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Beer: Schlafly's D.C. connection

Inside the Tap Room at the Schlafly microbrewery in St. Louis. (Schlafly Beer)

In St. Louis, Anheuser-Busch is known simply as The Brewery. The behemoth beermaker has become so enmeshed in the economy and culture of the city that lawyer Tom Schlafly might have felt it almost sacrilegious to open a microbrewery/restaurant there in 1991. At any rate, when he wrote about his foray into brewing, he titled the book, "A New Religion in Mecca: Memoir of a Renegade Brewery in St. Louis."

Schlafly’s St. Louis Brewery (a.k.a. Schlafly Beer) has had a toehold in the Washington area for about two years, selling a barrel-aged barleywine and an imperial stout in corked bottles at a few outlets. On May 3, Schlafly and his business partner Dan Kopman dropped by ChurchKey in Logan Circle to debut a range of lighter, session-type beers and a few heftier Belgian-inspired ales.

Schlafly Kolsch seeks to imitate the hybrid beers of the German city of Cologne, which are fermented with an ale yeast but aged at cooler temperatures associated with lager brewing. Aceing the style was a point of pride for Schlafly, whose wife and in-laws come from Cologne. The brewery ferments the golden ale with the same yeast strain used by a well-regarded German brand called Gaffel, but doesn’t use the same hops or malts.

A comparison of the two beers, served over the bar in tasters' glasses, revealed major differences: The Gaffel was drier and more pilsner-like. The Schlafly Kolsch was fruitier, with orange and lemon notes and more akin to an American wheat ale. I found it a refreshing summertime quaff, and the judges at the recent World Beer Cup competition in Chicago apparently agreed, awarding it the gold medal in the Kolsch category.

Schlafly Beer co-founders Dan Kopman, left, and Tom Schlafly. (Schlafly Beer)

Schlafly Dry-Hopped APA (American pale ale) draws its flavor from Cascade and Chinook hops, two quintessential American strains noted for their citrusy and resiny qualities. The APA had a hint of grapefruit and a firm bitter finish, but nothing over the top. West Coast brewers sometimes talk about the “b-word” as though balance were an unutterable profanity, but Midwesterners -- even die-hard craft beer fans -- seem to appreciate this property.

Also on tap were Schlafly Biere de Garde, a fruity-yeasty brew inspired by French farmhouse ales, and Grand Cru, a Belgian-style strong ale with notes of dry spice and orange marmalade and surprisingly light on the palate for its 9 percent alcohol-by-volume content. Not sampled was an even more formidable Quadruple measuring 12-percent alcohol.

The Kolsch and APA should be available year-round in kegs and bottles from distributors DOPS (the District and Maryland) and Specialty Beverage (Virginia). Kopman urged beer connoisseurs to look out for limited releases such as Schlafly Extra Stout, American IPA, Pumpkin and Xmas ales.

It’s a bit of an anomaly that any of these beers are available here. The St. Louis Brewery sells 90 percent of its output within a 100-mile radius of its home base, says Kopman, and sales there have been booming ever since a Belgian-Brazilian conglomerate called InBev took over Anheuser-Busch in 2008. The new executives embarked on a massive campaign of cost-cutting, eliminating more than 20,000 jobs nationwide through firings, attrition and selling off subsidiaries.

Fearing for their livelihood, St. Louisans have been reevaluating their loyalties. “After Anheuser-Busch was sold, our phone rang off the hook with callers asking, ‘Where can we but Schlafly Light in 30-packs?’’ says Kopman. He claims the St. Louis Brewery has gotten about 1,000 résumés from disgruntled former Anheuser-Busch employees.

Just in case its own brew house can’t handle the demand, the company is considering contract-brewing at Stevens Point Brewing Co. in Stevens Point, Wisc., or City Brewing Co. in Latrobe, Pa.

So why ship beer to Washington?

Both Schlafly and Kopman are frequent visitors to the area. Schlafly is a Georgetown University graduate and active in alumni affairs. Kopman is working with the Brewers Association, the small brewers’ trade group, to promote tax relief legislation currently before Congress. Both men have friends and family in the area, many of whom showed up for the ChurchKey tapping. “It felt like home,” says Kopman.

Besides, he says with a laugh, “We’re sick of their bitchin’ and moanin’ ” about not being able to get Schlafly beers locally.

-- Greg Kitsock

By The Food Section  |  May 14, 2010; 2:00 PM ET
Categories:  Beer  | Tags: Beer, Greg Kitsock  
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