Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Schlafly Tap Room Behind the Scenes

The St. Louis Brewing Company, known to most as Schlafly, is one of those breweries that has always flown under the radar for me. If you're anything like myself, they're probably not at the top of your list to look to for new stuff or every day drinkers. This is in spite of the fact that every year I look forward to getting my hands on their Pumpkin Ale and Tasmanian IPA, the APA was one of my first go-to IPAs, and they make some of the best German lagers in the state.

So my Schlafly indifference doesn't seem to stem from a mediocre beer lineup. It probably has more to do with a general lack of knowledge about the brewery and St. Louis in general. I mean, I know about that Arch thing and the inexplicable presence of fried ravioli on every single restaurant menu, but that's about all I got. 

I'm happy to report that it's all changed now--Schlafly recently invited us over to the other side of the state for their first Ibex Series Release Party and gave us a look around the place. I really didn't know what to expect to see, especially since we were supposed to meet at their downtown Tap Room location for the tour and release party, rather than their larger Bottleworks facility. I figured it was going to be your run of the mill brewpub, and brewpub tours are usually over in about 5 minutes. I was woefully uninformed.

The Tap Room is a beautiful and labyrinthine 110 year old brick building in the St. Louis equivalent of the Crossroads. An industrial center a century ago, it has since gone through an epic decline and revival. St. Louis partly has Schlafly to thank for the revival--brewery co-founders Tom Schlafly & Dan Kopman took a gamble on the building, buying it and investing in the area long before the lofts went up for sale. It was actually so rough at the time, that it was used it for the filming of Escape from New York as a stand-in for post-apocalypic Manhattan Island just a few years before they bought it. Snake Plisken walks right by the Tap Room's biergarten entrance about 30 minutes in, which is kind of the best brewery building back story ever.

Hey aren't you Snake Plisken? Hey isn't that Schlafly?
Now fully renovated and restored, the Tap Room houses two restaurant/bar areas and a couple event spaces alongside the brewing operations. All of the regular beers they produce are available there in addition to a bunch of specialty and one-off beers. They've got a half dozen beers that you can only get at the Tap Room or Bottleworks bar and they had another half dozen test beers on when we were there. There are even a couple beer engines in the south bar of the Tap Room to pull up real ale from firkins down in the cellar. The food is also excellent.

Down the Rabbit Hole...
They utilize their small 15 barrel brewhouse at the Tap Room to brew all of their specialty, barrel aged, and wild/sour beers. Pretty much any Schlafly beer you buy in a 750 ml bottle comes from there. You can see the extent of the brewhouse off of main bar in the south building, but that's only the tip of the iceberg.

Go down the narrow stairs off the side of the brewhouse and you drop into the victorian era mad scientist/steampunk beer cellar. Pipes, tubes, and conduits snake around in an incomprehensible maze along the low timbered ceilings. Tanks, kegs, barrels and all manner of mysterious equipment are tucked into every nook and cranny. Dust from the rock walls and milled grain clings to everything the brewers have not meticulously cleaned.

After snaking your way through the cellar past racks of grain, stacks of wine and whiskey barrels, and stainless steel fermentation tanks so big you can't imagine how they got them down there, you eventually hit the "Spoiler Room." This room at the heart of the building with stone walls and a 100 year old brick arch ceiling used to house the building's boiler. Now it has been converted into a wild yeast paradise. The room has a dedicated smokestack for the former boiler, where they've installed a powerful exhaust fan--the only way the wild bug spores get out of the room are in a beer or sucked up the stack. This keeps the rest of the beer in the cellar from being infected by the aggressive wild yeast and bacteria.

The Spoiler Room
Schlafly is doing some exciting stuff down in that Spoiler Room and making some fantastic beers as a result. The first Ibex Series Release Party marked the beginning of a new line of experimental, one-off, wild, barrel aged beers. Basically everything a beer nerd like myself desires. Like Side Project, they're harvesting local microbiota for many of their wild beers. They've gotten their little bugs off of local grapes and wild persimmons among others.

Lazy Ballerina was the first official Ibex bottle release at this party. It's a saison made in part with chambourcin grapes from Chandler Hill Vineyards, and aged in chambourcin barrels. The beer looks and smells reminiscent of a chambourcin varietal wine and has a similar robust and velvety mouthfeel as well. But it was the earthy and peppery Belgian yeast character and the dry, hoppy saison finish really set the beer off. It was the most well made and well balanced beer/wine combo I've had (although I'll admit I haven't had many, and I've had even fewer that were any good).

Accompanying Lazy Ballerina at the release party were seven other one-offs. The star of the show for me was the Wild Lazy Ballerina. Instead of using the chambourcin grapes in the beer, they harvested the microbiota off those same grapes to ferment the beer. It was all funk and earth and cattle ranch accompanied by tropical fruit aromas and flavors. It had a really well balance with a moderately sour finish that was smooth and not biting.

Another highlight was their fantastic Persimmon Sour Ale. They harvested local wild persimmons, cultured up the microbiota off those persimmons, then aged the beer on the persimmons in wine barrels. This beer was all kinds of sour, with more of a berliner weisse than a lambic character. It still had a little funk mixed in as well. It was bright, fruity, insanely sour, and delicious.

The rest of the beers there were all exceptional as well. Mostly sours and wild beers, they included several variants of a berliner weisse, an oude bruin, and some very nice non-soured barrel aged beers. Add to these the regular Schlafly lineup fresh out of the fermentors, and it was a day of beer that I won't soon forget (except maybe the last hour or so).

Wild Lazy Ballerina
Unfortunately, we won't be seeing any Ibex beers in KC any time soon. Schlafly is only going to be making tiny quantities of them (around 150-200 cases per release) and for now they're only going to be selling them at the Tap Room. (That is, unless we make enough noise and get them to send some our way.)

If you ever get a chance to tour the Tap Room, jump on it because they're only open to the public for special occasions. However, they do have public tours of the Bottleworks facility every weekend. While lacking some of the mysterious charm of the Tap Room cellar, it is still an excellent tour that's worth your while if you're in St. Louis. And also, keep an eye out for the next Ibex release party--I guarantee you won't be disappointed making the trek across the state for it.


  1. 2 years ago me and some friends were lucky enough to tour the taproom. I knew I enjoyed Schlafly beers, and this whole experience made them one of my favorites.

    My friends and I were going to St Louis for a Royals game, and as part of our baseball trips, we always tour a brewery. Well, these were midweek games, and none of the local breweries offered tours, so I put out on twitter a simple questions to my followers, and tagged schlafly in the tweet. I asked if, since tours weren't an option, should we go to the bottleworks or taproom to have some beers.

    That's when Troika (who ran their social media at the time, I don't know if he still does or not) started to wow us. He shot me a tweet saying to come to the taproom, and if he could he would give us a tour of that facility. We spoke over the next month or so for our trip, and had a time set up based on when we would be getting into town.

    As we were getting into STL, the worst happened. I got an email from him the whole tap room was closed today for a private event. He was still working on getting us in to tour and try some beers, but the kitchen would be closed, we'd be a little more rushed as we'd need to be out before the private party showed up. He'd let us know. That took all of about half an hour. By the time we were checked into our hotel, we had the go ahead.

    We headed over there, and he was fantastic. We tried literally ever beer they had on tap, then we chatted with some of the brewers (as the only non employees in the building), and went downstairs. As we got down there, he opened the lines to the 2 (I think) taps they had down there, and told us to help ourselves if we needed refills. We hung out down there chatting and being shown around for a while. Then we came back upstairs, had another couple beers, and were getting ready to leave.

    Needing to get some food in us before the game, we asked where we should go that's on our way to the stadium. He recommended a couple places, and we were about to take off when he asked if we were driving. We were using the train (or whatever they call their public transportation, I can't recall), and he says hold on one second and he disappears. HE THEN TAKES US TO THE RESTURAUNT IN HIS PERSONAL VEHICLE!!

    We were so impressed, we wanted to make sure we spent some money with them, so the next day we went back for lunch and more beers. As Troika was walking through the dining room, he saw us, came over and said hi. We ended up spending quite a bit on shirts, glasses, etc. to try to thank them for the time, but to this day we talk about how awesome he was, and he has made 4 really big fans and supporters of the brewery.


  2. Great story! I can definitely concur on the employees. We had a lot of great conversations with the people we met there and really enjoyed hanging out. One of the brewers even shared his wedding beer with us. They let each of their brewers make their own beer for their wedding at the brewery, and he had made a gose with a mix of lab yeast and wild yeast if I remember right. It was excellent. Pulled it right out of the tank for us.