There’s a craft beer explosion going on across the U.S., and St. Louis is no exception.
As part of our series “A Good Year,” St. Louis Public Radio’s Véronique LaCapra headed over to the Schlafly Tap Room to meet up with St. Louis Post-Dispatch beer columnist Evan Benn, and talk about our area’s craft beer boom.
BENN: So we’re drinking two craft beers – two cask beers from Schlafly. They’re Golden Optic Ale which was one of their 20th anniversary series beers, and their dry-hopped APA which is one of their classic flagship styles.
LACAPRA: What makes a craft beer a craft beer? Can you define that? What would make a craft brewery, a craft brewery, as opposed to just a regular brewery?
BENN: Sure. Well, the Brewers Association which is a trade group based in Boulder, Colorado, that kind of represents craft brewers around the country, they define craft brewers as those that produce fewer than six million barrels of beer a year.
And a barrel of beer is basically a full keg. So what you’ll see at like your college keg party…that’s actually a half barrel. So we’re talking about a full barrel of beer. It’s 31 gallons.
So a craft brewery produces fewer than six million barrels of beer a year, they use traditional ingredients – no adjunct grains like corn or rice – and they’re independently owned.
LACAPRA: How was 2011 for the craft beer industry in St. Louis?
BENN: 2011 was an incredible year for craft beer in St. Louis. We just added our fourth craft brewery in the city, 4 Hands Brewing Company, and if you expand that to the county we had five breweries open this year, Exit 6 Brewery opened in Cottleville this summer.
So, a great year for new breweries opening, and also a great year for the breweries that already existed. And more than that, a ton of out-of-state breweries realized that St. Louis is a huge market for craft beer, so they started sending their beers here, and now we have more beers than ever available on our store shelves and at our bars.
LACAPRA: How many craft breweries do we have in St. Louis?
BENN: We have, I think at last count, 23 within a two-hour drive of downtown. That’s pretty incredible. And that’s definitely the most since prohibition.
LACAPRA: Yeah, what is it really that’s drawing craft breweries into a town like St. Louis? Which, you know, obviously Anheuser-Busch was the big player here for a really, really long time. How did craft breweries even get a foothold here?
BENN: Well, where we’re talking right now was kind of the start of it all. You know Schlafly turns 20 years old on Dec. 26, which is incredible, and they really ushered in this craft beer revolution to St. Louis when everyone thought you’d be crazy to sell anything but Budweiser here.
And then just in recent years, people have gotten more in tune with, you know, artisan craft products. They like that hand-made thing and they’re willing to pay a buck or two extra for that product.
And in the case of beer what they get is this flavorful, wonderful thing with so many different manipulations and flavor characteristics, I mean you can never – you really don’t have to drink the same beer twice in your life, if you don’t want to.
LACAPRA: Is it just that beer in general had a good year here? How did the big guy do, Anheuser-Busch?
BENN: Well, you know sales for the big breweries like Anheuser-Busch InBev, MillerCoors, have been pretty flat for a few years, while sales of craft beer have grown by double digits. And that’s gone on nationwide.
So I think there’s in some way this perfect storm in St. Louis in terms of the InBev buy out of A-B in 2008, meeting with this national surge of craft beer. And I think it’s all just kind of hit us at the right time.
People are no longer feeling the loyalty they once had to A-B and they’re willing to try something new. And then we have all these craft breweries that are coming in to fill that void. So it’s a great time.
LACAPRA: If you had to sort of say what you think makes this such a great town for beer and for craft brewing in particular, what would it be?
BENN: I mean if you ask the brewers they might say it’s the water. But I don’t know, I just think St. Louis just kind of has this young culture that is coming up and is demanding better food, and better beer, and better wine lists and beer lists at restaurants, bars that are more proud of the beers they serve like iTap or like Handlebar.
St. Louis is just ripe for craft beer. Cheers!
LACAPRA: Alright, cheers!