Beer School, Week 5: Chip Off the Oak Block

Every Wednesday, from roughly 5:30 to 6:30 p.m., Delmar Loop institution Cicero's hosts beer school. As part of a semi-regular account of the beer sampling and sudsy knowledge gained, RFT editorial fellow Matt Kasper will write about the beer he tastes and the people who present it.

If you are reading this at work and get thirsty, Matt apologizes. But maybe you shouldn't be wasting company time.

At this point, almost every St. Louisian knows about Schlafly. The seasonal beers are available at grocery stores. The Tap Room [See my review! -- Ian] and Bottleworks attract buckets of people. The beer is tasty, sometimes a little watery, always affordable. What I didn't know until Wednesday's class is that their brewers have an encyclopedic knowledge about brewing.

The tasting was great. We usually try four beers, sometimes only three. Last night we quaffed --count 'em -- five. No one beer sent me through the roof, but all of them were very good.

More after the jump...

"The first thing you should do is take a nice big sniff," counseled Brennan Greene, a Schlafly brewer, who says smelling tells you how you perceive the taste. And the first beer we tasted was the Saison Ale, which was released Aug. 31. Greene described the Belgian ale as a beer that "is all about balance."

At six percent ABV, it isn't too strong, but the mix of spices, clover and banana makes it spicy. I didn't taste banana, though my seat mate Claudia assured me it was there.

The second beer, the Oatmeal Stout, wasn'tsurprising. It was one of the few times I previously tasted a beer before learning about it in class. To make the beer, Greene says they pour seven pounds of oats. The website says the smoothness comes from the flaked oats and the bitterness comes from the roasted barley. For those who haven't tried it, the stout offers a smooth, smoky flavor. At 5.7 percent ABV it rests easy on the tongue.

Greene says coloring beer is a very complicated process, a very subtle thing. I can't remember what he said though and I didn't write about it in my notes. What I do remember is the Coffee Stout, at 5.7 percent ABV, was released October 24. Schlafly mixes Kaldi's Coffee with the stout to create it. It was my least favorite though I don't like coffee.

The last two beers were the best and the most intense. The Christmas Ale includes a festive mix of orange peel and clover. Greene says they started dry hopping it last year. At 8 percent ABV, it's good for caroling. It's supposed to be released next week.

Finally, drum roll please, the barrel-aged Barley Wine. I think it was 10 percent alcohol. "What we do is, we age it on oak chips," explained Greene. "The barley wine should be on the shelves next week."

He said, with a smile, that he dressed up as oak chips for Halloween and people thought he was dog food.

- Matt Kasper

Photos: Dionne Joffray

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