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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Bottled Wisdom: An Oral History of St. Louis' Craft-Beer Movement

Posted By on Wed, Aug 20, 2014 at 9:00 AM

Page 4 of 4

Florian Kuplent, cofounder of Urban Chestnut Brewing Company: I worked here for A-B, so we were living here and had been living here for probably six, seven years at the time before we opened Urban Chestnut. Obviously, St. Louis is a beer town, that's always a good base. We weren't going to do it anywhere else.

Schlafly: I wasn't worried about competition. It was more if someone opened a microbrewery and put out lousy beer, that would poison the concept in people's minds. Most of the other breweries are making very good beers, and I think it's good for the craft-beer scene overall. If St. Louis has a reputation for having a good craft-beer scene, I think that benefits all of us who are part of it.

Fran Caradonna: I think the kinds of breweries that are opening up today are much different than, say, O'Fallon Brewery or Schlafly. In this day and age, selling off-premise is much harder than it was fifteen years ago because there's much more competition from all over the country.

Kuplent: When we first made the plan before we opened, brewery No. 2 was not anywhere near what we thought would happen. Yeah, you hope your business is going to grow, but we didn't anticipate that it was going to get that popular or that big in that short period of time.

Florian Kuplent of Urban Chestnut is leading the next generation of brewers in St. Louis. - JENNIFER SILVERBERG
  • Jennifer Silverberg
  • Florian Kuplent of Urban Chestnut is leading the next generation of brewers in St. Louis.

Kopman: All of a sudden you have the start of all these new breweries after 2008 — O'Fallon was bought by the Gorczycas who worked for Budweiser, and Florian and David left A-B and started Urban Chestnut, and Kevin Lemp [at 4 Hands] brought a brewer down from Chicago and then Jake [Hafner, of Civil Life], who had thought about it for awhile opened up. I think all those new breweries sent a message to people that this was no longer going to be a town just owned by A-B, and we can do this. It gave people the confidence to do it.

Tony Caradonna: I wouldn't have predicted twenty-plus breweries in St. Louis. Not only am I glad to see it, I've been to all of them — the quality is amazing. Amazing. St. Louis, Missouri, is obviously a beer town, dominated by a big brewery in the last fifty years, and to see the quality and the passions of the brewers themselves — what a community.

Lachky: It has to crash. It has to slow down because it's not sustainable. These guys are not making enough money. The good ones will survive, the ones that have an understanding that's a long-term play, they have deep pockets, they have a desire to stay in the business because they love it.

Edwards: There's still room for more of that, I think, and then it gets to a limit where there are only so many people in this country and so many gallons of beverages they can consume.

Owings: There's probably 23 of us, something like that. We're all part of the Brewers Guild. All the brewers get together and of course talk, and from day one we could talk to Dan and Tom over at Schlafly and Bob out at Trailhead, and it's a nice community. We always help each other out, and I think the brewers kind of fed off each other. I consider the brewers more or less like great chefs — they do stuff that is artisinal as opposed to mass-produced stuff. So you let 'em go, let 'em do their stuff, and they make some great stuff to drink.

Kopman: The industry I think will continue to grow. Let's put it this way — I think the share of the total beer market that is made up by non-light lager beers will grow. The question is: Who's gonna brew those beers? Obviously Bud and Miller don't want to lose market share. They would like to be the ones to brew those beers.

Fran Caradonna: It creates challenges for those of us who are competing for a little bit of a share in the consumer's mind, but I think it's a good thing over all. We can differentiate it. It's about who we are and what we care about. Beer for a lot of people is just a passion. It becomes way more than just something they can consume. It's nice to have a larger number of the consumers becoming as passionate as we are.

Kopman: It's always been a bit jazz-like, less symphony-like in terms of how we've evolved and developed. So yeah, you'd love to say, if you build it they will come, but you also don't want to bet the whole shooting match on that. Non-light lager beer is still a small share in St. Louis, and the share of independent brewery sales versus A-B and MillerCoors is still very small in this market. So to me, there's plenty of growth opportunity long term. It's not easy to predict — you just have to plug away.

Tony Caradonna: Everybody that comes to me now — my advice is to do it yourself. The passion back then, I see in the craft brewers now. That is really cool.

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