A Craft Beer Lover's Guide to 72 Hours in St. Louis

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Super Flare at 4 Hands - PHOTOS BY PETE DULIN
  • Photos by Pete Dulin
  • Super Flare at 4 Hands

If you've got the time to go exploring, the city is filled with breweries to visit and tasting rooms to try. Here's our guide to the best.

The two-dozen-strong craft breweries in St. Louis and the surrounding area offer something for everyone, whether you're a dedicated fan or just getting started on the scene. Exploring the many breweries in the area is like an adult version of the Choose Your Own Adventure series: No matter where you start or end, the possibilities result in a satisfying day trip or fun-filled weekend.

We road tested this itinerary: It maps out a 72-hour weekend and encompasses a dozen St. Louis breweries, brewpubs and tasting rooms.

Heavy Riff Co-Owner and Head Brewer Jerid Saffell
  • Heavy Riff Co-Owner and Head Brewer Jerid Saffell

Friday

Jerid Saffell, head brewer at Heavy Riff Brewing Company, offers a solid roster of craft beer at this hard-rock-themed brewpub in the traditional Irish enclave of Dogtown. Velvet Brown Underground, the brewery's best-selling flagship beer, is an American brown ale that rocks a balance of malt and hops with a velvety mouthfeel and jams with dark chocolate on the finish. Heavy Riff's core beers also include Argonaut American Pale Ale and Super Session Hoppy Wheat, wherein each batch uses a different hop variety. Coffee lovers will savor the Vanilla Coffee Underbrown, a velvety, creamy brown ale made with Velvet Underbrown and infused with Kona coffee and fresh vanilla beans.

Field notes: Grab a bite to eat at this brewpub. Try a six-pack of barbecue sliders with a choice of smoked pork, beef brisket, turkey, tofu or seitan served on Hawaiian sweet rolls.

Just a short drive to the southwest is Schlafly Bottleworks in Maplewood, the main production brewery for Schlafly beer. The 23,000-square-foot Bottleworks, which opened in 2003, also houses a brewpub, retail space and space for private events. Company-wide, Schlafly (legally known as the St. Louis Brewery) annually brews more than 60,000 barrels of beer. Bottleworks brews more than twenty styles, sold in both twelve-ounce bottles and draft kegs. Flagship beers include Pale Ale, a copper-colored session beer with a subtle bread flavor from roasted caramel malt that complements the hint of fruit derived from London ale yeast; Kölsch, a crisp, clean German golden ale made with actual German ale yeast; and Dry Hopped American Pale Ale, with an assertive pine and citrus hoppy aroma and grapefruit finish.

Fun fact: Kölsch was the wedding beer of brewery founder Tom Schlafly when he married his German bride Ulrike.

Field notes: Catch the one-hour class at Schlafly Beer School on Fridays at 2 and 4 p.m. Want beer samples and a brief overview of the brewery's history and beer-making? This school rules. Space is limited, so reserve a spot at the brewery's retail desk. Another great option: Schlafly's Brewer's Tour ($20) happens every third Saturday of the month at 10 a.m. and is limited to fifteen people each. Tours sell out well in advance. Reserve by calling 314-241-2337 ext. 285, or purchase a ticket in person at Schlafly Bottleworks.

Located around the corner from the Bottleworks, Side Project Cellar is a must-visit destination for craft-beer pilgrims. Cory King, head brewer at Perennial Artisan Ales, launched Side Project as a small-batch brewery within Perennial. Known for its saisons, wild ales and spirit barrel-aged ales, Side Project's distinctive vintages have built a major following among craft beer drinkers. Each beer is highly sought-after on release days at Perennial, where fans queue up to secure a bottle or three, depending on demand.

At this Belgian-inspired beer bar and tasting room, Side Project's beers are the main attraction. Take time to chat with co-owner Karen King, a beer industry sales veteran, and her crack team at the Cellar, which has a three-temperature draft system and uses ten types of glassware to properly serve more than twenty styles on draft. The website maintains a list of available Side Project bottle beers on rotation.

Field notes: Side Project Cellar also carries a premium selection of cellared craft beer, whiskey, wine and cider.

Wind down the day just a few miles to the east at Urban Chestnut Grove Brewery and Bierhall. Last year, Urban Chestnut produced more than 12,000 barrels as it expanded distribution to Columbia and Kansas City. It also announced plans earlier this year to set up an outpost in Bavaria. Urban Chestnut's heart remains in St. Louis, though. The Grove Brewery offers a self-guided tour of the massive space, where the brewhouse is on prominent display. Park at the long bar or a community table for a well-deserved beer after the day's travels.

Urban Chestnut offers the Reverence Series and the Revolution Series. The former describes a roster of fifteen German-style beers including Zwickel, the flagship Bavarian-style and naturally cloudy lager; Schnickelfritz, a Bavarian weissbier with banana and clove aromas; and the superb Ku'Damm, a light, tart Berliner weisse perfect for countering summer heat. The Revolution Series of eleven beers range from Winged Nut, a chestnut ale, to the double IPA dubbed STLIPA. The Patersbier, a low-alcohol, sessionable ale with complex tart, fruity flavor, is named after a Belgian abbey and the Trappist monks who drank this style of "Father's beer."

Field notes: Recharge with a hearty bite to eat at the bierhall. Load up on a schnitzel sandwich, made with pummeled pork or beef that's breaded, fried and served on sourdough with a condiment and side. The currywurst is a killer knackwurst doused in curry ketchup and served with pommes frites. Or share a charcuterie board with four options of housemade sausages and trimmings.

German Wheat at Civil Life
  • German Wheat at Civil Life

Saturday

Based in Tower Grove, Civil Life Brewing Company is an ideal spot to sip on a beer, nosh and socialize. The fundamental components of a civil life, right? The brewery's biergarten and patio offer ample outdoor seating. Dark wood fixtures, a long wooden bar and communal tables indoors establish a cozy pub atmosphere.

This malt-driven brewery's beers include a German wheat and American brown with roots dating back to brewer Dylan Mosley's home-brewing days. The Rye Pale Ale earned a gold medal at the 2014 Great American Beer Festival, besting more than 80 beers in the rye category. Civil Life's "Big Series" is a bit tongue-in-cheek. The Big American Stout, Big Scottish "Wee Bit" Heavy and Big Year Brown only run about 6.5 percent alcohol by volume (ABV), but they have big ambitions for deliciousness.

Field notes: Civil Life is cash only, but if you bring some, you can plan to grab a light bite with your beer. The menu changes from Tuesday through Sunday. Taco Sundays are a deal (three tacos for $7).

Not far from Civil Life, in the city's funky (and fast-growing) Cherokee Street district, you'll find Earthbound Brewery. Co-owned by Rebecca Schranz, brewmaster Stuart Keating and Jeff Siddons, Earthbound is the funky bohemian cousin in the extended family of St. Louis breweries. When you're weary of micro-deviations on pale ales, IPAs and wheat beers found elsewhere, seek this small brewery carved out of a narrow space in the heart of Cherokee's bustle.

Here you might find a gruit, an ancient style of ale bittered with herbs long before hops became a standard bittering agent. Smoked Missouri Common, a slightly sour brown ale with a smoky constitution, was inspired by beer made by Appalachian moonshiners. Dead Druid King, a beer brewed with black wheat and oak leaves, is slightly smoky, tart and redolent of black plum with jammy wine notes. It's insanely good. Brewer Keating's historically influenced creations represent pure American craft beer ingenuity.

Field Notes: Earthbound brews numerous small-batch beers that rotate on a regular basis. Check the website's weekly tap list for current selections.

After Earthbound visit Perennial Artisan Ales, the 14,000-square-foot production brewery established in 2011 by Phil and Emily Wymore. Perennial's brewery in the South Carondelet neighborhood houses an 8.5-barrel brewhouse and temperature-controlled fermentation and barrel-aging room. The brewers begin with Belgian and American craft beer styles and apply creativity, premium ingredients, souring and barrel-aging techniques to their brewing process. The result? Beers that are extremely popular across the metro area, throughout Perennial's eight-state distribution territory and among seasoned craft-beer fans in the know.

Flagship brews include Aria, a Belgian-style ale with Belgian yeast containing hints of honey and green tea; Hommel Bier, a dry-hopped Belgian Pale Ale with earthy, spicy notes; and the floral Saison de Lis, a saison brewed with chamomile flowers that blossom with fruity, spicy notes and finishes dry and tart. Check the brewery's website and social-media accounts for current beers, upcoming listings and barrel-aged special releases, collaborations and seasonals. They tend to sell quickly but a stop at the tasting room is a good bet for a sampler while supplies last.

Field notes: The parking lot and entrance to the Tasting Room is located at the corner of Davis Street and Virginia Avenue. The Tasting Room also offers a small, rotating menu of seasonal dishes that use many local ingredients. Plan ahead for special releases at the brewery. Lines form hours in advance, but craft-beer nerds often host bottle shares. Bring a great bottle of beer, camp out and share. After all, nothing says social like beer.

Not far from Perennial, Kevin Lemp launched 4 Hands Brewing Company in December 2011 with a focus on appealing to first-time craft beer drinkers as well as more sophisticated connoisseurs. Based in LaSalle Park, the tasting room at 4 Hands is a funky, lively place, where the crowd changes at any given moment. Cards fans may stream in before the game or after a win, followed by a visiting group of craft-beer tourists. The flow of people and beer infuse the brewery with dynamic energy.

Belly up to the bar and try the American blonde ale Single Speed. Or the Reprise Centennial Red, a citrus hop-forward American red ale. Other warm weather favorites include Send Help, a straw-colored blonde ale, and Contact High, a hoppy wheat. Or go bold with the mighty War Hammer Imperial IPA brewed with four hops. The sassy Passion Fruit Prussia is a Berliner weisse with a tart, fruity finish.

Field notes: 4 Hands Tasting Room is a modest-size space, so make reservations in advance for large groups. Hourlong brewery tours are held on Saturdays at noon and 4 p.m. Assemble in the tasting room and wait for the announcement. And order from the Fifth Wheel while you're at it. This in-house kitchen, run by prominent St. Louis restaurateur Dave Bailey's group, serves killer grub such as the Juicy Lucy grass-fed beef burger, spicy wings and barbecue sandwiches with pulled pork, brisket or veggie chorizo.

Lafayette Square's Square One Brewery Brewery and Distillery is just a short drive west from 4 Hands, and it's located in what was once home to a couple of taverns that date back to a century ago. The brewpub's wood floor and worn brick retains a historic look, while the spacious outdoor courtyard, rattan chairs and fountain reflect a more modern and casual neighborhood feel. Check the brewery's website or tap-room chalkboard for the current beer menu. Brewer John Witte's selections include the Spicy Blonde Belgian Ale, with ginger and lemongrass; Light Squared, a golden ale perfect for craft-beer newbies; Maple Stout; and Helles Lager, a dark gold German-style that balances malty sweetness with slightly bitter hops.

Field Notes: Ask about Square One's cask ale system. Served at "cellar" temperature, cask beers finish the fermentation process in the keg and pour with less filling, lighter carbonation. Also, inquire about Square One's distilled Spirits of St. Louis. The bar carries a wide range of hand-crafted whiskey, rum, gin or vodka from its award-winning portfolio.

Flight at Urban Chestnut Biergarten
  • Flight at Urban Chestnut Biergarten

Sunday

Ease over to Urban Chestnut Brewery and Biergarten, housed in a converted 1920s garage, before the weekend comes to a close. Much smaller than its sister brewery and bierhall in the Grove, the original midtown venue offers cozy indoor seating and a picnic-style outdoor space. Relax, sample German-style Reverence Series beers or the American craft focus of the Revolution Series, and practice saying, "Prost!" The food selection at the biergarten is more limited than the bierhall, but no less delicious. Share a picnic basket of salami, cheese, bread, vegetables, hummus, pickles and mustard with friends, or a sampler board of charcuterie and cheese before heading to the next stop.

Field Notes: The biergarten regularly features the rock of ÜberCool Deutsch, the accordion music of Larry Hallar, Bolzen Beer Band and other acts. Check the website calendar or Facebook page for scheduled performers who pack plenty of oompah.

When it opened in 1991, the Schlafly Taproom earned the distinction of being the first new brewpub to set up shop in Missouri since Prohibition.

From its midtown perch, it has been a real catalyst for St. Louis' craft-beer renaissance. Originally, the Taproom initially only sold beer on tap and in growlers. The brewery grew as public demand for its beer increased. Schlafly beer is now sold in fourteen states, plus Washington, D.C. Housed in a restored turn-of-the-century brick-and-timber building, the brewpub serves sixteen Schlafly beer styles on draft, as well as stick-to-your-ribs European pub food.

Field Notes: Ask the bartender or server about ideal beer and food pairings on Schlafly's menu. Suggested items include warm Pale Ale Bread with blue cream cheese, beer-cheese soup, Hefeweizen-battered Atlantic cod with fries and tartar sauce, and the Cuban sandwich.

Not far from the Taproom, Alpha Brewing Company is also a stone's throw from the City Museum. Its Beta (Barreled, Esoteric, Tart and Aged) Brewing Program is devoted to barrel-aged beers that run the gamut from sour to funky. For a more sessionable beer, try the American Kellerbier, a pilsner, or Game Day Red Ale, which features a balance of toffee, malt and hops.

More complex beers include Apricota Anniversary Ale, whose funky fruit flavor comes from use of chardonnay wine yeast, followed by seven months of aging in Pisoni Winery rosé barrels with four bushels of Missouri apricots. Pinot Noir Barrel Aged Apocrypha, a black saison, derives its color and roasted notes from Black Prinz malt. Its sourness stems from fermentation with a house strain that contains three separate yeasts.

Field Notes: Some of Alpha's beers, such as the superb Satanic Saison, are only available in bottles. Ask the bartender for more details. The brewery entrance is on the north side of the building that also houses 1st Financial Federal Credit Union; Alpha is in the rear portion of the building facing Lucas Avenue. Parking on both sides of Lucas in front of the brewery is free every day of the week. There's metered street parking daily until 7 p.m., but if you follow our itinerary here, you're in luck: Parking is free on Sundays.

These dozen breweries cover only a few of the many taprooms, brewpubs and breweries scattered throughout the St. Louis area. If you're willing to drive to the more far-flung suburbs, your choices increase exponentially. Other destinations include O'Fallon Brewery's new $10 million brewery in Maryland Heights, which features a restaurant with seating for 100 and a tasting room; St. Charles brewpub Trailhead Brewing Company; or Kirkwood Station Restaurant and Brewing Company, which sits in the shadow of the historic train station from which it takes its name. With so many options, a 72-hour craft-beer tour might require an extension or multiple trips in and around Beer City, USA.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly listed Cory King as the founder of Perennial Artisan Ales.


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