ABV Invades STL: A Recap
We recently spent about 26 hours in St. Louis to pick up bottles of Perennial’s Barrel-Aged Abraxas and drink in as many breweries and beer bars as possible. The problem was that we could have stayed at any one of these places for double the time we actually did. So we missed a few destinations on our list (Urban Chestnut, Dressel’s, The Bridge, Mission Taco, Heavy Riff) but had a phenomenal experience. Here’s a recap of our stops in St. Louis, with pictures mostly provided by freelance iPhone photographer and industry schemer, Craig.
Perennial Artisan Ale
After sitting through some traffic (but getting excellent views of the Arch), we headed to south St. Louis to take care of our biggest responsibility at Perennial. Weaving through a few dusty roads beyond factories and warehouses, we come up to Perennial, which is in a large building that houses other businesses and what looked like condos.
Out front, the large, communal picnic tables were about half full, and it was an ideal day for a beer in the sun. Being the pale bridge trolls that we are, we decided to stay in the safety of the bar. (Actually, we had bottles to pick up and trades to complete, so the important business was inside.)
Inside, it was active yet it didn’t feel busy. Couples and families ate and imbibed while the daydreamy guitar of Real Estate shimmered under the chatter. From the open garage door, rays of sunlight stretched out over the warehouse floor. There was a bottle-share happening at a family-style table just steps from the doors leading into the brewery. Small groups of friends were gathering for the next brewery tour. It was eerily picturesque, in almost a catalog photoshoot kind of way. But that’s not a knock against it – I was instantly comfortable and loving the start of our trip.
For the first beer, I had a Hopfentea, a vibrantly fruity and tart Berliner Weiss with a distinct dry black tea finish. Craig completed one trade for a Saison du Fermier and then went to pick up a case of Barrel-Aged Abraxas as a proxy for several of his friends. (He would later reject my idea to sit in a hotel hot-tub full of BA Abraxas and film it for the website. Good proxying, Craig!) Rachel was very helpful and affable with Craig’s ridiculous haul, so thanks to her.
Next, I had an Aria: a pale ale with a touch of hop bite elegantly softened by the Brett yeast. Another trading partner, Nate, stopped by and offered recommendations for Civil Life and the Craft Beer Cellar – which we’d be very grateful for later.
We started to settle in, even though our list of destinations was lengthy. I ordered a Homefront, Perennial’s version of the Hero-benefitting IPA. It was a lively and fresh ordeal, with orange zest and citrus hops – truly a great summer beer. We finished up, loaded the coolers full of rare, expensive beer into the trunk of my compact car, and were on to the next destination.
The Civil Life Brewing Company
Just a short drive north, The Civil Life Brewing Company is marked up front by a beautiful archway and a lively beer garden. Opened in 2011, the brewery specializes in lower-ABV beers representing mostly traditional American, English and German styles. (Make sure you visit their hilarious website.) You walk in to the site of dart boards just off to the left of fenced-in fermenters and rows of kegs. It was such an interesting sight that we almost missed the door leading to the bar directly to our right. The inside area was moderately busy, and we pulled up seats at the bar while admiring the décor. The beer garden was fairly crowded. Parallel to the bar is another long, communal picnic-style table. (Is this a St. Louis thing? Or a hip, newer brewery thing?) Chalkboards line the walls and the bar (as that’s how your tab is kept). There’s a slightly ecclesiastic angle to the roof, somewhere between a classic German beer bar and a cleaner American Legion hall. Small pyramids of antique, flat-top beer cans are stacked in the small windows. There is an upstairs area that we did not explore.
We were happy to see that you could order half pints (all for $2.50 each!! Suck it, Chicago prices!) as we intended to drink as much as we could. Craig ordered the milk stout, and I had the rye pale ale. We sampled each others’ beers (don’t laugh). Both were remarkable in balance and just enough flavor; nothing cloying or overly aggressive. We found this to be true for all of the beers we sampled: the Dresselsbier Hoppy Wheat, the Big American Stout (at a tongue-in-cheek 6.5% ABV), Eric’s Special Beer (ESB), and the Amsterdam Goal!den Ale. There wasn’t really a standout beer because the whole experience of style-hopping and appreciating the handle they have on their portfolio was the standout. Everything was exemplary of style, which I found reminiscent of New Glarus’ six-pack offerings in their display of delicate balance and artistic finesse.
The bartenders were conversational and friendly, despite never pausing from their diligent work to please the customers. The vibe was that of a place I could be plastered to the bar stool for most of a day, and leave plastered in the backseat of a cab. As we left, out front it looked like they were smoking some sort of large meat item and it smelled incredible. In the end, my biggest regret of the whole trip was not procuring a few Civil Life growlers.
The Wine and Cheese Place
Our last stop before checking into the hotel was The Wine and Cheese Place in Clayton. Situated on a college campus (Go WUSTL Bears!), the store occupied the first floor of a much larger building. We were there to pick up beers for a future MO show and to enter the Side Project naming contest.
The overall selection was good, but we were hoping for a bit more Prairie, as they have been snatched away from our Illinoisan hands (come back, Shelton Bros!!) We did grab some key bottles, including 2nd Shift’s Katy and a 4 Hands Three Kings BA Coffee Tripel that we were told later was “rare-ish.” The cooler selection was formidable, despite the mixed six-pack section being lackluster. This seems to be equivalent to Binny’s in that it’s largely hit-or-miss. The staff was very friendly, and overall, it’d be on my regular beer hunting stops if I lived in St. Louis.
4 Hands Brewing
Once Busch Stadium was filled with Cards fans, we took a cab from our hotel over to 4 Hands Brewing, just a few blocks from the field. From my angle, only a painted wall with the 4 Hands logo indicated we were at the right place, but thank God we were – it was truly a great experience.
Heading in, you pass T-shirts, knick-knacks and cold beer for sale in a gift shop corner just off the of kitchen window. Large windows show off the inner workings of the brewery – and it is quite sizable. (We later spotted a bartender about 50 yards back, sitting on a big pile of malt bags, munching on a sandwich.) The beer list is scrawled on barrel staves, and a giant WarHammer sat amongst a small but well-chosen line-up of spirits. There is another large, communal table (WTF?) in the middle of the room. A few TVs on the walls quietly played the Cardinals game and the World Cup.
I started with the Resurrected IPA, which had a big hop presence with a mild malt middle and a great bitter finish forcing you to sip again and again. Craig enjoyed the tart sweetness of the Passion Fruit Prussia Berliner Weiss. Again, we had more friendly bartenders, offering recommendations for food and bars and letting me butt in to a brief discussion ofMxPx for some reason. Next, I had the World Cup, a Nelson Sauvin-hopped pale ale that has the beautiful white grape essence with just a touch of bitterness; light in body yet full-flavored. If it were available in cans or six-packs, it would easily be my favorite pale ale to session. We ordered pretzels, which were provided by The Fifth Wheel, a collaboration between Kevin Lemp of 4 Hands and Dave Bailey, owner of four other St. Louis-area restaurants including Bailey’s Range (which we’ll get to later) and The Bridge. They were more like small pretzel loaves, buttery and delicately salted, warm cake-like insides dipped in cheese or jalapeno mustard. Absolutely the best bar pretzels I’ve had – no hyperbole.
We ended our 4 Hands experience with the City of Dreams American Pale Ale. I usually try to switch styles, but the first two hoppy offerings were so on point that I had to try this one. It was certainly not a disappointment, but slightly inferior to the two previous: a more generously-hopped and golden-bodied pale ale with a good amount of tropical fruits. Atmosphere, beers, food – it was one of the better brewery experiences I’ve had and a must-stop if you’re visiting St. Louis (and they let me hold the WarHammer!)
International Tap House
Based on the 4 Hands bartenders’ recommendations, we took the brief walk to the International Tap House. We passed through an active area with some sort of children’s music fest happening in a large park. Bars and restaurants were buzzing with a moderate Saturday crowd on a beautiful summer night.
Entering iTap, you immediately notice the dim lighting and a long bar that was about half seated. There is a long tap list with a good amount of locals in addition great beers from all over the country. We took in some World Cup as two complete novices to the sport – we had to ask the bartender what CIV stood for (Côte d’Ivoire, FYI). I had an Odell IPA and Craig tasted the Schlafly Oatmeal stout – both above average for their style. It was a good atmosphere, but we were in need of food and had one place in mind.
We cabbed through the dispersing crowd of post-game Cardinals fans to get to Bailey’s Range. We made it before it filled up with hungry fans looking for a bite to soak up the Anheuser-Busch products consumed before the seventh inning. The menu features an impressive burger list with a variety of proteins to choose from, all “grass-fed and Missouri-raised.” They also advertise made-from-scratch ice cream and shakes, the sight of which wormed its way into my brain and brought us back for lunch the next day. The bar features 30 taps, all local: 2nd Shift, 4 Hands, Civil Life, Excel, Perenneial, Schlafly and Urban Chestnut. We could’ve had the ultimate St. Louis beer tasting all in this one spot!
The décor is very patchwork/yardsale style with large old window panes (that my wife would LOVE) hanging as partitions and antique milk cans serving as light shades. One continuous, long communal table (AGAIN!) was adorned with gorgeous exotic flowers and reserved for an incoming party of 100. Craig loved the lighting for elevating the artistic quality of his crappy iPhone photos.
We ordered our food and beers. I had the 2nd Shift Brew Cocky DIPA, which had a medium mouthfeel with a moderate malt presence, floral and grapefruit hops with an impressively bitter finish. It suffered from the time of night, as my palate was reaching critical mass, but it was one I would certainly drink again. Craig had the delicious Bailey’s/Perennial Chocolate Ale that may have only been slightly inferior to the 4 Hands Chocolate Milk Stout, but not by much. He also had the 2nd Shift Cat Spit Stout that he said was very good.
And then the real highlight came: the food. I’ve eaten a lot of passable veggie burgers, and I try not to complain, because it’s my choice. Being a vegetarian and a craft beer lover means accepting that you’ll eat a lot of appetizers, veggie burgers and salads when going to breweries or craft beer bars. But this Ozark veggie burger – using chickpeas instead of the overdone black bean-patty – was outstanding. Topped with carmelized onions, goat cheese and mushrooms, it was definitively the best veggie burger I’ve ever had. But more importantly to 96% of our readers and listeners, the meat-based burgers were also outrageously good, according to Craig. His American Bison burger with a mac’n’cheese patty was a gorgeous site to be seen, and a meal he would talk about for the remainder of the trip. The fries were authentic and fresh-tasting rather than frozen, with a variety of unique and tasty dipping sauces to choose from.
[The next day, when considering our lunch options, we decided not to diversify – just stick with what’s awesome. We went BACK to Bailey’s Range for lunch, and it was a damn fantastic idea. Craig had the Scotch Egg Beef burger and was just as impressed. I had a more straightforward veggie burger, which was excellent but not quite as good as the Ozark. The real stars of lunch were the shakes. You choose two ice creams to be blended into a shake; I went simple with a Vanilla and Strawberry, and Craig went wild with Cookies and Cream and White Chocolate Raspberry. At the risk of sounding like a purely hyperbolic reviewer, I must say that it was the best strawberry milkshake I’ve had. And I consider myself a minor connoisseur of strawberry milkshakes.]
This is one of those places I would eat at no less than twice a month if it were within driving distance, and a place that will be a must-visit upon my next visit to St. Louis.
Schlafly Tap Room
Later in the night, palates reeling from an assault of outstanding local beers and killer burgers from Bailey’s, we wandered into Schlafly’s Tap Room at the tail end of a live band’s performance. There was a good crowd, mostly in the 35-49 demographic, and we approached one less-crowded bar as it was closing down. Thinking of my love for the Forbidden Root Sublime Ginger, I decided to try the Hard Ginger beer. Craig ordered the Raspberry Hefeweizen. The ginger beer was overly sweet, and the ginger was so strong it burned my lips and made me incapable of tasting anything else. I sipped on Craig’s hefe for relief, and he bravely took on my ginger beer and enjoyed it much more than myself. The Raspberry Hefeweizen was very tasty and easier on the palate, thankfully without aggressive sweetness. We were fighting a long day of driving then drinking (order is very important, folks!), so despite a long list of other beers I would’ve tried, it was likely that I wouldn’t have even been able to enjoy them. We called it a night and walked back to the hotel.
Craft Beer Cellar
The next day, after our Bailey’s lunch, we took the tip of Nate and a few other locals to check out this new shop out near Clayton. Passing the large tinted windows (Must. Preserve. Freshness!), you open up to a modern yet sparsely decorated beer shop. The organization system is top notch, with a focus on regions. All beers are available individually, which is perfect for a few guys trying to buy beers for future podcast episodes (and limited trunk space due to the BA Abraxas and other purchases).
Brandon, the “Hoperations Manager”, was talking with everyone there, showing off his Cicerone knowledge. The selection was impressive and the coolers were filled with great local beer, with an emphasis on keeping the hoppier options preserved. Brandon chatted with us for some time at the register, and we were gushingly complimentary when it came to his shop. We were both impressed. It has the feel of Chicago’s Beer Temple or West Lakeview Liquors, where it’s obviously run by knowledgeable beer people and is designed to cater to both craft beer junkies and those just breaking into the subculture. It would be easy to spend a paycheck here.
Overall, St. Louis exceeded expectations in every way. Not just the home of Nelly and the St. Lunatics, there is an expanding culture of craft beer, not unlike many major cities all over the U.S. But the general positivity and accessibility of our experiences is one you aren’t necessarily guaranteed in other cities. Chicagoans: make the drive, and you won’t regret it.