Brian Owens, the 31-year-old head brewer at O'Fallon Brewery, was a homebrewer working in a liquor store when he met O'Fallon founder Tony Caradonna. Owens remembers how he introduced himself: "'Hey, I'm a homebrewer!'" He continues, "I hung out [at the brewery] enough that they gave me a job."

Likewise, Marc Gottfried was working at Worm's Way when the store received a phone call from Morgan Street Brewery: "They needed bottles. They needed them quick. I gave them the bottles for free. 'Here's these bottles. Here's my résumé.'"

That résumé was surprisingly lengthy: He started homebrewing at thirteen. "No one in my family drank," he says. "I wasn't a kid who drank. It was a really interesting natural process. My mom's a microbiologist. She looked at it from a science-fair point of view."

St. Louis Brews member Bob Beckmann pours a glass of his homebrew.
Jennifer Silverberg
St. Louis Brews member Bob Beckmann pours a glass of his homebrew.
Stephen Hale, head brewer at the Schlafly Tap Room, has been with the Saint Louis Brewery for most of its history.
Jennifer Silverberg
Stephen Hale, head brewer at the Schlafly Tap Room, has been with the Saint Louis Brewery for most of its history.

(Gottfried gave the beer away to older friends and neighbors.)

The 33-year-old Gottfried has been Morgan Street's head brewer for 12 years. "Our beers are pretty tame," he admits. Yet if Mattingly's Huerter embodies the inventiveness of the craft-beer movement, Gottfried represents an equally important segment: the exacting cultivation of classic styles.

All beers can be divided into ales and lagers. The two categories differ in the kind of yeast used to ferment each and the process by which that fermentation takes place. Lager yeasts operate at a lower temperature than ale yeasts, and gather at the bottom of the fermenting vessel (hence the term "bottom-fermenting"). Also, lagers are aged — that is, "lagered" — for at least one month.

Morgan Street is one of the only all-lager breweries in the United States. Explains Gottfried: "You generally find breweries using ale yeast. When you go there and order a pilsner, you're getting a white ale that's called a pilsner." Conversely, if you order a stout at Morgan Street, you receive a dark lager that the brewery calls a stout.

"Our lagers are stupendous," Gottfried claims. This is less a boast than a statement of fact. "They are extremely accurate. With the correct yeast, we're able to take them all the way."


On the Thursday evening before National Homebrew Day, the St. Louis Brews holds its monthly meeting. About 50 men and exactly 2 women sit around three long tables in a spacious meeting room in Missouri Beverage Company's Ellendale headquarters. Members range in age from early twenties to early seventies. Most wear polo shirts and khaki slacks. Everyone has a small tasting glass.

President Dan Stauder calls the meeting to order. Announcements are made. A new member introduces himself: A student at Saint Louis University, he is looking for an inexpensive hobby. The veteran members laugh. And then there is beer.

Lots of beer.

Over the next three hours, the St. Louis Brews taste and discuss one another's creations. These tastings are anonymous: Members know what style of beer fills the pitchers brought to their tables, but not who brewed it. Each member pours a couple of ounces into his tasting glass, swirls, sniffs, sips and then repeats.

"We have an ESB in front of us," Stauder announces. He reads a description of the style, a classic English ale. The ideal ESB (extra special bitter) should be a rich gold to copper in color, with pronounced malt and fruit flavors and balanced bitterness.

"This is an ESB?" asks one member.

Another declares, "It has a sort of cough-syrup flavor to it."

Yet another: "It's way too dark."

To a lay observer, this discussion can be both fascinating and arcane. Club members can tease out the exact variety of hops used. They refer to chemical compounds such as diacetyl and acetaldehyde as causally as the average drinker might describe his beer as cold or fizzy. (For the record, diacetyl imparts beer with fruity or butterscotch flavors, acetaldehyde, a grassy taste.) In short order the ESB's main fault is identified: It is too old.

Once members have had their say, the brewer reveals himself and describes his brewing process. Once the others know his exact method, they offer more specific, constructive criticism. As they do so, the next round of beer arrives.

Members' comments are honest, but the mood remains upbeat. Augie Altenbaumer believes this blind-tasting process is necessary. "Drinking your own beer, you get used to it. You can become blind to flaws and defects in your beer."

Bob Beckmann estimates that when he first joined the St. Louis Brews in 1993, only 10 percent of members' beers were "really good." Now, he observes, "the number of bad beers are fairly few."

Schlafly's Stephen Hale agrees. "I'm impressed with the caliber of the homebrew today. The ingredients and equipment available are much more vast than when I was a homebrewer."

Adds Hale: "It's not just homebrew. It's all things beer: the explosion of craft brewing. The enthusiasm for all things beer. I keep using Mike Sweeney as an example."

In September 2007 Mike Sweeney, a 30-year-old homebrewer and network administrator, founded STL Hops, a blog dedicated to the St. Louis beer scene. The site now attracts 5,000 unique visitors each month and has exhaustive coverage of what beers are available at local bars, restaurants and retail outlets, as well as photo essays of local beer festivals and the occasional rant about boring beer selections or bad beer. Frequent commenters on the site include brewers such as Drew Huerter and industry professionals like Derek Bean.

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