Beer on the Road: St Louis to Rolla

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. 

Urban Chestnut, Savor 2016

Urban Chestnut, Savor 2016

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.

Urban Chestnut The Grove, St Louis MO

Urban Chestnut The Grove, St Louis MO

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.

Urban Chestnut, The Grove, St Louis MO

Urban Chestnut, The Grove, St Louis MO

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.

Strammer Max at The Urban Chestnut

Strammer Max at The Urban Chestnut

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 Bottleworks

Schlafly Bottleworks, St Louis MO

Schlafly Bottleworks, St Louis MO

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.

Schlafly Bottleworks, St Louis MO

Schlafly Bottleworks, St Louis MO

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.

The Public House Brewing, Rolla MO

The Public House Brewing, Rolla MO

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.

A friendly greeting - The Public House Brewing, Rolla MO

A friendly greeting - The Public House Brewing, Rolla MO

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.

Bar decor - The Public House Brewing, Rolla MO

Bar decor - The Public House Brewing, Rolla MO

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.

Bottle Swap

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!

Beer on the Road: New Orleans

New Orleans Beer Notes

In August 2015, I was able to tag along with my wife during a business trip to New Orleans, LA. NOLA is one of those special places with a legend, a reputation and mystery. Talking with friends about the upcoming trip I was told there are three things that characterize NOLA: great food, great music and debauchery. Hum, sounds about right. But I learned there was so much more.

I got my first glimpse of NOLA beer scene at the Brewers Association SAVOR event in Washington DC. SAVOR: an American Craft Beer and Food Event, is the most classy beer event I've ever attended. It attracts some of the best beers in the country, all coming together to showcase there beers paired with foods. Plus, the salons (themed talks) it is a night to cherish and remember. You can later download the talks for later learning. This is where I was first introduced to NOLA beers.

NOLA Brewing Co at SAVOR 2015

NOLA Brewing Co at SAVOR 2015

Getting Around the Big Easy

I arrived in New Orleans with a general idea of some beer places I wanted to experience. Really for the most part, my calendar was fluid. Our hotel was within easy walking distance to the French Quarter, but the August weather of NOLA is brutal, with temps near 95°F everyday with about the same degree of humidity. I've wanted to try out Uber for some time and the program had just come to NO a few months earlier. Some may have had issues with this private-driver taxi service, but every ride I had during my time there was only an excellent, comfortable and convenient experience. On one day I had taken four Uber rides to get from one beer establishment to another and then on to dinner that evening.

Crescent City Brewhouse

New Orleans has many nicknames, one of which is the Crescent City. This moniker alludes to the course of the Lower Mississippi River as it moves around and through the city. And thus, this oldest of NO brewers takes its name from this.

In 1991, the Crescent City Brewhouse opened on the site, bringing New Orleans and Louisiana its first brewpub. This represented a revival of the brewing industry that once flourished in the immediate area, and the first brewery to open in more than 72 years.

Crescent City Brewhouse is located in the heart of the French Quarter at 527 Decatur St, New Orleans, Louisiana, 70130-1027. Decatur Street is a-buzz of activity that demands your attention. Music, street performers, shops, food and the river close by. This is where you find the legendary Cafe Du Monde, the iconic New Orleans cafe known for café au laits, chicory coffee & beignets. As you walk in front of the Crescent City Brewhouse, its the jazz that first gets your attention. Its when you get close enough you realize their is a band playing.  

The setting is irresistible and I must go inside. I need a cool beer and some lunch. The cool jazz band is playing comfortably in the front, friendly inviting in those off the street as they did me. This is an excellent cool background to a cool brew. The Creole Queen paddlewheel sits in the distance view.  The Mississippi River is right there.

I ordered the grilled oysters for lunch. Being from the Chesapeake Bay area, I always try the local oyster fare to test against ours. To get the most of the CCB beers i ordered their monthly special brown ale. Everything was poured into the Hefeweizen-style vase glass, which I've always found to be a very sexy glass. It paired well with the grilled oysters which I found very nice. 

To get the best range of their beers I ordered a four-sample paddle. I found the Pilsner pleasant and refreshing. The Hefeweizen, as I've come to expect is a great summer drink but not as characteristically full as German offerings. The Red Stallion is their signature beer. Its a Vienna lager in style, malty sweet. The last brew was the Black Forest, a black lager which I found to be a bit thin but tasty. 

NOLA Brewing

I leave Crescent City Brewing quite satisfied but yet very hungry, wanting to take in as much of this city as I can with the time I have here. My wife is at her conference and I get to play beer geek for the day. I must not squander this opportunity been given to me. Uber please!

NOLA Brewing is a bit of a ride from downtown, really only about a 13 minute ride but too far to walk on a sultry NO summer day. As usual, my Uber is quick to arrive and quick to get me there. He pulls up, I get out in front of the taproom, and zoom he is gone. NO beer, round two.

The taproom is nice but unassuming. People are enjoying their beer and the place is busy. Another paddle was in order and they had a lot of great sounding beers to choose from. 

NOLA Brewing taproom

NOLA Brewing taproom

The Coffee Birth sounded interesting—a coffee infused IPA. It certainly lived up to expectations, full of coffee notes which made drinking this light amber-colored beer a bit confusing.  Of course, who could pass up a Buffalo Stout, a buffalo trace barrel aged. Full of bourbon and as black as night. Real nice! Hopitoulas IPA, their mainstream IPA. Lower Line Sour was tart and refreshing without being overpoweringly sour. A great beer for this place and time.

NOLA sampler

NOLA sampler

Rouses Market

I enjoy trying local beers when traveling. Sometimes is may be difficult to find the right bottle shop to be able to bring back local beer prizes. Rouses Market on Poydras St, was an easy walk from our hotel and has a good selection of local beers. NOLA, Parish Brewing, Abita, Bayou Tech (another brewery discovered at SAVOR). Not only did they have great foods to order but was a nice grocery store, too. They are located at 701 Baronne St, New Orleans, LA  70113-1005. Definitely recommended for beers to drink while staying in NO or for taking home.

The Trillist

A good source for information on the NO beer scene was the iPhone app and local resource website, The Trillist, they had many good New Orleans recommendations for local food and drink.

Final Thoughts

There are so many great beer places in New Orleans it is humanly impossible to drink your way through the city in a week. So, therefore I have an excellent reason to come back. Besides all that is Bourbon St and the Red Dress Run, I loved the food, the drink, the culture very much. I will be back!