A Craftbeer March Through the Arch: My St. Louis Beercation Pt. 4

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.

I don’t know how things could possibly get better than the beercation Sunday Funday we had in St. Louis. Yet, I know we are up to the task of trying to see how things can go. Hunter had to fly back to Minnesota and so the Fellowship of the Pint is down to three. Don’t worry, it wasn’t a Balrog, he just had to get back to family and work.

Aaron and Hunter forage for breakfast spots before Hunter has to head to the airport. Luckily, there is a nice spot right down the way from our Airbnb that has breakfast and good coffee called Have A Cow Cattle Company. They have good breakfast options and tasty coffee that comes with refills. We are fueling up for the last full day before we head to St. Louis. We have the ambitious goal of visiting 5 breweries, today. It is good to have lofty goals when you are on a beercation.

The first beercation stop of the day is Rockwell Beer Co. Rockwell’s tap list has a little something for everyone. It is a Monday and the only people we have to contend with for table space are our imaginary friends. We have the run of the taproom. It is nice to get back on the horse slowly and the beers that we drink are well-made.

For me, I am looking to try the samplers of all the beer styles I am smitten with. I try their Stand By, a 2019 GABF Bronze Medal-winning pilsner, a Kölsch-style beer called Sven, a saison called Polymath, Dancing in Dingle, an Irish Dry Stout made in Collaboration with Perennial Brewing. All of the beers are better than average.

The standout beer from Rockwell Beer Co. is their Baltic Porter that won GABF gold in 2021 called Kazimierz. This beer has complexity, texture, and flavor. One might assume that a beer clocking in at 9.2% ABV isn’t doable in the early morning. However, I think that the aging that Kazimierz has had, both in a tank and a foeder, has smoothed out any rough edges in the beer. The result of this beer’s time spent resting is a delicate sipper that arguably is the best way to wake up your palate for a day of beer tasting.

In addition to the beers, there are some unique decor elements that are fun at Rockwell Beer Co. The first is a higher-than-normal number of llamas sprinkled throughout the taproom. The second is an homage to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in their brewhouse. Each foeder has a different color mask and it is one of those things that definitely reach those of us who are children of the 80s.

On every beercation there are breweries that are much-anticipated. 4 Hands Brewing has always been a place that I have looked forward to visiting. Way back when, in 2015, I had a few of their cans that people recommended. I thought the beers were good and I told myself that if I ever went to St. Louis, I would visit.

Well, today is the day! Four Hands is located pretty close to the baseball stadium. There are a lot of people pre-gaming for the game between the Cardinals and the Braves. It is always fun to see a taproom bustling in the early part of the day. Baseball and beer really do go hand-in-hand, and it is fun when you combine the energy of a game day with the beer flowing from the taps.

We have time for a few beers, and I elect to go with a flight. My flight consists of a pale ale, IPA, black IPA, and a peanut butter stout. What is this, 2014?!?! The beers are all pretty good, however, the City Wide (pale ale) and the Incarnation IPA are my favorites. The pale ale stands out the most because it is so clean, bright, and finishes with a satisfying bitter bite. The Incarnation IPA is full-on Mosaic hops showcased admirably. I really want more of this kind of beer in my life as I am tiring of the New England-style IPAs.

Everyone is enjoying their beers, but we are also realizing that time is getting short if we are to stay on our beercation 5-brewery trajectory. So, I pick up a tin sign for my basement, and we make our way to the next stop.

In my previous St. Louis article, I didn’t really post about our visit to the main Perennial Brewing location. It was the last visit of the day and we were on a tight timeline. In retrospect, we probably should have just skipped it because we wound up giving it very short shrift. When I heard that Perennial on Lockwood had a different taplist and food, I thought it would be a great chance to see what else Perennial had to offer.

Perennial on Lockwood also allowed Jeff, Aaron, and myself to relax and just enjoy each other’s company. The tap list provided many different options than the main location. There were also a lot of fun food options that lent themselves well to just grazing and focusing on great conversation.

I absolutely love the vibe at Perennial on Lockwood. We got a table outdoors in the shade. We ordered a charcuterie board with all a fantastic array of meats, cheeses, and pickled vegetables. The beers were all quite sensational, but my favorite, be far is the Gnocchi Boy, a dry-hopped pale ale. The Gnocchi Boy is a wonderfully crisp beer with amazing hop aroma in the nose and not an ill-advised, racially insensitive mascot of the Milan Ballers in the Italian Bocce Ball Premier League. It pairs so well with the meat and cheese. The other beers I had were Spaceport (pale ale) and Rebel Oakes (American IPA).

It seemed like we needed a visit to a brewery that was more relaxed and not rushed. Little did we know that the next stop was going to be an extraordinary experience and would wind up being a long visit.

Of all the brewery experiences I have been lucky enough to enjoy throughout the years, Side Project Brewing is in the upper crust of beercation visits. A long time ago, before I ever thought about writing about my craft beer and beercation experiences, I met the owners of the soon-to-be-open Horse and Dragon Brewing Company, Tim and Carol. I was in Fort Collins, Colorado, on my second beercation. Carol was quite tickled that I was traveling with beer as the focus. She believed that beer can bring people together. Since that point, I have visited hundreds of craft breweries and written over 300 articles about beer. Carol was quite right about beer being able to bridge the gap between complete strangers.

Aaron did his best to prep me for an experience that would rank high in my beercation memory lists. In fact, it is where Aaron and Jeff met Chad, the gentleman who we accompanied to the soccer match on Saturday night. Side Project Brewing has a reputation amongst beer nerds as having some of the most exciting and sought after beers in the country. They are known for expertly barrel-aging beers that drink sublimely well. Yet, it turns out that nothing could prepare me for the confluence of epic beer quality and taproom camaraderie that I would experience at Side Project Brewing.

While there are 3 locations, we pick the brewery location since it is in close proximity to Perennial on Lockwood. The taproom is beautiful. Pristine white subway tile provide a wonderful canvas to showcase their signage, awards, and bottles. We set up shop at the bar and begin looking at the beer menus.

There are the beers they have on draft, beers you can buy to-go, and bottles you can purchase for on-site consumption. This draft list is unlike anything I have ever seen before. The number of words on these menus make the setlist for a Taylor Swift concert read like a Haiku. There are a colossal amount of things with huge flavors at manageable ABV levels thanks to the artistry that went into producing these beers.

Of course, you didn’t come here to read about the Table Rain (Belgian Table beer) which was the perfect balance between citrus, tarty, and funky. You aren’t going to be blown away by theGretel (side-poured Munich Dunkel Lager) that had perfect blend of roasted malt and caramel. You probably don’t even want to hear about the dry, punchy, and bright Bìere Blanche (Witbier) that was aged in a Chardonnay barrel.

No, you want to hear about the rare, “I’d gladly trade my family and lucky pair of Zubaz for this beer” barrel aged stouts, right? Ok, we can get to that. What I will say is that if you go to Side Project Brewing looking to find the really amazing barrel-aged goodness on tap, you are going to be disappointed. These bottles are buy on-site and drink kind of things. Maybe you might luck out and find one or two on the to-go list, but the demand is such that they go so fast.

So, do what we did. Park yourself at the bar and wait for people to start hanging out. Then buy a bottle and offer to share with others, and they will, in turn, do the same. If the beer gods are with you, you can wear a really incredibly designed hat from the brewery you work at and have a brewery patron offer to buy it from you. You can then say, “Sure, I’ll part with this hat if I can try a pour or two of that bottle you just cracked.” Once that horse is out of the corral, it is a one-way ticket to beercation nirvana.

This actually happened to Aaron. He was wearing a Lupulin Pride hat and another couple was sitting at the bar admiring the hat from afar. The deal happened and Aaron said, “It isn’t that big of a deal because I still have the MILF (Man I Love Fernet) hat.”

It wasn’t long before we are enjoying Derivation Blend #17, BBT Van Winkle 2023, and Continuance Blend #3. All of these are unicorn stouts when it comes to the rare and exquisite combination of flavors, aromas, and textures of these balanced beauties. I have had stouts and barleywines that have been in the ballpark of wonder, but none that have been better.

With each beer we enjoy, a cacophony of moans and “wows” signal our amazement from these masterful selections. Side Project is just in a class by itself when it comes to what you can enjoy and experience. The communal aspect of sharing, however, is what resonates with me as I think about why this was a special experience.

As we are enjoying our beers at Side Project, Alfie comes and says hello. He generously presents me with a 2nd Shift tin sign that I wanted to buy at the brewery. They were out of them at the brewery, but Alfie picked on up at their warehouse for me. I thought this act of generosity was absolutely abouve and beyond. For Alfie to take time out of his day to bring a sign and say hello was just fantastic.

“Man, we gotta start making that weed water, those Lupulin boys are making a killing!”

Steve Crider, Co-Founder of 2nd Shift Brewing

As we are chatting, Alfie is giving us some Steve Crider quotes from their meeting earlier that day. When we were visiting at 2nd Shift, Jeff and Aaron were talking about how they were doing more and more with THC seltzers. Steve was listening to this with the focus of a Jedi trying to levitate a city bus over the Grand Canyon. According to Alfie, Steve was quite taken with some of the financial optics of how profitable THC seltzers can be. In fact, Steve led the meeting off by saying, “Man, we gotta start making that weed water, those Lupulin boys are making a killing!” Well, this got Jeff laughing so hard. Alfie had to get going to some other things. I thank him profusely for the sign and cannot stop smiling.

Good beers are meant to be shared. Oftentimes we hoard our rare and expensive beers in our cellar or the back of our beer fridge. We hem and haw about when is the exact right time to open them. While all of this is going on, the beers are languishing. You want to know when the right time to crack a special beer is? When you have friends over. Don’t wait for your first child to be born, your tenth wedding anniversary, or when you hit for the cycle in beer league softball. Crack a special beer with your friends. Living in the moment is the perfect occasion to open a special beer.

I will always associate my visit to Side Project Brewing with quality time spent with great friends. The beers, while memorable, play second fiddle to the laughter and friendship that I got to continue to build with Aaron and Jeff Zierdt. To me, the acceptance and kindness that these two friends have shown me over the years is more meaningful than any liquid someone aged in a barrel; even if it was sensational bourbon.

After several hours of fantastic craft beer fellowship, a hat trade, and a plethora of dirty glassware, it is time to leave. We think we can enjoy one more brewery visit. There is still a little bit of daylight left and some tread on today’s liver tires. So, off to the next beercation stop!

The fifth brewery of the day is Heavy Riff Brewing. Heavy Riff Brewing leans into the music and guitar decor. In fact, it kind of seems like a music venue behind the bar because there are several guitars and curtains above the taps. Given that this is our fifth brewery visit of the day, I feel like it makes sense to have their Italian Pilsner, Synchronicity.

I really liked the beer. It was finished with Wakatu and Motueka hops from New Zealand. Synchronicity is pretty crisp and refreshing. We opt to sit outside on the patio because it is so nice out. The sun is getting low in the St. Louis sky. Everyone agrees we did some good work today and saw about as much as we could. We wrap up our beers and then it is time to find some food.

Aaron, the ever-enterprising finder-of-wonderful-places, discovers a place for dinner and more drinks. So, we are off to The Royale. The Royale is billed as a neighborhood haunt. After sitting down in an old wooden booth, I feel like this is just the perfect setting for dinner.

While we are not nearly as alive, alert, awake, and enthusiastic as we were at Rockwell, we are quite giggly and slap-happy. The food could not come at better time. I see Stag on the menu for a drink option and I feel like this is my opportunity to channel Steve Crider.

The food arrives and the Stag lager pairs perfectly with my burger. Aaron is loving his cocktail. Jeff is also liking his food. The server is incredibly friendly and attentive. I continue to marvel at the friendly and inclusive vibe at The Royale. There is such a friendly and somehow familiar energy here. It reminds me of Grumpy’s in Northeast Minneapolis. I see people walking in and meeting up. Some of these rendezvous seem on purpose and some seem like they were drummed up by the patron saint of fun.

I cannot imagine a better way to finish up our time in St. Louis. We packed as much in as we possibly could without pushing our livers to go on strike. The overall quality of people, breweries, and food was significantly better than I could have hoped for. However, the best part is that we are still only halfway through the week, and there is more beercation adventures to come!

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