schlafly's scotch ale and park lager photo by virginia harold

How to recreate a classic St. Louis brewery experience at home

Normally, for a beer issue, I’d want to write something on brewery hopping, or maybe deep dive the offerings of one excellent spot; but these aren’t normal times. Since I’m not dining out at the moment, and not all breweries have patios to drink on, I decided that instead of visiting a bunch of hip spots all over town, I’d bring them to me. So I set out to create a classic brewery experience at home by finding some of the coolest and most fun things our local scene has to offer and arranging for them to converge on one evening, safely, in a friend’s backyard. 

illustration by vidhya nagarajan

To achieve a real brewery-level experience, I first thought about what the main components of a great brewery visit are, since it isn’t just about the beer. While it’s impossible to fully capture the modern, bright feel of Rockwell Beer Co. or the seasoned warmth of the Schlafly Tap Room, you can definitely approximate them in broader strokes. I decided that planning this night would have to involve four elements: ambience, beer, food and people. 

The people were easy: I called a couple of my favorite dining partners, and as soon as I mentioned beer and pretzels, we had a date on the books. Touchdown.

Ambiance demanded a little more work. I started by thinking about what I expect to see and feel when I go to a brewery. For one, fire was necessary, because it was supposed to be chilly the evening we’d chosen (and also because I love sitting outside at breweries). We wanted a breezy, sporty vibe, so we started by hooking up a huge projector and showing slam dunk compilations and old Super Bowl highlights against the side of their house. For music, we built a relaxed playlist full of songs by Fleetwood Mac, Paul Simon, Tom Petty and other rockers of yore. My friends had a big German-style table in the backyard, as well as some hanging lights, which didn’t hurt at all. By the time we started cracking cold ones, it actually sort of felt like we were hanging on the patio of one of our favorite spots. 

schlafly tap room's sausage and kraut plate // photo by virginia harold

For brews and food, I really wanted it to feel like we were in a tasting room, so I picked up a mixture of things I either already love or had wanted to try. We started out on the lighter side with Schlafly’s tasty and attractively canned Park Lager and a coveted four-pack of the rarely brewed Scotch Ale, a dark, caramelly beer that’s perfect for cool weather. Also part of the first round was Main & Mill Brewing Co.’s well-balanced Belgian Wit, which contains a spicy blend of orange peel and coriander. We paired the first round of sips with some hearty starters: onion rings and some marvelous pretzel monkey bread from Perennial on Lockwood, and rustic beer bread from Schlafly Tap Room. 

Then we moved on to some heavier stuff. Earlier in the week, I’d gone up to Florissant to pick up some cans from cult-level New England-style IPA masters Narrow Gauge Brewing Co.; the Double Dry-Hopped Fallen Flag was refreshing, with a rich depth from the sharp, hoppy flavor you expect from the best NEIPAs. We also tasted the Brummel, a so-weird-you-can’t-not-try-it sour IPA brewed with lactose and cassia bark, aged on blackberries and vanilla. Full of funky bitterness and waves of sweet fruit, it harbors a powerful and strange combination of flavors that hits unlike anything else in town. Also during this round, we noshed on Schlafly’s sausage and kraut dish, which comes with three tasty varieties of sausage, a killer potato salad and some delicious beer mustard. To call it a perfect pairing with the Fallen Flag would be an understatement.

jeff hardesty of narrow gauge brewing co. pictured with double dry-hopped fallen flag and brummel // photo by virginia harold

The journey toward heaviness continued with Perennial Artisan Ales’ chocolate-y, coconut-laden Fantastic Voyage, a delicious and dynamic Imperial milk stout that stops just shy of going too hard, and Modern Brewery’s terrific Pie, Felicia, a tart and jammy fruited sour brewed with peach, apricot, vanilla and brown sugar. 

Full and tired (and maybe a little drunk) from hours of backyard brewery bliss, we declined to continue past this point, unfortunately foregoing the appetizing Urban Chestnut Brewing Co./U.R.B. take-and-bake pizza we’d gotten for dessert, which we’d scheduled alongside a digestif of Modern Brewery’s bourbon barrel-aged Looted Art imperial stout. Luckily, we’ll have a solid foundation to start with next time. 

The evening proved that it’s still possible to have it all, or at least to safely put together a fun and surprising beer-centric evening. In the end, though the way we visit breweries has changed immensely, it’s still possible to both support your favorite local spots and have a great time doing it.

Tags : Beer