A New Religion in Mecca: A Tasting with Tom Schlafly and Dan Kopman

I visited St. Louis several months ago to be interviewed for a documentary on “the Beer Wars.” I’m not exactly sure what that title is intended to mean but I was glad to talk beer for a few hours with the woman making the film. She used to market Mike’s Hard Lemonade. I think she may have even been involved in starting the company. In any case, it was an opportunity to visit St. Louis and visit a couple breweries.

Unfortunately, time was scheduled so tight that I didn’t get to visit a single brewery while I was there! I was really aching to visit Schlafly. Having missed it I figured I wouldn’t have the opportunity again any time soon since I never have any reason to go to St. Louis.
But last Monday the opportunity came to me. Tom Schlafly and his head brewer Dan Kopman presented a tasting at the Brickskeller as part of the Smithsonian Beer Gazetteer series. Click here for a recap of the first tasting in the series with Dan Cluley of Pike Brewing who enticed us with hints of “brewers feet.”

A New Religion in MeccaSchlafly’s presentation was aptly titled “A New Religion in Mecca” after his recent book by the same name. Mecca, in this case, is St. Louis, and the new religion is a small brewery – in the face of the “old” religion, i.e. Anheuser-Busch.

Tom’s wit and knack for spinning a good yarn were backed up with Dan’s solid brewer expertise and knowledge and insight into the value of being small when the world’s biggest beer bully lives right down the street.

Some nuggets of wisdom from the two:

Dan Kopman:

On of the great things about the craft beer movement is the focus on local.

People only think of A-B and Miller as being national breweries but [A-B] is local in that they have twelve breweries around the country. Their beer doesn’t have to go more than six hours anywhere. They have a huge logistical advantage.

Tom Schlafly:

A lot of our value comes from the fact that we are small, not gigantic.If we can stay popular in St. Louis that would be just fine. Becoming a national brewer is not part of our ambition.

Hops are to beer what pepper is to chili.

It is more fun to eat in a saloon than drink in a restaurant.

Dan’s point about big breweries having logistical advantages is well taken. The fact is that shipping around packaged beer from small brewers is whammy on the environment. Big brewers can actually having a lighter footprint than a small brewer with one brewery who is selling beer nationally.

Standout beers from the tasting included the No 15, a dunkelweizen that included orange peel and locally-grown unmalted winter wheat; the Dry Hopped American Pale Ale that has an addition of cascade hops that go through a “hop rocket”; and an Oak Aged Barley Wine that’s mashed in with the second runnings from another beer and was originally named Old Possum after a book written by T.S. Eliot who apparently lived down the street from the Schlafly brewery!

I also wrote about Schlafly’s reuse of spent grain as compost in this article in American Brewer.

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