St. Louis, my hometown and the home of Perennial Artisan Ales
, is a Budweiser town through and through—even now that Anheuser-Busch is owned by InBev. (Coincidentally, I just started reading Bitter Brew: The Rise and Fall of Anheuser-Busch and America's Kings of Beer
, which is fascinating so far.) True, new microbreweries are springing up there almost as fast as they are in Chicago, and Schlafly has been making craft beer for more than 20 years. It's not hard to find good beer; it's just that the bar in Terminal B of Lambert Airport is called the Budweiser Stadium Club. And if you drive down to the Perennial brewpub, all of the corner bars you pass on the way sport neon signs that say "Budweiser," "Bud Lite," or "Anheuser-Busch"—never "Miller" or "Fat Tire." There's at least one that, in addition to the neon sign, has a faded Budweiser ad painted on one wall.
I first heard about Perennial a few months ago from my coworker Philip Montoro, who'd tried a coconut milk stout called Fantastic Voyage at the Local Option and was impressed by it. The owner, Phil Wymore, worked at Goose Island and then Half Acre before moving back to St. Louis, which may help explain why his beers are getting some attention here (also, they're interesting). During Chicago Craft Beer Week the Fountainhead hosted a Perennial and Half Acre beers night and Revolution Brewing had a Perennial takeover of its guest taps. I missed those events, but at a tasting at the Local Option
last month I finally got to try a Perennial beer: Peace Offering, a brown ale brewed with maple-roasted squash. It was pleasant enough—not exactly inspiring, but I liked it enough to check out the brewpub while I was in St. Louis for Thanksgiving.
The emphasis here is on the "brew" rather than the "pub." When we arrived, just before 7 PM on a Saturday, they were already out of one of the sandwiches; by the time we left a couple hours later nearly all the food was sold out. Even at its best, the menu isn't exactly extensive: a few snacks, a few sandwiches, a few cheeses. But we were there for the beer anyway. There are eight wooden taps, all of them pouring beers made by Perennial. You can get five-ounce pours of any or all of them—we went with the "all" option. What was on tap:
Peach Berliner Weisse: A late-summer seasonal that's still pouring, this was brewed with local peaches. The peach flavor is subdued, but the beer is light, crisp, and lemony, tasting more like a dry cider than beer (in a good way).
Saison de Lis: Brewed with chamomile flowers, and—not surprisingly—smells strongly of chamomile. It's more subtle in taste, slightly yeasty but fairly light overall.
Hommel Bier: A dry-hopped Belgian pale ale, this one smells earthy but tastes clean and mildly hoppy. It's easy to drink, complex, and was one of our favorites.
Peace Offering: The brown ale smells sweeter and tastes more like squash than I remembered (I think it paled in comparison to the strong flavors of the other beers I tried at the Local Option, and was easier to taste next to lighter brews). Aria
: One of Perennial's flagship beers, this Belgian-style ale is brewed with brettanomyces and was just released a month ago. It's a little funky—not sour, which I associate with brett beers, but unusual in a way that I can't quite define.
Heart of Gold: A wheatwine weighing in at 10 percent alcohol, Heart of Gold is sweet but not cloying, with noticeable hop bitterness.
IPA #4: Double IPA, sort of like the opposite of Heart of Gold: they're both very well balanced, but in the citrusy IPA the dominant flavor is hop bitterness that's balanced by the malt, whereas in the wheatwine the reverse is true.
Abraxas: A strong stout, the Abraxas is aged with cacao nibs, cinnamon sticks, vanilla beans, and ancho chiles. It tastes as close to Mexican hot chocolate as you're likely to find in a beer; cinnamon is the dominant flavor but milk chocolate and vanilla also come through strongly. The chiles are subtler, imparting a slight ancho flavor but no chile burn. This was my favorite beer of the evening. There's a bourbon barrel-aged version being released in January, which should be good.
This Friday, Half Acre is releasing Two Tugs, a brown ale brewed in collaboration with Perennial, in both bombers and growlers.
Julia Thiel writes about booze every Wednesday.