16 July 2012

Action Packed Weekend: St. Louis (Part 1 of 2)

Because we often head back to the St. Louis area to visit family and friends, it's not unusual for Gina and me to speak fondly of the city while in the company of friends. With a sunny summer weekend staring us in the eye, we decided it was time to share the city with some of our Indianapolis friends. Hoping to back up all our previous enthusiasm, we planned to pack as much in as possible.

Our first St. Louis stop was in the Soulard neighborhood, at Bogart's Smoke House, a "Memphis-style" BBQ joint opened in 2011 by former Supersmokers and Pappy's Smokehouse pit master Skip Steele. Picking Bogart's was a difficult decision - Pappy's Smokehouse does equally excellent BBQ - but a previous visit a couple months back convinced me that Bogart's was the right choice.

My first taste at Pappy's (and equally so at Bogart's) was a revelation - the jump in quality from my previous BBQ experiences to what the folks at Pappy's/Bogart's do was as eye-opening as the first time I had Chimay after a lifetime of drinking Miller Lite. While there are many foods that can amaze and satisfy, I've found that Bogart's side of ribs might be the most rewarding and genuinely tasty food I have ever eaten.

With a whole Friday afternoon in front of us, we headed west to the Midtown Alley neighborhood and settled into drinks at Urban Chestnut Brewing Company. Opened in early 2011 by former Anheuser-Busch brewmaster Florian Kuplent, the brewery occupies a former garage space and recently added an outdoor biergarten. Urban Chestnut divides their beer into two series: Revolution, focusing on "modern American" beers, and Reverence, focusing on "timeless European beer styles". Our group worked our way through five beers, including Old Tjikko, a spruce beer not unlike Sun King's Norwegian Blue, and a shared Thrale's bourbon barrel aged imperial stout.

Urban Chestnut is a brewery unlike any in Indiana, which might be interpreted as a strong German influence (the brewmaster is German, after all) showing up in all the beers we sampled. These were not beers that were light of body, but instead full, filling, and hearty. A few selections from the Urban Chestnut have recently made their way to Indianapolis - look for their Zwickel and Winged Nut in better beer bars such as Shallos or Tavern on South.

Hoping to eventually catch up with some friends, we headed back downtown for a quick pint or two at the Schlafly tap room. Visits to the tap room often feel like a homecoming for Gina and me, as we've made many friends in our many visits over the years. We were greeted at the door by Schlafly brewmaster Stephen Hale (he wasn't waiting for us, it was just dumb luck), who welcomed us back.

Schlafly has always been very good to Hoosier Beer Geek - not just with insider tours and hospitality, but also with consistently excellent beer. This visit was no exception, as we grabbed pints of their exceptional American IPA, a local favorite and fast-mover when available in Indianapolis. I also tried what was listed as "80", a full flavored Scottish 80 shilling style ale that came in below 4% ABV. My last sips were from a shared pour of a bourbon barrel aged doppelbock that I would have been more than happy to bring home with me.

Indianapolis has no brewery like Schlafly - a "face of St. Louis craft beer" brewery that's as almost as well known to Average Joe St. Louisian as it is to the dedicated craft beer drinker - though there are a few Indy breweries working their way towards that crown. Although Schlafly has been playing leader in St. Louis for over 20 years, they've continued to grow at a significant pace, and remain as relevant today - and perhaps even more so - than ever.

Hoping to catch up with some St. Louis legends - Mike Sweeney, Eric Hildebrandt, and Andrew Mark Veety, we scurried back to Soulard to make a visit to the International Tap House (ITap), where we also sort of met/looked at Bill Burge - 3 of the 4 being responsible for the excellent podcast StewedSTL.

ITap is sort of like what would happen if you combined Indy's Twenty Tap with the Tomlinson Tap Room and a more extensive version of Shallos bottle selection - a very large space with a ton of taps and bottles that also allows for outside food to be carried in. Of course the highlight to any ITap visit is finding something you haven't had before - a regular occurrence with a menu this large. Having had a beer and after catching up, we made our way to dinner.

Our fifth stop of the day brought us to Bailey's Range, a "burger and shake restaurant where everything is made from scratch using only 100% grass fed Missouri range beer" (their copy). We were met at the door by the soothing sounds of a blaring fire alarm - staff promised that nothing was on fire and that it would be turned off as soon as they found out how - so we took a seat at the end of the long communal table that fills the first floor.

Range's commitment to local carries through in their beer menu - 30 taps filled with an almost 100% local selection (the lone outlier on our visit was Deschutes Twilight), as well as an extensive cane sugar soda selection featuring the likes of Fitzs Root Beer and Ski (a staple of my youth).

Taking a short break from the beer (but not the alcohol), I ordered up the Bailey's Horchata, a shake made with cinnamon ice cream, RumChata, and vanilla vodka. Others at the table ordered from Bailey's Boozy Ice Tea and Lemonade menus, and all of us were happy with our selections. Paired with a collection of burgers ranging from the Buzzed (an espresso rubbed burger topped with apples, diced onions, bacon, and blue cheese) to a temporary selection called The American (beef, grilled cheese patty, I forget what else), we left with our bellies over-full and happy about it.

Slightly unable to walk now (thanks to our full bellies) and teased by a tweet, we attempted to catch up with the namesake behind the beer known as Carlbock at the Civil Life Brewing Company.

Civil Life was opened during the great St. Louis brewery explosion of 2011 (they're happening everywhere) in a warehouse/garage type space formerly used as a newspaper distribution center. The space was divided in half, allowing the back room to serve as the brewing area while adding a very accommodating pub space to the front. It's one of the more unusual spaces I've been to, looking almost as if an old English-style brewpub suddenly appeared in the middle of a garage. But it's an impressive and cozy space, with multiple levels, a biergarten, and an indoor balcony overlooking a game area. Civil Life focuses on close-to-session ales (around 5% ABV), with a lineup that leans more toward the traditional side of brewing. While we didn't find Carl, we did find tasty beer and comfortable chairs.

Being pretty exhausted from a full day, we headed back to our hotel in the Central West End, for a quick rest before a reasonably forgettable nightcap at a neighborhood bar. Then to bed - another day calling.

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