"It just seems to be a lifestyle change, much in the way that coffee or bread or wine changed 20 or 30 years ago," observes Derek Bean, field sales manager for beer at Missouri Beverage Company, a distributor. "With bread, at one time, it was all white bread. Now, you have people switching to artisanal bread, and they're never going back."

Though St. Louis' craft brewers operate in the shadow of the world's most iconic macrobrewery, Bean warns against false perceptions: "When it comes to St. Louis — and the Midwest in general — a lot of times there can be this geographic prejudice that we're behind the times. St. Louis and Missouri have actually been ahead in the craft-beers trend more than some areas of the country."

The Saint Louis Brewery opened its first brewpub, the Schlafly Tap Room, in December 1991. By 2008 it was ranked No. 50 on the Brewers Association's list of the country's top 50 craft breweries by sales volume. (Kansas City's Boulevard Brewing Co., founded in 1989, ranked No. 8.)

Mattingly Brewing Company head brewer Drew Huerter at work in the Benton Park brewpub's basement brewery.
Jennifer Silverberg
Mattingly Brewing Company head brewer Drew Huerter at work in the Benton Park brewpub's basement brewery.
Homebrewer Mike Sweeney founded the beer blog STL Hops in 2007. It now receives 5,000 unique visitors per month.
Jennifer Silverberg
Homebrewer Mike Sweeney founded the beer blog STL Hops in 2007. It now receives 5,000 unique visitors per month.

If the craft-beer movement has been gaining momentum in St. Louis for nearly two decades, over the past few years, it has exploded. Several new craft breweries have opened since 2006: Square One Brewery and Distillery, Mattingly Brewing Company, Buffalo Brewing Co., the Stable, William D. Alandale Brewing Company (recently sold and renamed the Highlands Restaurant and Brewing Co.) and Cathedral Square Brewery. Beer geeks and newcomers to the scene alike have access to an ever-expanding range of products from craft breweries nationwide.

"It's definitely exploding," affirms Paul Hayden, manager and beer and wine buyer at the Wine & Cheese Place in Clayton. At his store Hayden stocks 900 different beers, nearly all craft brews. Currently, Hayden's customers are especially interested in double and imperial India pales ales, so-called "extreme beers" dosed with so many hops that they can be mouth-puckeringly bitter.

Hayden has also noticed a change in who is buying beer: "Older clientele I thought were only into wine, they're starting to buy crafty, interesting beers."

Craft beer is attracting attention from more than just the fine-wine crowd, however. "We didn't used to sell a lot of dark beer," says Marc Gottfried, the brewmaster at the Laclede's Landing brewpub Morgan Street Brewery. "Our location on Laclede's Landing [usually draws] a Bud Light crowd. That's really changed."

"It's an enlightenment," Bean declares. "The big beers will always have their place, but there certainly seems to be a change in attitudes."

"Enthusiasm is pervasive," says Stephen Hale, who has worked for the Saint Louis Brewery through most of its history, first as assistant brewer, now as head brewer at the Schlafly Tap Room.

The 49-year-old Hale confirms, "It's the most exciting time to be involved in beer since I started homebrewing as a 19-year-old."


Drew Huerter, the head brewer of Benton Park's Mattingly Brewing Company, finishes rinsing the brewpub's basement floor and then points at a plain metal brew kettle. This five-gallon kettle seems unremarkable among the equipment packed into Mattingly's small brewery.

Along one wall sit four gleaming metal tanks, each the shape of an upside-down teardrop and roughly the size of a refrigerator, in which Mattingly's beers ferment. Spread throughout the basement are tall, blue fifteen-gallon containers and squat, white five-gallon pails. Inside these, small batches of Huerter's special projects bubble like a mad scientist's evil dream.

Still, that dull old brew kettle is special. "In 2006," says Huerter, "that was one of the most awarded breweries in St. Louis."

The 25-year-old Huerter is representative of those fueling St. Louis' craft-beer boom: young, creative and industrious. Huerter has been working 40 hours a week at Mattingly and another 30 as a cellarman (an all-purpose assistant) at the Schlafly Tap Room. He is leaving the Tap Room gig — though only to accept a full-time position as an assistant brewer at the Schlafly Bottleworks.

Huerter started homebrewing when he turned 21. A student at Saint Louis University, he returned home to Kansas City and brewed his first beer with the equipment his homebrewer father had put aside two decades before to raise him and his sisters.

His first beer was straightforward: an American amber ale. His second beer was a hefeweizen, a German wheat beer. To this traditional recipe, he added beets. The result was purple, one of two purple beers that he has made.

"I can get bored easily," Huerter admits. At Mattingly he is working on such brews as a coconut porter, smoked doppelbock and palm-sugar rye tripel.

Though Huerter has won numerous awards for his homebrews, for his professional success, he credits persistence. This is a common experience among area craft brewers. Augie Altenbaumer, the 33-year-old head brewer at the Stable in Benton Park and a cellarman at the Schlafly Tap Room, is an engineer by training. When he and his wife moved from Chicago to St. Louis two years ago, he found work as a quality engineer for a lawnmower manufacturer.

"I wasn't enjoying what I was doing," Altenbaumer says. "I had the technical mind, but I didn't have the personality. Quality engineering is cutthroat." A homebrewer since college, he got a foot in the craft-beer door by offering to help take care of the hop plants at the Schlafly Tap Room.

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