Thursday, November 15, 2012

A Civil Life, Buffalo, 4 Hands: Breweries!

For lunch on this day we went to the extremely popular BBQ joint ,(rated the best in St. Louis,) Pappy's.  Fantastic ribs barely needing the flavorful sauces on the tables.  Usually this place has a line out the door and around the building, often completely selling out of food before dinner time.  We lucked out and hit it at just the right time.  On our way out I noted Buffalo Brewing right next door, and couldn't pass up trying a new micro-brew.  The place is small and has a lot of faux Texas decorations, including a stuffed armadillo on the bar.  The tap handles were home-made jobs in the shapes of coyotes, guns, and cactus.  We had the beer sampler to try 5 beers.  The Buffalo Gold was pretty skanky.  The Vanilla Porter and  pumpkin were not too bad.  Overall not great, and the feel of the joint was not amazing.

The same day we went on our epic tour of AB in St. Louis, we visited two smaller breweries, both about a year old.  These were the young punk upstarts trying to make a name for themselves in a town overshadowed by the quintessential Macro-Lager beer.  With the rise of craft beer as a legitimate movement and the take-over of AB by foreign companies, I think the city is ready for this revolution.  They may need to hide in the woods (and industrial areas of town,) and fight a guerrilla war to get noticed and fight The Man, but I believe these two have the right idea.

The first of these two breweries was A Civil Life.  They specialize in session beers and I think the highest alcohol beer they had on tap was 5.6% ABV.  They are trying to fit into a small niche amongst craft beer drinkers within a small niche amongst beer drinkers in general.  And seem to be doing a good job of it!  We first tried their brown ale at a pizza restaurant near our hotel and were fairly impressed.  Then a bartender at another brewery suggested we check them out.  The brewery is in an industrial area in an industrial building, with a nice metal gateway and sign on the way into the outdoor beer garden.  It being winter, the outside was closed down, but we noted that they have a drive-through style window from the tasting room inside to minimize servers having to run in and out.  Great idea! 

Coming through the main door you can see the open area where the brewing equipment is located to the left and there was a brewer in action while we were there.   To the right of the entrance is the tasting room itself, a long dark wood bar with a huge selection of glassware on matching shelving behind it.  There are a few tables as well, but this is the type of place you want to belly up to the bar and talk with folks.  Immediately on entering Sj and I felt at home here and it seemed warm and cozy after after the damp and cold evening outside.  Our bartender looked like a young Gary Oldman with astonishing handlebar moustache, and was incredibly helpful and friendly, probably adding to the relaxed feel of this bar.  They don't do samplers here, but our bartender let us try several things before we ordered.  You can buy half or whole pints served in style-appropriate glassware.  As you order the bartender puts a chalk mark for each half pint on a strip of chalkboard set into the bar itself. Half pints are $2.50 and pints are $5.   By the end of our stay here, we tried pretty much all the beers and there was not one that wasn't great to amazing.  The top of my ranking was the mild (never had better) and a German Alt.  Each of the beers was subtle, to style and perfectly balanced.  It takes some serious skill to do this many lower gravity beers and keep that level of clean ferment and balance.  Two local friends of ours met us here and have vowed to return frequently!  This would be my second home if I lived close by.  Probably for the best that I don't!

Our fourth and final brewery on our whistle-stop tour of St. Louis was 4 Hands.  This was in another more industrial area, but let's be honest, so is most everything in St. Louis.  Located in a large warehouse, it has a modern, clean and spare look.  You can see the brewing equipment through some glass behind the bar, very clean and modern looking.  The bartender here looked like maybe he belonged in a biker gang but was very helpful and friendly.  They have a double IPA called War Hammer and had a real war hammer up on the wall behind the bar.  I get the feeling that our bartender could easily use it on rowdy patrons.

They had 8 beers on tap and all of them were excellent.  The selection here was the exact opposite end of the spectrum from Civil Life, embracing tons of hops and spices and yams.  Our favorite was the Foundation, a strong but lighter tasting pale beer with ginger, lemon balm and peach juice.  I did manage to score a bottle to take home.  A very refreshing and tasty brew!  The best name goes to the smoked dark beer called Pigasus.  Along with beer they have a small menu of food including a nice charcuterie plate filled with meats and cheeses to compliment the drinks.  I really like the artwork on their labels, and most importantly the beer in the glass!

St. Louis has a new and vibrant beer scene and is well worth a visit for that if nothing else!  Breweries and brewpubs range from the gargantuan AB/In-Bev steeped in history and fizzy yellow beer, to older brewpubs like Morgan Street and Schlafly, to the new upstart niche breweries like Urban Chestnut and those mentioned above.  Oh I guess there are other things to do in town other than drink beer...but you can do both!

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