Recently, Sweeney coordinated an e-mail campaign to have beers from the well-regarded Founders Brewery of Grand Rapids, Michigan, distributed in St. Louis. This week, as part of the first annual St. Louis Craft Beer Week — a series of festivals, tastings, lectures and more that Sweeney himself coordinated — Founders beers will be released in St. Louis at a party hosted by the Wine & Cheese Place in Clayton.

Sweeney isn't sure if the STL Hops campaign is responsible for Founders' arrival in St. Louis. If it is, then he says it's "by far my proudest moment" as the author of STL Hops.

Sit with the affable Sweeney at a local brewpub, and your conversation will often halt as the brewers stop to say hello and talk beer. "The one thing I've been most amazed by with the creation of STL Hops is the sense of community it's created," says Sweeney. "I have probably 50 to 60 active members that interact with each other, but also respect one another."

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.

That community has clout. Says Sweeney: "Not to toot my own horn, but I've had Paul [Hayden of the Wine & Cheese Place in Clayton] tell me, 'Because of you, I'm selling more beer than I ever have.'"


The enthusiasm for craft beer is palpable, yet the stakes remain relatively small: Craft beers represent only a tiny share of the country's $100 billion-plus beer market. In 2008 the Brewers Association reports, they accounted for 4 percent of total beer sales by volume and 6 percent by dollar amount. (Yet while the big domestic breweries showed stagnant growth of 0.6 percent by volume last year, the craft-beer industry grew by a robust 5.9 percent.)

Saint Louis Brewery cofounder Tom Schlafly points to the recent buyout of Anheuser-Busch by InBev: "I don't think there's going to be a wholesale shift of people's taste to craft beer because of [the sale]. One example is to look at Milwaukee. When a South African company took over [Milwaukee-based] Miller, people didn't switch to local beers. People who prefer lighter lagers will continue to drink those."

Schlafly likes to divide local beer drinkers into three groups: the Anheuser-Busch loyalists, the aficionados and the vast majority who fall somewhere in between, those who usually drink Bud or Bud Light but will try a craft beer now and then for a change of pace.

"If we tell people you have to choose, we're going to lose that argument," says Schlafly. "Keep your Bud Light in the fridge at home, and when you go out and want something different, have a Schlafly.

"I think craft beer will probably continue to grow in St. Louis," he says. "I don't know that we'll ever have the same craft-beer presence that you have in the cities where it all began, like Denver, Seattle and Portland." Still, of his eighteen years at the forefront of the city's craft-beer industry, Schlafly concludes, "It's been exhilarating."

Bean notes, "The trend in craft beers has been strong this entire decade, and that suggests it's not a fad." He likes to paraphrase Jim Koch, founder of the Boston Beer Company, the maker of Samuel Adams beer and the nation's largest (by volume) craft brewer: "You can't turn the clock back. At one time wine [in America] was jug wines. Once people started buying the varietals, you couldn't turn the clock back."

As for the craft brewers themselves, a sense of camaraderie overrides any notion that they are fighting for a single piece of a small pie. How else to explain the interrelationships? The Stable's Augie Altenbaumer also works for Schlafly, as does Mattingly's Drew Huerter. Dave Johnson, a brewer at O'Fallon, is the head brewer at both midtown's Buffalo Brewing Co. and Kirkwood's new Highlands Restaurant and Brewing Co.

"There is the competition," admits Altenbaumer. "But all the small breweries stick together. We're just a little piece of the beer world."

"Everyone's very supportive," says Huerter. "And thirsty. Very thirsty."

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