Something important happened last weekend at the Missouri History Museum, and it was called free beer. So impressive was this occasion that it was introduced with a bagpipe parade, which marched through the Grand Hall beneath a replica of Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis. The hushed crowd watched with a mix of joy and reverence as the kilted men blew on the bags. They were followed by a procession of the city's most important citizens: its brewmasters.
Mayor Francis Slay stood in front of the assembled crowd on the inaugural evening of the first annual St. Louis Brewers Heritage Festival. He raised a glass of St. Louis dark lager to the city's proud brewing tradition. For the occasion, seven area breweries each made a dark lager from the same recipe, and it was being poured tonight, for free, all over the Grand Hall. Hundreds in the room hoisted along with him.
The Missouri History Museum's Robert Archibald declared to the assemblage, "We are indisputably a beer town," and if there were any vintners in the crowd, they stayed silent.
Added Schlafly's Dan Kopman: "We don't have mountains. We don't have beaches. But we have beer."
Secretary of State Robin Carnahan was, as always, the clearest and most concise: "Cheers!" she exclaimed, and the VIPs, each of whom had spent $100 for a ticket, proceeded to drink free beer.
And drank, and drank, and drank. It was, after all, some serious free beer. You couldn't trip without running into a tapper swimming-in-an-Italian-fountain-style free beer, kegs and kegs and kegs of the best of the best creations of the best brewers in the region: Alandale out of Kirkwood, Anheuser-Busch out of Soulard, Augusta out of Augusta, Morgan Street from Laclede's Landing, O'Fallon from O'Fallon, Maplewood's Schlafly, Square One from Lafayette Square.
Free beer is even better when teamed with free food, especially when those doing the pairing brewmasters and chefs understand flavor. Stephen Gontram of Harvest paired seared, blackened jumbo scallops on vegetable coleslaw with an Irish red ale made by O'Fallon Brewery. The puffy scallops carried a mighty, lip-tingling spiciness, which readied us for the potent Irish Red. Terrene joined forces with Square One, offering Maibock chicken with Maibock beer, a hoppy, amberish springtime creation. Exquisite.
The beer and the food kept coming, in quick procession: roasted shrimp and Vienna lager, monkfish and pilsner, zabaglione with pineapple and blueberry beer (which was as sweet and fruity as lambrusco), grilled lamb coupled with St. Louis dark lager. For these two hours of freedom, the world was perfect.
Dark lager is a muscular beer, brown-gold and very florid. We didn't get a chance to try all seven versions if we had, we'd be bedridden right now but both O'Fallon's and Schlafly's renditions kicked royal butt. Both were world-class, made with confidence and pride, a St. Louis beer-making birthright. Brew beer in St. Louis, and something's expected of you; whether you like it or not, a tradition is hoisted upon your shoulders. Last weekend offered proof that the city's beer men take that heritage seriously.
Or, as one speaker explained simply, to a big round of applause: "Beer is good, folks. It's an adult beverage."