America’s a big country, with lots of beer flowing across it. With new breweries popping up in every corner, attempting to visit every brewing hub can feel like a Sisyphean task. This weekend, the Saint Louis Brewing Company – more commonly known as Schlafly, the beer they produce – is flipping the script by bringing DC beer to the good people of Missouri.
Every year, Schlafly celebrates both the end of Prohibition and the anniversary of Schlafly Bottleworks, the first new bottling production brewery to open in St. Louis since Prohibition, with its Repeal Festival. As co-founder Dan Kopman says, “It is important to remind [people] that our nation rejected that experiment and that beer is the beverage of moderation.”
Since 2005, Schlafly has used the festival as an opportunity to highlight a different part of the country every year. “We lost a little bet with Harpoon Brewery over the [2004 World] Series and the pay up was to pour a keg of Harpoon over our bar in Saint Louis,” Kopman recalls. “We expanded that by inviting Harpoon and a small group of Massachusetts brewers to our Repeal Festival that April.” Since then, brewers from all of the country have been invited out to share with Saint Louisans some of the best beer their region has to offer. This year is DC’s turn. Bluejacket, Heavy Seas, Port City, and Right Proper will all be making the trip west of the Mississippi, and they’ll be bringing a lot of beer with them.
Kopman admits that deciding which region to highlight is “often random.” They chose greater DC this year because Kopman has “known Joe Gold and Hugh Sisson at Heavy Seas since the early 1990s,” when he and Gold worked at Young’s Brewery and Sisson poured some of the first Young’s beer in America. When he was invited to come out for the festival, Gold immediately agreed: “I didn’t need convincing to drink beer with an old friend!”
With the focus set on DC and Baltimore, the task became to determine the rest of the visiting squad. Schlafly’s Mike Harbin and Susan Harberer made the rounds, drinking beers from some of the region’s best breweries, trying to choose amongst all of the great options now available here. In the end, all of the breweries invited to make the trip have ties to Schlafly.
Kopman worked with Bluejacket’s Greg Engert, Right Proper’s Thor Cheston, and Port City’s Bill Butcher to reform Federal Excise Taxes. Butcher remembers Kopman “being one of the first brewers to visit us” before Port City officially opened their doors in 2011. Schlafly’s DC debut was at ChurchKey, one of the many bars for which Engert serves as the beer director. Bluejacket and Schlafly have brewed a beer together, Fields of Fire. Even for the tight-knit community of brewers, this is a group with deep bonds.
To a person, everyone consulted for this piece stressed what an honor it is to be invited by a craft beer titan to rep your hometown. Butcher says that he feels “privileged that they would think of us…I would not miss a chance to show off our beers alongside such a well-established brewery,” while Cheston admits, “I almost fell out of my chair when I got the phone call.” Representing the region is a big responsibility, one which the breweries aren’t taking lightly, so they spent a lot of time picking which beers to bring.
Gold says that Heavy Seas chose beers that can’t be “compared against anything made by Schlafly. We sent out beers that represent (in our opinion) the best of what we make.” Selecting just a handful of beers from Bluejacket’s large and varied portfolio was especially difficult. Engert chose a mix of flagships (e.g. Lost Weekend, Forbidden Planet) and sour/funky rarities (e.g. A Little Golden Gem, Full Bloom).
The hope is that the range of beers will give a good sense of what these breweries, and the greater DC region in general, can do. And that’s appropriate, given the occasion. As Cheston put it, a festival marking the end of Temperance “celebrates a period renaissance in United States history. It celebrates the rebirth of diversity, creativity and economic growth that accompanied the repeal of Prohibition.”
To exercise the freedoms afforded by Repeal and further strengthen the Saint Louis-DC relationship, Schlafly and Right Proper will be brewing a collaboration beer tomorrow. While considering what to brew, Right Proper’s head brewer, Nathan Zeender, told his Schlafly counterparts that “one thing I think we do well are dry and drinkable beers with expressive fermentation character and a bright hop component—what we've been calling farmhouse pale ales ('cause I guess you have to call it something).”
After settling on the style, Kopman says, “we went back and forth on the recipe. Right Proper chose the yeast strain and [Schlafly] chose the hops,” with the grain bill jointly decided. Zeender adds that the sub-5% ABV beer “will be brewed with some wheat and oats, including some local unmalted wheat, [and] whirlpool hopped and dry-hopped with a mix of Australian Galaxy and Polish Lublin.” Right Proper’s farmhouse yeast blend has landed in Saint Louis, ready to ferment the as yet unnamed collaboration beer.
No matter their involvement, the breweries heading to Missouri are determined to rep the metro area in the best possible way. And the same goes for us. Starting tomorrow, we’ll be embedded (thanks to Schlafly) with the local contingent as they brew, pour, and drink in the Show Me State. We echo Bill Butcher’s promise: “We’ll do DC proud!”