I have the pleasure of traveling to various cities around the country a few times a year. And as a dedicated beer geek, I take the opportunity to research, explore and experience the local beer scene as much as my discretionary time will allow. As a result of some of these adventures, I document these trips in a series I call Beer on the Road.
Savor 2016: A Premier Event
Just before my June 2016 trip to Missouri I had attended Savor 2016 in Washington DC. For those that may not know, this is a major beer and food event hosted by the Brewers Association. I attended Savor 2015 and was able to seek out breweries in regions I would be traveling to later in the year. Last year those designations included Seattle and New Orleans. At Savor I was sure to taste and talk to the guys at the breweries from those towns — those included the NOLA Brewing. While in NO I was able to take an Uber to the NOLA Brewing Co taproom to expand my tasting experience first hand.
Note: An excellent way to learn more about all things craft beer is to attend one of the Savor salons. Since you can't attend all of them, the Brewer’s Association makes it easy for us by recording and making them available for downloading and leisurely listening.
This year at Savor I stopped by the Urban Chestnut Brewing (among many others) table knowing that in a few days I would be in their town of St Louis. I certainly was impressed with their beer. I didn't know anything about their beer or operations as they don't ship to Maryland. I'd mentioned to the fellow pouring that I would be traveling to his fine city in just three days. He informed me that they have two breweries not far from the St Louis airport and have restaurants at each. I knew where I'd be having lunch soon after my arrival
Urban Chestnut Brewing - The Grove
I had an unusual occurrence during a recent trip to Missouri, besides the flight into St Louis, I had a free day to explore.
After gathering my bags and rental car, poking the Urban Chestnut info into my navigation app. I wasn't sure which of the two Urban Chestnut locations I should visit, knowing I only had time for one. The Midtown location was their original and according to their website, has only a limited food menu. The Grove location is a former paper company built in the 1920s, with more food options. I choose The Grove.
Upon arrival to The Grove neighborhood of St Louis I soon became aware that I would be opening the place having arrived just before 11am — but noon according to my body. I was their first customer of the day. Walking up the stairs I was faced with a huge, bright and empty bierhall (beer hall). It was filled with brewery banners and large wooden benches for patrons to enjoy their food, beer and good company. Even at first glance, I liked this place.
I noticed the kitchen opening in the corner and asked the gentleman how their setup worked — really, it wasn't obvious. He informed me to start a tab at the bar and then come back to order my food. Done! Being that it was early and I had a some stops to make before continuing on my travels, while the heavy German beer styles certainly looked appealing, I decided some of the lighter beers may be more appropriate and choose the witbier that was recommended by the barkeep.
Now back to the food. The menu was simple and to the point, mostly German meals (e.g. German port sandwich or Schnitzel) to accompany the beer styles. I have to say I'm a sucker for anything with a fried egg laid on top of it and opted for the Strammer Max — Smoking Goose City Ham, Gruyère de Comté (unpasteurized cow cheese) & farm egg with onion jam on rye toast. And it was delicious! And with the witbier, it was awesome.
Unfortunately, my stay here had to be short. This is a place that if I ever find my way back to St Louis I will drink in as much as I can — literally. One more thing, where can I find an excellent bottle shop to find good local beers to share with my colleagues later in the week, but also to take back home to explore in more leisurely settings. I'd discovered two shops highly recommended on the Beer Advocate website for St Louis. The bartender recommended one of these and that it was a short drive away. He also was quick the recommend some excellent local breweries. Off to the Craft Beer Cellar in the Clayton part of town.
Craft Beer Cellar
The Craft Beer Cellar is in Clayton, a posh section of town. CBC was full of local beers and others that don't ship my way. I picked up three bombers (Katy an American brett saison, Cat Spit Stout, Brew Cocky double IPA) from 2nd Shift Brewing (a STL micro brewery) and Two Frenchmen, a Biere De Garde (a beer style I've learned to love) from Heavy Riff Brewing. I always travel with six padded and sealed wine bottle bags for just such occasions. You’ll have to check in to my Untappd account to learn the results.
Schafly is a brewing company that ships back east and I've come to enjoy a variety of their beers. The Schafly Bottleworks was a few minutes drive and I had some time before getting on the road to Rolla.
This was a production brewery, with all the stainless steel and t-shirts to prove it. They offered a compelling 5 x 5 flight (5, 5oz beer samples). So I lingered for a few moments more. They do serve food there and have a beer garden just outside the facility. There was some bustle but I had plenty of room to spread out. The beers were good and I tested some that I hadn’t had before or simply caught my attention, like an IPA with an experimental hop variety.
Time to hit the road to Rolla.
The Road to Rolla
Rolla is about a two-hour drive to the Southwest from St Louis. Green, leisurely and mostly straight. Upon arrival, our local host had already prepared the hospitality suite with a couple coolers of excellent local beer — one was dedicated to only IPAs. I knew I'd never be able to sample all of what was available, but I was going to enjoy the task of learning some new breweries and some local offers of some familiar ones. Boulevard, Schafly, Urban Chestnut, Perennial Artisan Ales, 4 Hands, Piney River, 2nd Shift — St Louis brews some awesome beer. And I has a chance to try a bunch over the week.
Public House Brewing Company was the site for one of our dinners that week. I have to admit, I ate at a Buffalo Wild Wings. When in Rolla MO after 9pm you don't have many choices. I learned something that evening. While you may think of this restaurant chain with multiple options for standard light American lager, they also like to bring attention to some good local beers. Knowing I would be going to Public House in a couple of days, I decided to do some early recon work. The Revelation Stout was very good.
The Public House Brewing is a great stop if you're in the area and need some relaxation, good food and beer. We had a buffet setup for us so I can't attest to the rest of the menu but what I had was good eating. The brewery is also associated with the St James Winery which sits just next door. You can sit in The Garden and enjoy beer, wine or any cocktail of choice while playing bocce. The atmosphere that evening was beautiful and the beer matched the mood.
I had already had their stout so wanted to very the range by having a Rod's Cream Ale and the Elusive IPA. Their other choice was the Hide and Seek Hefeweizen. I love a good hefeweizen but typically find the American versions short of their German cousins. Just my opinion.
The Beer Geek Suitcase
I travel to other states on average ten times a year. This includes personal trips to neighboring states and regional business trips. As a self-proclaimed beer geek, I make it a habit to seek out places to eat that have good beer selections (local selections are preferred), brewpubs, and premier bottle shops. So I usually do my homework with the help of BeerAdvocate, RateBeer, BreweryMap and Untappd.
The other thing I've learned, and it seems obvious to me but from conversations I gather not so much, is to carry the proper tools of a semi-pro beer geek. That would include a bottle opener, which is really a small item to include in your toiletry bag or hang from your backpack. This has come in handy on more than one occasion.
The other item I keep in my suitcase are wine bottle protectors. These form fitting bags are shaped to hold wine bottles (or 22 oz bombers) with bubble padding and a ziplock seal at the opening. They are available on Amazon for about $16.50 for a two-pack. I carry six.
I have brought back as many as ten bottles in my suitcase, some in these bags and some wrapped in dirty jeans. I have never had a bottle break or leak either way, but I definitely feel better knowing that bottles in one of these bags have a better chance of protecting my clothes from spilled liquid and the embarrassment of pulling a suitcase from the airport luggage carousel reeking of beer.
One other note, I normally only travel with bottles because cans seem less secure to me. However, during this trip I orchestrated a bottle swap with a colleague and he brought cans. I did secure the cans in the wine bags and had no problem at all.
As I have written about before, beer geeks have a way of finding each other out. Inevitability, any conversation will eventually circle around to beer and usually stay there for some time. Some people will connect, some will not. Those that do, you will know, share the beery passion with you.
As mentioned, I am able to travel the country to participate in several regional committees each year. Beer geeks doing what they do, are always looking from elusive beer that doesn't ship to our local. My colleague from New Hampshire was more than willing to bring some fine beers from New Hampshire and Vermont. In return, I carried the Hoplar Imperial IPA bomber (90 pt BA) from Hardywood Park Craft Brewery in Richmond VA and a Chardonnay Barrel Belgian Ale Fall Migration (89 pts BA) from Evolution Craft Brewing in Salisbury MD. I discovered Hardywood while having lunch in Washington DC not long ago. And since they do not ship to Maryland, I went looking for the closest outlet and found a shop in DC that did carry them while on my way to the Savor event. Okay, I got two, one for the swap and one for myself. Hey, a beer geek, remember!