100 Bottles of Beer
It’s been a long day. You’ve worked hard, and you’re looking forward to relaxing with a beer. Before you settle for a standard six-pack, though, take a look at Missouri artisan beer.
Beer variety within the country was vast and resembled Europe’s beer diversity before Prohibition. During Prohibition, however, small breweries didn’t survive. A handful of brew companies consolidated and began producing most of the nation’s beer, and the standard became a tame and mild-tasting lager. Beer lovers soon turned to home-brewing as a way to get their hands on the beer styles of other countries. As this newly adopted appreciation for craft beers developed microbreweries, which are breweries that produce 15,000 barrels or less per year, began popping up during the 1980s and 1990s.
While the term “microbrewery” originally denoted brewery size, it soon came to represent a new approach and attitude to beer making. Microbreweries took inspiration from European styles of brewing, which still had a tradition for artisan beers. Around this time, brew pubs also became popular.
Today, Missouri’s microbreweries and brew pubs offer quality and diversity to enthusiasts.
JUST BEER PLEASE: MICROBREWERIES
Growing up near the Anheuser-Busch headquarters in St. Louis instilled a love for the beer business early in Tony Caradonna. Along with his wife, Fran, Tony opened the O’Fallon Brewery in 2000. Known for its off-the-wall beer styles, like pumpkin and cherry chocolate, O’Fallon Brewery has five flagship beers offered year-round. Its four seasonal beers give the owners a chance to play with ingredients and recipes. One of its most popular is the summer Wheach beer, a smooth blend of wheat beer and peaches.
Coming up with beer flavors is usually Tony’s job, but Brian Owens, O’Fallon’s brewmaster, develops the recipes and executes the beer brewing. Brian says he gets to do the fun part of actually designing the beer. After putting together pilot batches, Brian tests the new flavors to see if they work. Then, it’s just a matter of brewing larger batches and getting it out for the public.
Production for 2010 was 7,000 barrels, Brian says. Most of what is brewed in O’Fallon is draft beers, which accounts for close to 30 percent of the brewery’s sales. O’Fallon’s beers can be found on tap in the St. Louis area, but there are some restaurants and bars that serve it in Columbia and Kansas City, too. Expanding the brewery’s reach while holding on to the passion behind making quality beer is O’Fallon’s top priority.
“I don’t ever want this to be a beer factory, where it’s just a job, and we press a button and then walk away,” Brian says. “Staying close to the product and the beer is important to all of us here.”
This philosophy is the cornerstone behind most microbreweries, including another Missouri-based brewery. Tucked away on the Hermann Wine Trail, Tin Mill Brewery is a relatively new player to the Missouri microbrewery game. Natasha Phillips, manager of Tin Mill, says the draw in German-influenced Hermann is first to its wineries. “The German heritage runs deep with beer, though,” Natasha says. “So we opened up thinking it was a good place for a brewery since Germany cultivated the art of making beer. Now we’ve been here long enough that we get people coming just for the brewery.”
Tin Mill Brewery is quickly becoming known for its German-style beers. The recipes, grain, and hops used are all from Germany. They brew mostly German lagers and a hefeweizen, which is an unfiltered wheat beer. Tin Mill beer is found mostly in the St. Louis area, rapidly expanding distribution is bringing it to bars, restaurants, and grocery stores throughout Missouri. “We want to get our beer out there,” Natasha says. “We stand behind our product, and we’d love for people to come in and give us a try.”
I’LL HAVE A BURGER, TOO: BREW PUBS
There isn’t anything better than a glass of fresh beer—unless, of course, you throw in a great meal and a relaxing, laid-back environment. That’s exactly what you’ll find in any of Missouri’s brew pubs. The incredibly fresh beer can’t be beat, and the settings are teeming with character. Brew pubs, like microbreweries, brew their own styles of craft beer, but instead of distributing the beer, they sell it on-site in a restaurant. Microbreweries, on the other hand, produce beer and then distribute it without the presence of a restaurant.
Having a restaurant attached to a brewery creates an interesting collaborative environment. Mike Mills, the brewer for Buckner in Cape Girardeau, works with the restaurant’s chef to tie the beer and food served together. Their honey wheat beer is a key ingredient in their beer-battered onion rings and pickles, and their raspberry wheat beer is used to add flavor in their raspberry vinaigrette. If a beer doesn’t work as an ingredient, they suggest food pairings so the flavors of the food and beer are brought out.
At Morgan Street Brewery and Restaurant in St. Louis, menu specials change to goalong with the beers being served, says Marc Gottfried, brew master for the restaurant. He recommends ordering the honey wheat beer with the honey-glazed salmon for a special meal full of flavor.
“When you come into a place like Morgan Street, you’re going to taste the difference,” Marc says. “You’re going to taste someone’s passion in our food and beer.”
Larry Goodwin, the brewer for Flat Branch Pub and Brewing in Columbia, seconds that sentiment. He warns against brew pubs placing priority on only one aspect of the experience though, saying there is a “steep learning curve” to the business. When brew pubs don’t make sure their beer, food, and service are stellar, it’s likely they won’t succeed, Larry says. He’s seen too many brew pubs fall flat because they don’t take the time to perfect all areas of the brew pub business, especially in regards to service.
Great service is something Mike feels is part of a brewer’s job. Getting to talk to the customers of the brew pub and being a part of their down time away from work and school is something he looks forward to.
“It’s about sitting down at the end of the day and enjoying a pint with a customer as you talk, whether it’s about beer, politics, or sports,” he says. “It’s that fellowship that comes with a pint glass in hand.”
And that’s really what beer is all about— kicking back with friends and enjoying yourself. Try it at one of Missouri’s microbreweries or brew pubs.
For a list of microbreweries and brew pubs around the state, click here.