Beer! Hooray for Hildegard!

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Who was Hildegard of Bingen, and why do beer lovers salute her?

Mike Sweeney of local beer blog STL Hops (, which was just named the inaugural winner of Riverfront Times' Best Food and Drink Blog category in our annual Best of St. Louis issue, has been hired to rework the beer menus at Niche, Taste by Niche and soon-to-open Brasserie by Niche.

Sweeney tells me that at Niche and Taste, "[Beer] styles are going to be my most important thing." He hopes to offer examples of ten to twelve individual styles at each, with minimal (if any) instances of offering two beers in the same style.

"It's going to allow for more pairing [with food]," Sweeney says, though he adds that the new selection will provide more variety for those who aren't concerned with food pairings but just want to drink a beer.

At Brasserie, Sweeney says, "We're going to do more European and continental beers — nice Belgian- and French-style beers. Not just from there, but also from the U.S. The U.S. is making fantastic versions of those beers."

Speaking of beer, Gut Check has introduced a new weekly beer column aimed at hardcore craft-beer fans and newbies alike, The Beertender, written by local bartender and beer connoisseur Matthew Thenhaus. In this excerpt he describes the rise of hops in the brewing world:

"In eleventh-century Rhineland — a time when an herb mixture called gruit dominated the brewing world — a Benedictine abbess named Hildegard of Bingen wrote about using hops to spice beer. Since the formulation and sale of gruit was often controlled by local muckety-mucks, suggesting that brewers switch to a single freely grown plant was revolutionary indeed. (There was a lot about Hildegard that was revolutionary. You should look her up.) After being fought by everyone from Henry VIII to the Catholic Church itself, the humble hop finally, gradually, won out, becoming de rigueur in European brewing during the sixteenth century.

"Different strains of hops have been developed over the centuries, each possessing its own character. Some are used mainly for bittering, while others are added for the aromas and flavors they impart to the brew. Hops from Germany's Hallertau region are revered for their mild, gently spicy aroma, while an English hop called fuggles is prized for its soft fruity and woody character. West Coast American hops are known for their big citrus and pine flavors."

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