Okay, the title sounds like something you might find on the Urban Dictionary. Nope, this is about beer.
In about a week I am going to be spending some time down in St. Louis, Missouri. It seems like a good idea to prepare myself for the local beverage scene. In the past this would have meant steeling my taste buds for the offerings from the legendary Anheuser Busch brew kettles. Since the acquisition of Anheuser Busch by InBev, the meaning of a “local” beer in St. Louis has taken a totally different turn.
For many people a Budweiser is no longer a local beer. It may be made in town, but it is not part of the fabric or identity like it once was. This would have been unthinkable not too many years ago. Ask for a local beer in St. Louis and someone will hand you a Civil Life or a Four Hands or very likely something from Schlafly Beer.
Opened about twenty years ago, Schlafly claims on their website to be “St.Louis’ largest locally owned independent brewery.” It’s good enough for me.
My local HyVee liquor store was kind enough to stock a twelve-bottle sampler pack that contained four bottles each of Schlafly’s Kolsch, Pale Ale, and Dry Hopped APA (American Pale Ale). I am going to talk about them in order of “perceived” strength, which for reasons that will become obvious that perception owes more to my taste buds than anything else.
So, we start with the Kolsch:
When I think of a Kolsch style ale, called golden ale by a lot of American craft brewers, I think of non-threatening beers. This is not a style that someone makes when they want the hop bitterness or aroma to smack you in the teeth. It’s a style that rewards a steady, sure hand when brewing because balance is very important.
The example for Schlafly is very good. It comes in at a drinkable alcohol (4.8% ABV) and mild bitterness (25 IBU). All of this makes for a beer that you can have more than one without feeling like you have smoked a pack of cigarettes every time you burp a little. Yes, I am looking at you Arrogant Bastard Ale.
I said perceived strength earlier in the post because I would have sworn that the Pale Ale was a stronger beer:
In color perhaps, but it comes in at a lower alcohol (4.4% ABV) and the same bitterness (25 IBU). Had the Pale Ale been brewed with a typical American craft hop (Cascade or Willamette) I could understand the difference in perception because of the strong aroma those hops can have when added later in a boil.
This is considered the flagship beer of the Schlafly Beer lineup and it performs well in that role. It’s not a niche or experimental beer meant to push the boundaries of what is possible with the dark arts of beer brewing. Instead, it is meant to be a reliable drink. Pint after pint.
The Dry Hopped APA is a different animal:
If you asked a beer aficionado to describe a dry hopped American craft beer, an ale clocking in at 5.9% ABV and only 50 IBU would not probably be the first description you got. It would likely be something stronger and definitely more bitter, probably closer to 100 IBU which seems like the goal line of “cutting edge” brewing. However, the Dry Hopped American Pale Ale shows what is possible by combining new techniques to deliver balances and drinkable beers.
It is because the beer does not clock in at some exorbitant IBU that the dry hopping is really allowed to shine as a component of the flavor profile. More traditional American hops—Cascade and Chinook—make their appearance here and the flavor difference is noticeable compared with the Pale Ale. By not being overly bitter, the dry hopped aromas hit your palate as you first drink the beers but little lingers as an aftertaste. Try that with something that has an IBU closer to a Texas speed limit. I prefer not to spend my night thinking that I mistakenly drank bong water in the back of a Denver head shop.
If you get a chance while you are in St. Louis order a Schlafly to enjoy a true local beer.