The Beertender: Henry Herbst and St. Louis History


St. Louis lost one of its beer legends this month: Henry Herbst was St. Louis' preeminent beer historian and collector, an invaluable repository of our proud past. If you've ever been to the Missouri History Museum or waited for a table at the Schlafly Bottleworks, you've enjoyed pieces from Henry's collection. As I wasn't fortunate enough to have met Mr. Herbst, I will let others eulogize the man. What I do know is what the man's work has meant to my city.

In the decades following Prohibition, St. Louis lost all of its breweries save one. Their ghosts remain, of course. I walk around the empty Griesedieck Brothers brewery site near Gravois and I-55 and envision the short block abuzz with trucks and brewery workers. I visit the Falstaff site north of downtown, repurposed as apartments, thinking of the children of brewers walking down the street to St. Stanislaus. Every day that I drive down the Parkway past Grand, past the building festooned with the words Bottling Plant, I try to imagine Midtown smelling as good as Soulard.

Luckily, after reflecting on what we've lost, I can comfort myself with the thought of our current bounty. A score of breweries and brewpubs now dot the area, from downtown out to wine country. The men and women who have brought us these new businesses, who have reclaimed our identity as a brewing city, were inspired by those who looked back and told stories of how it used to be. In part, that's what the craft beer -- and the broader Slow Food -- movement is about: rediscovering what was lost in our rush to homogenize.

The cover of St. Louis Brews - WWW.STLBREWSBOOK.COM
  • The cover of St. Louis Brews
I've impatiently waited years for a grand account of our city's massive brewing heritage. Displays at the History Museum and the Brewers Heritage Festivals were a great start, but I craved something more substantial. The newly-released book St. Louis Brews: 200 Years of Brewing in St. Louis, 1809-2009, written by Herbst and fellow historians and collectors Dan Roussin and Kevin Kious, may just satisfy that craving.

This book -- the very idea of this book -- should be another nail in the coffin of our profoundly annoying civic inferiority complex. We need to be reminded from time to time of what we get right (other than the occasional baseball season), and one of those things is making lots and lots of beer. From gargantuan to tiny operations, the brewers of this city turn out world-class beers and for that we should be proud. Buy the book online at or at a bookstore that cares enough to stock local authors.

We forgot our role as a vibrant, multi-faceted brewing capitol for a while, but people like Henry Herbst helped us to remember. Cheers, Henry, and thanks.

Matt Thenhaus is a Saint Louis bartender who believes there is a time and place for every beer. He blogs about beer every Wednesday.