Destination: Schlafly Beer
We’ve all heard the same road trip adage — it’s not the destination, it’s the journey. It’s typically spoken when Dad must, again, answer whether or not we are There Yet. I don’t buy it. I’m not one to take a journey without a destination, and in the case of my midsummer road trip to Schlafly in St. Louis, it was the destination that inspired the journey.
As a beer writer in my 8th year at this, I occasionally find myself with samples from the odd non-local brewery. This doesn’t happen very often, but it can be memorable when a business that doesn’t rely on dollars from Minnesota wants to hear from a Minneapolis blogger. Schlafly was one of those memorable packages, full of coffee stout and pale ale.
Schlafly was a brewing pioneer in the state of Missouri and began providing their community with beer in 1991, at the beginning of the Midwest boom. In fact, Schlafly was Missouri’s first brewpub since prohibition. Today, it’s the largest independently-owned brewery in the state and a shining example of what a brewpub can be.
With 60 unique varieties in production and intentionally limited distribution, Schlafly hasn’t positioned itself to be a national star. Instead, it’s doubling down on local presence through its historic brewpub, notable events like the Stout & Oyster Festival, and dedication to sustainable practices. Still, the brewers are continuing to challenge themselves with novel techniques like the use of foeders.
Foeder-conditioned Ibex Cellar Sour
For as long as I can remember, I wanted to visit St. Louis. It’s just sort of in the middle, and I’m not sure where the draw came from, aside from the cheap airfare and extended summers. When I was a tutor in college, students would read passages from an ACT prep book with me reading over their shoulders, waiting for them to answer comprehension questions. Most were boring. One passage was about the final moment of the Gateway Arch construction. The moment when the two sides, reaching towards each other, finally touched and created the Gateway to the West.
When my St. Louis moment of opportunity came, I immediately planned to visit Schlafly. There was something synonymous between the town and the beer, and it had to be done (their LLC is actually The Saint Louis Brewery). After first driving from Minneapolis to Cedar Rapids, I set the GPS to Schlafly and it was where my feet first hit the ground in St. Louis. It was the destination.
Destination breweries have expanded from beer snob lingo to a position of normalcy on many travelers’ itineraries. But of course, the entire concept depends on the definition of “destination brewery.” The name tells us that it must be just that: the destination. To that end, I consider what the Michelin guide says about food and journeys. One Star: a very good restaurant in its category; Two Stars: Excellent cooking, worth a detour; Three Stars, the highest honor: Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey.
The below-ground cellar for barrel-aging
What warrants a special beer journey is not the same for everyone. For many people, these journeys seem to be more suitable for the rural (Casey Brewing and Blending), the rustic (Blackberry Farm), the legendary (Treehouse) or the limited (De Garde). I’d offer the reliable, the tried-and-true, the historic, and the pioneering to this list. I travel, I make special journeys, for the Schlafly’s of the brewing world.
Each beer was a shining example of its style, made with attention to detail and quality. The Hefeweizen, with its citrus and warm spice, made for an ideal refreshment after hours in the car. But more than the beer itself was the entire experience of the place, lending support for its worthiness of being among the destination crowd. Director of Marketing, Wil Rogers, treated me like an old friend and I soon felt like a regular at the bar after just a few samples.
Schlafly Foeder Room
And after a long, special journey, isn’t the warm hug of a cold beer and a witty smile the perfect reward? It may sound trite when I confess I’d rather saddle up to an aging brewpub bar than stand in line for the latest bottle release (I’ve been known to do both) — but it’s absolutely true. And destinations like Schlafly reinforce my old-fashioned ways.