If you were to write a screenplay about someone's journey to becoming a craft brewer, there would be no better main character than Kevin Klein. With no post-college plans and an obsession with Lord of the Rings, Klein sold his belongings, bought a one-way ticket to New Zealand and began hitchhiking throughout the country. Then reality set in, and he needed a job.
"I got a job washing kegs in a brewery in exchange for meals and a place to sleep," Klein recalls. "It just spiraled out of control from there. I picked things up easily and it wasn't long before I was the assistant brewer."Klein recalls the scene that would greet him each morning at the small craft brewery in New Zealand. To one side, he could see the mountains; to the other, the sea. It was an awe-inspiring environment, and if his visa hadn't expired, he probably would never have left.
But though that detail forced Klein home, it did not keep him from the field he had come to love. Before leaving New Zealand, he lined up a gig with Charleville Brewery (16937 Boyd Street, Ste. Genevieve; 573-756-4537) in his hometown, and within three days of being back in the States, he was again behind the beer equipment.
There was just one problem.
"Certainly, I had adjusted to the carefree lifestyle and when I was down there I didn't really have to worry about bills, but the biggest hurdle was going from the metric system to whatever we use here," Klein explains. "Brewing makes a lot more sense in the metric system. You go from solid to liquid measurements all the time, and the conversions make much more sense in metric."
Measurements aside, Klein describes his transition back to Missouri as being relatively seamless, and he jumped right in at Charleville, working his way up to head brewer. Under his watch, the brewery has expanded from its operations in Ste. Genevieve to a second location — a brewery, tasting room and restaurant in St. Louis, where Klein gets to play around with more experimental styles and exercise his creativity.
Still, if he had to pick one beer to brew for the rest of his life, it would be a style that is much more straightforward.
"Pilsner," he says without hesitation when naming his favorite style of beer. "It has all those New Zealand hops I learned to brew with, but really, there's no malarkey with this beer. It just feels good brewing it. I love everything about it — brewing it, drinking it. That's my baby."
Klein took a break from brewing Charleville's Pilsner to share his thoughts on the St. Louis food and beverage scene, the importance of vintage lounge music and why pizza is always the answer.
What is one thing people don’t know about you that you wish they did?
I am not a fan of sweets. The only exception I’ll make is for my mom’s chocolate chip cookies.
What daily ritual is non-negotiable for you?
I’ve been listening to Arthur Lyman’s Hawaiian Sunset every morning for the last four years or so. I thought it was just a phase, but the day just feels off if I don’t get my lounge music in.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
I was a real "my power is to have all the powers" kinda kid. I feel like the adult version of that would be the ability to manipulate wavelength. If it had to be something a little more mundane, it would have to be the ability to open doors with the correct amount of force every time. I had a horrible habit of putting my full body weight into opening doors and not exactly nailing the whole handle thing.
What is the most positive trend in food, beer, wine or cocktails that you’ve noticed in St. Louis over the past year?
There’s been a lot of beers being put out to benefit causes and charities. I think that’d be the most positive. If we’re talking about something I personally am a fan of, it’d be the shift from big flavor bombs to well-executed session beers.
What is one thing missing or that you’d like to see in the St. Louis food and beverage scene?
I’d love to be able to get late-night salchipapas.
Which ingredient is most representative of your personality?
If someone asked you to describe the current state of St. Louis’ food and beverage climate, what would you say?
I’m not sure. There’s certainly heaps of familiarity and comfort, but there’s a lot of creativity, too.
Name an ingredient never allowed in your brewery.
I have no ban list. If you can convince me it’ll work and have a plan to clean up after it, let’s party. You’ll have to be extra convincing with cardamom, though.
What is your after-work hangout?
After work, I’ll usually have a beer at the bar and then go home. I’m not all that exciting during the week.
What’s your edible or quaffable guilty pleasure?
I don’t feel guilty about pleasure.
What would be your last meal on earth?
That’s a pretty circumstantial question. Is this an armageddon situation? Who’s buying? Am I limited to something readily available? There are a lot of questions to be answered before determining exactly what kind of pizza I would have.
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