17 July 2012

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

With one full day of exploration behind us, we decided it might be best to start our second day in St. Louis at the brewery with the earliest opening hours. Luckily 4 Hands Brewery had recently begun a Saturday brunch program, so in addition to our beginning beers - the excellent Contact High summer wheat - we were served a ham steak with basil pesto and hearty swiss frittata that provided a foundation for the day ahead.

In addition to the excellent beers made by Will Johnston and Martin Toft, 4 Hands owner Kevin Lemp (the other 3 hands in 4 hands are his wife and two children) has put together an excellent space, with large windows to display the inner brewery workings, a large and comfortable bar, and a centerpiece table made from a recovered warehouse door. The vibe lies somewhere between Three Floyds and the Tomlinson Tap Room, with a lot more light let in.

When you're drinking beer, the next best thing is another beer. We headed south and continued our adventure at Perennial Artisan Ales, another recently opened St. Louis brewery. Perennial's focus is on local, seasonal, and organic ingredients - not an unusual path in better beer. But where Perennial succeeds is in using these ingredients not so much as a compliment, but in many cases, as a highlight.

While my favorite of the Perennial lineup is the excellent Saison de Lis - a beer made with chamomile flowers - what caught my eye this time was the Chocolate Ale - a slightly unusual take on chocolate beer that features an amber base (instead of the usual porter or stout) with cocoa nibs added to bring the chocolate favors forward.

Like many breweries, Perennial is housed in converted warehouse space. The tasting room is not unlike a combination of the space that houses Bearcats in Indianapolis' Stutz building, with the copper bars and tables from Brugge Brasserie. The interior is bright, refined, and inviting - a suitable compliment to the beer.

At this point in our day we had an empty space to fill, and after a short conversation I thought it might be best to show our guests the other side of St. Louis beer - with an Anheuser-Busch brewery tour.

The AB tour starts in a large lobby, filled with televisions displaying ads from the Ab lineup in addition to multiple display cases filled with ephemera from throughout the company's history. The early introduction makes a point of noting the free samples after the tour - in fact, you can make one stop on the tour and immediately return to the tasting room to collect your samples.

Despite the 100+ degree temperatures, we took the entire indoor/outdoor tour. A highlight was the fermentation room - a space stacked with 64 tanks producing 3600 barrels of beer every 21 -30 days. To compare volume to a successful local brewery - Flat12: This means that in just one month AB produces 57.6 times as much beer as Flat12 produced in total in 2011 - in just one room in a massive complex that is echoed by additional plants throughout the world.

After our tour we did take advantage of those free samples - Shock Top Wheat IPA and Lemon Shandy, Stella Artois (now an AB/Inbev beer), and something else forgettable made their way to our hands. None were particularly satisfying, but it's hard to argue with free.

Next up was a stop to 33, a wine bar in the Lafayette Square neighborhood. Though most folks might think of 33 as place for wine - a full cellar and extensive list are definitely defining elements of the menu - 33 also features features a great beer list, with well thought out and humorous descriptions and explanations of each beer. 33 is a blink-and-you'll-miss-it space - preferring to build a word-of-mouth business, the owners decided against any sort of outside signage. If you find yourself in a long white room with bubbles hanging from the ceiling, you're probably in the right place.

After dinner at the excellent (but non-noted) Pi, we finished our day at the City Museum. Opened in October 1997 by St. Louis artist Bob Cassilly, the museum isn't really a museum at all.
"(The City Museum is) an eclectic mixture of children’s playground, funhouse, surrealistic pavilion, and architectural marvel made out of unique, found objects."
The end result is a complex housing anything and everything weird, a skatepark, a log cabin, a rooftop Ferris wheel, a giant praying mantis, and ten stories of tunnels/caverns that have the magical ability to trick full-grown adults into crawling around on their hands and knees in search of a ten-story slide.

The museum seems dangerous - it's an at-your-own-risk space - its "Enchanted Caves" have the ability to separate children from adults as the spaces get narrower and more difficult to navigate. It's the ultimate fix for the overbearing helicopter parent - every surface potentially dangerous, metal and wire and concert working together to provide endless entertainment. Visiting as we did - late on a Saturday night - the lights are turned low, the air was hot, and we sweated and crawled our way through the first five stories before jumping on a series of spiral slides in "the shoe shaft" area (click here for a panorama and imagine the entire area shrouded in darkness) in an effort to find our way back out.

It's a magic space, one that echoes what's happening in St. Louis these days - things that are surprising, fun, and grown up all at once. It was a perfect finish to our weekend - one we hope to repeat with more friends in the future.

Click here to read Part 1 of this 2 part series

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