 Imperial Stout has a strong alcohol nose and taste while the 2007 mellowed and finished like butterscotch. I really enjoy tastings like these where fresh and aged are sampled side by side.
After the drinking and facility tour, we had dinner where I enjoyed a barbecued pork belly sandwich (pork fat, gottaluvit). And that point, we had consumed plenty of booze and called it quits for the night, retreating the hotel pool and hot tub.
There were plenty of things we didn't do while there: game at the new Busch Stadium, museums, visiting the top of the arch... There were other beer joints that we didn't get a chance to visit either. But we hit some good places. And we brought back a bunch of beer. It has been a couple of weeks since our trip, but I still occasionally look over my shoulder, half expecting the Arch to be following me...