The Rare Beer Tasting Event that is held each year as part of GABF in Denver is actually a fundraising event for the Pints for Prostates campaign. Along with sampling many rare beers, a silent auction is also held and breweries donate tons of items for this great cause, including clothing, brewery tours, glassware, neon signs, and more. Perennial Artisan Ales in St. Louis donated a “Brew Day.” The winner would have the opportunity to spend a day brewing with the brewmasters at Perennial. As huge fans of Perennial, (Devil’s Heart of Gold, Peace Offering, Homefront IPA, and Abraxas) this was the silent auction item that we wanted the most. Thankfully, we had the highest bid and a date of January 17 was chosen. A group of 6, including my husband and I, were headed to St. Louis.
Having purchased many great beers from St. Louis in the past, we knew automatically that we were going to be visiting multiple breweries. Our can’t-miss breweries were Perennial, 4 Hands, Schlafly and 2nd Shift. All of the other breweries we visited (Urban Chestnut, Civil Life, Square One and Buffalo Brewing) were icing on the cake, for the most part. Each brewery visit is described in further detail below.
As we ate our dinner at an amazing pizza place, the Good Pie, we noticed a brewery across the street. While in St. Louis, one must try all breweries within walking distance, or so we thought. We ventured over expecting nothing really great. And that is what we got. 5 beers were on tap. The handles were these kind of cartoony, dilapidated Southwestern symbols – a cactus, a gun, an armadillo with a chipped head, etc.) . Honestly, not one beer was worth having any more than a sample of. However, the bar was empty on a Friday night and the owner was standing at the end of the bar staring at us. After each sample sip, he asked our opinion. We felt obligated to have at least a glass of something, although no one finished. Skip it if you are in St. Louis. Even though it is across the street from one of the best pizza places I have eaten, do not walk the 50 feet to its doors. Even though it is next to Pappy’s, which is heralded as one of the best barbecue joints in St. Louis, skip it. Trust me. It isn’t worth the calories or fullness.
This brewery/distillery was the only one open at 11:00 AM on Saturday morning. So we went. Most of the group ordered a 4 flavor sampler. I stuck to a pint of Maple Stout. I probably made the best choice. The Maple Stout was good. It wasn’t really mapley, resembling more of a coffee stout, but the flavor was good. The other beers weren’t great and there was a touch of diacetyl in many of them. The bar is beautiful and the food looked really good, but this isn’t a must-see place if you are visiting only for the beer.
This interesting bar resembles a beer garden inside and out. The long bench tables force you to sit next to strangers, which is fine because strangers who drink craft beer are usually the best kinds of strangers to meet. The beers were pretty average. Nothing really stood out. The most fun was the old-fashioned games that were readily available. Connect 4 was our game of choice for the first 30 minutes, (which also included multiple attempts to build a tower out of all of the Connect 4 pieces, which were made out of wood and proved to be impossible). Until a game of Pick Up Sticks was discovered. I only had a half pint of beer while there, but we remained at the Civil Life in a state of happiness for more than an hour because of our intense game-playing activities. So go for the game-playing and the chance to meet some fun people and less for the beer.
If you like traditional German beers, this is the brewery for you. I won’t go into too much detail as Hop Bunny T may be writing a more thorough review, but I do want to mention the Zwickel. This may be the best Keller beer I have ever tasted. As someone who is not typically a fan of German beers, I loved the Zwickel. Loved!
Our experience at Schlafly was heightened by the knowledge and friendliness of our bartender, Paul. Paul has been working at Schlafly for over 21 years. Talk about brewery loyalty. Schlafly must know how to treat its employees right. About 12 beers were on tap. Some were hits and some were misses. I had the coffee stout to start, which was pretty good. It may not be the best coffee beer I’ve tasted, but it was solid. I also really enjoyed their Tripel and their Single Malt Scottish Style Ale. The Scottish Ale was hot though. You really have to enjoy scotch if you want to drink that beer. The favorite of the evening by far was the Vintage Barleywine. This isn’t their regular barleywine. The Vintage had a cherry characteristic that took out some of the sweetness that I don’t enjoy in barleywines. If you ever have the chance to get your hands on this beer, take it. It was fantastic. Visit Schlafly. With over 12 selections, you are sure to find something that you enjoy. And hopefully Paul is working. But don’t talk to him if you are tired. His melodious voice left at least half of us falling asleep as we strained to listen.
On a whim, we decided to visit the Bottleworks restaurant that is run by Schlafly. Having just been to the actual brewery the night before, we weren’t sure if the tap offerings would be similar or not and almost didn’t stop. Boy, am I glad that we did. The bar had about 8 beers on tap. Half of them were different from the brewery. I started with a Pumpkin Pie Cider. My belly was feeling very full after all of the beer drinking and eating we had been doing and I thought a cider may be a good starter. As most ciders, it was very sweet, but it was delicious. It was the perfect choice for me at that point in time. Especially because the next beer blew my mind. I hesitate to say this in writing, but it might be the best beer of the vacation. Schlafly decided to experiment with some Rakau hops in their session ale. What an amazing flavor these hops bring to the table. Rakau hops are found in New Zealand. They are described as having grapefruit and mango characteristics. I didn’t get that at all. I tasted a deep earthiness in a powerful way. For a session beer, the flavor in this beer was over the top. I wish we would have stayed longer. I would have ordered more of this beer. I believe it is only available at the brewery and Bottleworks for now. I’m not sure how you can get your hands on it or what will happen as it gets some age on it, but I would try it if you can.
We had ordered some 2nd Shift beers and always enjoyed the ones that we had tried, so we were excited to visit this brewery and taste what was on tap. 2nd Shift is located in the strangest location I have ever seen. It is on the grounds of a Conference Center and housed in an old-western themed town in what resembles a saloon. Thank goodness I took pictures or no one would believe me. It is over an hour away from St. Louis, but I definitely think it was worth the drive. Don’t go expecting amazing food. We had nachos since we thought we would be there for a couple of hours and just wanted a snack. Pretty average nachos that you could make at home. As the night wore on, Steve did order a piece of blackberry pie. I highly recommend that. But this isn’t why you go to a brewery anyway. Go for the beer and the conversation. Lisa greeted us as we walked in and immediately offered us the sample flight. She poured a 1 oz. sample of each beer on tap and gave a description of each. This was repeated multiple times for just about every customer who entered after we did. While it was always offered, not everyone took advantage of this free opportunity to try all of the beers and choose a favorite. The Katy, which is a saison aged 3 months in oak barrels with brettanomyces was amazing. I am a huge brett fan anyway, but I really enjoyed this one, as evidenced by my 3 glasses of it. I also really enjoyed the Ratsalad and the Brew Cocky. Both are IPAs with tons of flavor. Cat Spit Stout is another good choice, and as a stout at only 5% ABV, you can drink multiples. If you are a wit fan, the Hibiscus Wit was pretty tasty as well. The only one that I didn’t love and I badly wanted to was the A.P.P, Albino Pygmy Puma. There just wasn’t enough flavor for me, especially compared to the other offerings. Not only was the beer good, but Lisa, and her daughter Sam, were so much fun. We stayed hours later than we had planned and I feel as if I made friends for life. Drive out to 2nd Shift. You won’t regret it.
4 Hands was one of our favorites. I can’t even really explain why. Maybe it is because the beer was great and Tattoo Steve, the bartender that day, went out of his way to be kind. I had the Pigasus. While I’m not normally a Smoked Porter fan, I had heard about this beer and we had just bought a bottle to bring home with us. I am glad that we did, because I adored this beer. A smoked, rye, maple porter is the official definition of Pigasus. It seems as if the rye and the maple syrup dilute the smokiness so it is not overpowering at all. It is a perfect balance of smoky and barely sweet, with a sharp rye bite at the finish. Steve had the Home and No Place Like Home, which were both brewed for the 1 year anniversary of 4 Hands. Home is a double red that tastes like no red I’ve ever had before. It pours so dark, that I didn’t even realize it was a red until I read the description card. No Place Like Home is the barrel-aged version, aged in Cabernet barrels for 6 months. Both beers were excellent, but the NPLH was the better of the two as barrel-aged beers usually are, in my opinion. 4 Hands is definitely a brewery you should stop at if you are in St. Louis. Try a sampler. Each beer is poured alongside a description card to ensure that the drinker knows everything about the beer, its flavors, and pairing suggestions. And I will definitely be purchasing a war hammer for my office.
I know that we will have a different experience than most people since we were there to brew and had already set up our arrival with Phil, the head brewer. But I can’t help but feel that the guys at Perennial are good-people and would do for anyone what they did for us. Our morning started out by grabbing a beer from the taps. It was about 10:00 AM. I’m on a huge brett kick at the moment, so I chose the Aria. I haven’t seen this in bottles yet, but it was spectacular. We then were given a tour of the brewery and watched as the guys waited for the volume to come up on one batch and moved kegs and grain bags in preparation of their brewing of the Saison de Lis and the bottling of BA Abraxas. We unfortunately were a few days shy of the BA Abraxas release. If Steve could have stayed in St. Louis for 4 extra days, I am sure that he would have and I would have been flying home alone. We honestly didn’t do much brewing. Let me rephrase…we honestly did no brewing. While we drank our first beer in the actual brewery, we headed to the bar for our next beer and never left again. Instead we spent almost the entire day drinking what was available on tap (the Aria, Abraxas, and IPA #5 were my favorites) and playing Loaded Questions with Phil. We learned a lot about the brewery and Phil’s career as a brewer. I am ecstatic and grateful that we were able to experience Perennial in this way. The brewers were gracious enough to allow us to sample a tiny amount of the BA Abraxas before it was bottled. I know that it most likely changed a bit before it was bottled, but wow. That’s all I can say. Wow! Abraxas is a spicy Mexican Chocolate Stout. The Barrel-Aged version is aged in Rittenhouse Rye barrels. Doesn’t that sound amazing? Well, it tastes just as amazing. If you can score a bottle, do it. Visit Perennial. Even if you don’t get to brew, the beer is fantastic and the people are a lot of fun.
So that’s it. That’s our trip. St. Louis is a great beer scene. The breweries are mostly young, other than Budweiser of course, but overall make great quality craft beer. And while I didn’t talk a ton about the food, that scene is great as well. I recommend the following:
Park Avenue Coffee (gooey cake makes a great breakfast)
The Good Pie (holy cow! wood-fired pizzas)
City Coffee (tons of options for crepes; huge crepes)
Southwest Diner (Southwest breakfast options – Huevos Rancheros were great and the Fiery Grits special was wonderful)
Rooster (scramble and crepe options- all locally raised)