A Craft Beer March Through The Arch: My Beercation To St. Louis Pt. 3
Of all the cities in the United States, St. Louis, Missouri, is probably most associated with beer because of its ties to the legend of Anheuser-Busch and Budweiser. The ethos behind the brand is polarizing, for sure. For some, Anheuser-Busch represents a narrative that is Americana. For others, the name represents a villain pitted against small craft breweries, wielding its power and resources in both noble and unseemly ways.
In a town dominated by beechwood-aged bubbles and clydesdales, it seems unlikely that a craft beer scene would be allowed to exist, much less flourish. However, like an ice-cold Bud, America also loves an underdog. Craft beer is not only a thing in St. Louis, but it is thriving and robust; perhaps one of the better craft beer scenes in the country.
Black Forest Kaffee Haus
I wake up relatively early so I can explore the neighborhood as I seek out some local coffee. My voice is still a bit hoarse from the exploits of the night before. I know that I need coffee and maybe a stroll through the neighborhood to get my brain fired up. I see that there are several places within 2 miles of our Airbnb so I set out for some caffeine. Truth be told, on a beercation, I love exploring new coffee shops almost as much as I love finding new breweries. Similar to craft breweries, indie coffee shops are all different and they all have a unique personality.
Google Maps leads me to a coffee shop that is closed, so I meander onto the next closest one after crossing the highway. My walk leads me to a Minnesota Street, and I take that as a sign that I am on the right track. Situated on the corner of the building, I find Black Forrest Kaffee Haus. I step in and the sun is bathing the front of the store in a calming light. I am there early and have the run of the place for a bit. The inside is like a Bavarian cottage complete with cuckoo clocks and the enticing aroma of freshly brewed coffee.
I settle into a table to relax and wake up. Sure enough, a steady trickle of people are coming in and soon, there is a bevy of folks clamoring to be caffeinated. Before long, Aaron, Jeff, and Hunter roll in and we start chatting. Aaron lays out our beercation itinerary for the day. Everybody gets some breakfast sandwiches and coffee to fuel up for a fun day of beercation stops.
Civil Life Brewing
My Kind of Place
Aaron told me months before the trip about a place in St. Louis that I would love. According to him, Civil Life Brewing would be my favorite brewery visit of the beercation because of the plethora of British-style beers they feature. As we were planning out our brewery visits, Civil Life was moved to Sunday because Alfie told us that they have a fun Soup Sundays event where Civil Life serves different soups and bread from a local bakery. So, it is our first stop of the day for lunch and as many British-style beers that I can handle.
In the car on the drive down as we traversed the rolling hills of Iowa, Aaron also mentioned that Civil Life Brewing has an eclectic outdoor sculpture garden. This oasis of metal and whimsy was build in response to the Covid restrictions limiting visitors to only being able to sit outdoors. At one point, Peaches, the name of the giraffe, was taken. Luckily, Peaches is back along with all the other fun things in the Giraffic Park.
I know I am in the right place when I see a British mailbox at the entrance. We walk in and there is a lot of open space with plenty of tables. There is an outdoor window with a tap list that immediately gets my heart palpitating. So many wonderful options to drink. I am thankful that they do half-pints so that I can try a lot of different things. I decide on an African Peanut Stew for my lunch.
The soup comes out fast and it is sensory overload. Suddenly, a bouquet of drool-inducing aromas are wafting out of the bowl and into my heart. The soups has a comforting level of heat to it. There is also a diversity of textures from the velvety soup to the vegetables and peanuts in the soup. The crusty bread is a delectable pairing with the soup. As the sun beats down on us, we just smile and enjoy where we are. Such a wonderful beercation moment shared among friends is what makes life worth living. Beer can bring people together in amazing ways if you give it a chance.
Beercation at the pub!
I start with the British Bitter on cask. It is absolutely wonderful and familiar. I have never been to a pub in Britain. However, I use the spectacular memories of cask beer at Hogshead Brewery in Denver as the bar against which all other cask beers I drink are measured. I am happy to say that this British Bitter is a fantastic example of this style done well. I love the aroma of the hops and the bitterness and malt balance in the beer is sensational.
To cask or not to cask, that is the question…
As the moments pass, so do more beers. After enjoying the British Bitter on cask, I want to try it on CO2. On CO2, this beer is a bit brighter and sharper but still delicious. After that, I move onto the ESB. At 5.1% ABV, the ESB is slightly stronger than the British Bitter which is 4.2% ABV. At the low octane levels of these beers, they are perfect options for starting the day.
From there it is on to the Burton on Holt, a pub ale. This is balanced beer with big flavors. I like how the earthy and floral nature of the hops balance out the roasty malt character in this beer. Finally, it is the Festival Mild ale at 4.8% ABV. This beer has a lot of dark leather, dark fruits, and a hint of coffee. It is on the higher end of what an English Dark Mild should be, but I am certainly not complaining.
A true pub feel at Civil Life brewing
I make my way inside to take a look at the indoor area. There is a huge pub vibe at this place. I cannot believe I am saying this, but I kind of wish it was raining so we could have sat inside. Oh well, I will have to come back in the winter. We are finishing off of our beers and it is time to go.
Jake Hafner, the owner of Civil Life Brewing, has created something truly special. Their slogan is “Be civil, be kind,” and that is something the world needs more of. I cannot wait until I get to come back and enjoy the beers here. My experience at Civil Life was a highlight of my trip.
2nd Shift Brewing Company
Pets and Pints-A Sunday at 2nd shift brewing
Now, we are only 2nd Shift Brewing to meet up with Alfie. I am hoping to meet the dynamic duo of Steve and Libby Crider, who own and operate this fantastic St. Louis craft brewery. There is also a considerable amount of excitement centered around being able to try the beers at 2nd Shift Brewing. For years, Aaron has waxed poetic about 2nd Shift Brewing’s beers the way a man coming out of the desert talks about air conditioning. It is safe to say that the fervor has rubbed off on me, and I am giddy to see the beers for myself.
We get in an Uber and it is a short drive to 2nd Shift Brewing. We arrive and there is a craft market happening. There are craft booths set up throughout the brewery. I am digging the energy about the place. We begin walking around and I see a brewery parrot named Otis! Yes, you read that right. I have seen brewery cats but never a brewery parrot. Oh, and 2nd Shift Brewing also has a brewery cat named Achilles!
Ok, enough about the brewery animals, let’s get to what is pouring! I am happy to see that Technical Ecstasy, 2nd Shift Brewing’s Czech Pilsner is on tap. Alfie pours me a fresh one and it is sublime. A wonderful aroma of floral hops along with a cracker malt character that drinks supremely crisp. I approve!
A Charming Beer Host
We sit down and Steve and Libby come from their home to chat with us. Steve and Libby actually live on the premises with their kids. A little interesting wrinkle in our beercation visit is that, for a spell, their son wanders away and nobody can find him in the brewery. After a while, someone locates him in the hop cooler. This dude is like a mischievous lemur! He climbed up on the shelves and was in amongst the bags of Simcoe. With the lost child crisis averted, we get to talking about beer.
A Master Storyteller
One of the magical things that can happens on a beercation is that you meet a lot of characters. Steve Crider definitely fits the mold of a craft beer character. Appearance-wise, Steve is what you would get if you combined Gandalf from Lord of the Rings and with a Grateful Dead fan with a southern drawl. Steve is hospitable and gracious.
Steve also has quite a way with words. He regales us with a hilarious tale of someone at the Craft Brewers Conference trying to sell him a brew system with some fancy features. He used some colorful and unique descriptors that were more akin to a romance novel than a brewhouse instruction manual to mimic what the salesperson said the brewhouse would be able to do. Jeff, Aaron, and Hunter, along with myself were in stitches as we chatted with Steve and Alfie. Another fun fact about Steve Crider is that he is one of the most prolific drinkers of Stag beer. It was so nice of Steve and Libby to spend some time with us. They are both amazing humans who are putting a ton of passion into 2nd Shift Brewing.
After the Czech Pilsner, I go for the Kölsch. It is really hitting on all the cylinders and the perfect beer to go along with laughter and enjoyment of our beercation. As the conversation rolls on, the beers keep rotating. Everyone is enjoying themselves and the beers. I move onto the Art of Neurosis IPA. This IPA is a classic example of how we all fell in love with IPAs. Clean, bright, and a lot of bitter balance to make it a hop-lover’s favorite.
As time does when one is having fun, the minutes are flying by. It is about that time to mosey on to the next location which is Urban Chestnut Brewing. We say our goodbyes and head out to our Uber over to the next stop.
Urban Chestnut Brewing-The Grove Bierhall
It is just unfair to walk into Urban Chestnut under the pretext that you only have about 45 minutes to spend there. The breadth of wonderment that is available at this brewery is jaw-dropping. Of course, I am most excited for the Zwickel, which is an unfiltered Bavarian lager, but that is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to refreshing, classically-brewed beer styles at Urban Chestnut.
Beercation-worthy, the Urban Chestnut Zwickel
Urban Chestnut has two locations in St. Louis and one in Germany. We are at The Grove Bierhall, Urban Chestnut’s main production and packaging facility. When I see 21 different beers on tap, at least 14 of which I want to run away with to the wine country, I know this is going to be a wonderful visit. I order a full pour of the Zwickel and begin making the most of my time here. I am running around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to take pictures, drink my Zwickel, and not pass out from all the excitement.
The Zwickel is a liquid dream; perfect for me in all the ways. I love the bready malt flavors and the crisp finish. The floral and herbal character of the Hallertau Mittelfruh hops are really what make this beer special to me. I could drink this all day long, which is a shame because we have such a short time to spend here.
Short Pours Save the day
The bartender could sense I was in the throes of an existential crisis of too much choice and not enough time. She kindly meets my feverish eyes and frazzled demeanor with a calming glance and says, “We also do small pours.” Well, that is music to my ears. My heart rate drops, and I order a Konami Japanese Lager and a Balkan Treat Box Helles. The sands are moving through the beercation hourglass faster than I want them to do so. I realize that I will need to come back here again. I find myself saying that at every stop. Aaron gives the 5 minute warning that our Uber is on the way. I finish my last sips of delicious Urban Chestnut beer, and we head out.
Our 4th brewery stop is more a visit of necessity. We are at Modern Brewery where the food is highly recommended. In fact, I would be lying if I said that the beer was the highlight. That doesn’t mean that the beer was bad, it just means that the food was really good.
I ordered a King Oak Pils because it was low-octane and sticking with my theme of beers for the day. I also ordered buffalo wings. The wings came out crunchy, huge, and saucy. The sauce had just the right amount of spice and vinegar mixed in and that made them quite delectable. Aaron got a Brussels sprout salad that probably could have fed the entire St. Louis Cardinals squad. The food is hitting the spot. We also realize that if we are to continue to the night, it will have to be with a drink other than beer to get a change of pace.
A Beercation change of pace: Small Batch whiskey lounge
That change of pace is in the form of cocktails at Small Batch, a vegan restaurant and whiskey lounge. Aaron and Hunter decide to walk while Jeff and I get an Uber. Jeff and I are the first to arrive, and we sit down and begin perusing the list of things to drink. The place is quite swanky. They have a small but eclectic list of cocktails along with several local beers. I don’t see an Old Fashioned on the menu, but that is really what I am in the mood for. Luckily, the skilled bartender is able to whip one up for me. Aaron and Hunter arrive shortly after we get there and we occupy the seats at the bar.
Looking back, they should have been paying us to drink there because there aren’t that many other patrons here. Also, we are providing priceless beercation “we went to four breweries today” repartee for the bartenders to hear. Jeff and Aaron astutely spot a tap that is pouring problematically. Being the good humans that they are, Aaron and Jeff volunteer to help diagnose the problem.
The staff are quite flummoxed by this issue. In fact, they bring Jeff back into the bowels of the restaurant to check out the draft system. He adjusts the CO2, which is turned up way too high. That accounts for the fact that the beer was shooting out the tap like Old Faithful. The bartenders seemed ill-equipped to handle that issue on their own. I guess it is good luck that we ambled into their space. After a few more drinks, it is time to call it a day. Not a bad day’s work when you look back. We visited a coffee shop, four breweries, and one cocktail bar. Lord only knows what the rest of our time in St. Louis will provide!