By Eric and Mimi Griffith
Here’s a tip…if you find Dan Kopman around town sampling Schlafly beers postpone your plans for a few minutes and soak in some knowledge. Dan will answer any question you have and I usually hang out and listen as he delves into deep discussions with beer lovers on the finer points of attenuation and fermentation. I know it may sound complicated, but believe me when I tell you that you will always walk away with a finer appreciation of our favorite fermented beverage and at the very least a free sample of beer.
We were honored and excited by the presence of Dan Kopman, co-owner of The St. Louis Brewery, at Cicero’s BeeSchool. Mr. Kopman and Tom Schlafly kick-started the craft beer movement in St. Louis in 1991 after jumping through legal hoops and helping pass new legislation and now they are celebrating 20 years of great beer. There was only one “Schlafly virgin” in class and I am guessing that 99% of our readers drink Schlafly and know the story already so let’s get down to business.
The Big Question
Before dropping beer and farm knowledge on the class, Dan offered to answer any questions and of course the first question was about the future of Schlafly. Several articles have appeared in the local papers trumpeting that The St. Louis Brewery is looking for investors. Obviously this makes beer geeks like ourselves a little nervous so we all sat on the edge of our seats as 25% of the current ownership spoke on the subject.
Dan explained that the brewery is an “open-book company” and that means that even succession planning is discussed with the employees in order to discover what is best for the company. “What happens when Tom is in a box,” is the question because Mr. Schlafly owns 75% of the business and has no offspring to inherit his share. The idea is to create a “non-chaotic succession plan” that puts the majority of the ownership in the hands of the employees. In other words it is not as scary as we thought and they are not looking for a gigantic, international, macro brewer to buy them out. Feel better now? I know I do.
“It all starts on the farm.”
Dan Kopman came to beer school with a purpose. He wanted to shine a light on the farms and the famers that make beer possible. As beer drinkers we often become so focused on the finished product in our glass that we forget to think about how the ingredients got from the earth to the brewery to the bottle. The Saint Louis Brewery has been at the forefront of the fresh food movement with their weekly Farmer’s Market, Gardenworks program and menus filled with locally-produced food. That passion spills over into the ingredients they use and the beer they produce.
Raspberry Hefeweizen – (available April-August)
Peachy and hazy in appearance with a raspberry nose. Dry and tart on the tongue with a dry, wheat mouthfeel. Great beer for novice craft drinkers or for enjoying by the pool. Way too easy to drink, but at 4.1% ABV, you can enjoy a few. I can almost feel the fuzziness of the raspberries.
Schlafly uses pureed raspberries as opposed to a fruit extract which makes this a true fruit beer and also makes it an arduous process. Raspberries are ripe in the summer, but Schlafly needs to brew the beer in February to have it ready for an April release…I see difficulties, do you? All in all it takes 2 years to get the raspberries from seed to beer bottle, and you thought it was a simple wheat beer.
Scotch Ale – (Brewer’s Choice, available January – March)
This brew sits a little heavy on the tongue and checks in at 6.2% ABV. The nose is sweet caramel and the taste is dark fruits, toasted malts and some molasses. With the low carbonation it comes across a little syrupy, but it drinks well and warms you up. A nice winter beer that makes me want to belly up to the bar with friends.
Scotland does not grow hops so all the beers there are sweeter and focused primarily on malts. Dan says that this is also because the Scots refuse to give money to England, even for hops. And he should know because his brother-in-law is a Scottish farmer.
Pale Ale (Flagship beer, available year-round)
Dan described this beer as his best friend, and I can understand why. If you haven’t had a Schlafly Pale Ale we might have to check St.Louis beer drinker credentials. This was the first beer they ever made and it introduced many people to beer with flavor. Dan tastes cheddar cheese, lemon and spice and I tend to agree. I encourage you to bring this beer to your next party because it is a great gateway beer for the uninitiated.
The recipe calls for all English hops including East Kent Goldings, Northdown, and Pilgrim. More specifically these hops are grown by an 80 year-old farmer in the town of Kent,England. This farmer is extremely vital to the beer because Dan informed us that there are only 12-15 hop growers remaining in England. Suddenly I appreciate the everyday Pale Ale even more.
Oatmeal Stout (available year-round)
Schlafly brews traditional beers with simple names and this is no exception. The Oatmeal Stout is creamy, but dry with chocolate and coffee notes. Roasted barley is the star of this brew, but there are just enough hops to keep it from tasting too sweet.
The malt bill is 5% roasted barley, but that is enough to make the beer focused on the roasted flavors. If you love beer, then you love barley so brace yourself when I tell you that last year we had the lowest barley output in the past 100 years. Why? Dan told the class that the nation is focused on 4 crops: corn, wheat, soy and cotton. Subsidies create this imbalance, but hopefully demand for beer will keep the barley crops in the ground and we will see a rise in output.
Twenty Years and Counting
Some of you will remember the day that the Schlafly Tap Room opened and swear that it couldn’t have been 20 years ago, but alas you must face the facts and admit that time flies when you are drinking good beer. In honor of the first 20 years of Schlafly the brewery will produce 4 distinct anniversary beers. Each generation of brewers will create an original recipe and the resulting 750ml bottles will make their way to the shelves quarterly. Look for Dan Kopman around town all year as he presents vertical tastings and samples the anniversary beers. And let us know how many different 20th Anniversary bottle caps you can find. Cheers to Dan, Tom and the staff at The St. Louis Brewery…we drink in hopes of another 20 years of Schlafly beer!
About the Authors: Husband and wife Eric and Mimi have been attending beer school for about a year now and love every minute of it. Mimi was born and raised in St. Louis. Besides sitting down with a fabulous pint of beer, she enjoys gardening and spending time with her horse. Eric was born and raised in Texas. He enjoys sports and searching for the next great beer. A search he says he has been on for five years and one that will certainly never end. Mimi, on the other hand, just realized beer actually has flavor about a year ago. After having moved away for a few years, in 2007, this happy couple moved back to St. Louis and is enjoying all the St. Louis beer scene has to offer, especially Cicero’s Beer School. Cicero’s is lucky to have such an enthusiastic couple writing the beer school blog!