I don't get to St. Louis as often as I'd like to any longer. With the closing of Ultimate Electronics earlier this year, followed by the closing of the American TV stores in the St. Louis area this past summer, then soon after that, the announcement of the closing of one of my independent retailers, St. Louis is suddenly a dormant market for me. I was in town to try to convince a former dealer of mine to come back on board with us and I had a chance to have lunch at the Schlafly Bottleworks on the southwest side of the city (see map).
I've eaten at the Schlafly Tap Room before (see that entry here) and I remember the food being pretty good. The Schlafly beer is above average, but a little too sweet for me at times. Still, I do like their pale ale and their Oktoberfest beers. Since it was late September when I was there, the Oktoberfest beer was on tap and flowing.
The condensed history of Schlafly's is pretty interesting. In the late 80's, local lawyer Tom Schlafly was instrumental in getting Missouri laws changed to allow brew pubs in the state. Once that went through, Schlafly teamed up with a local St. Louis man, Dan Kopman (left - picture courtesy St. Louis Business Journal) to realize his dream of opening a brewpub in St. Louis. Kopman had studied in Scotland during his college years and became enthralled with all things beer. He worked for a time for the Wells and Young's brewery, first in production, then in export sales.
After moving back to St. Louis, Kopman hooked up with Schlafly primarily to just start a microbrewery, not a brew pub. When it became apparent that they'd need the food to help supplement the cost of building a brewery, they decided to do the brew pub concept. They looked at a handful of buildings just west of the downtown area before settling on a nearly 90 year old structure that once housed a printing company, but had largely been vacant for about 15 years. They named their company the St. Louis Brewing Company, hired their first brewmaster in Dave Miller, then opened up the brewery and the Schlafly Tap Room.
The steady growth of Schlafly beer products, primarily the bottling process, necessitated a larger brewing facility. They were approaching 10,000 barrels brewed annually and Schlafly and Kopman figured they needed a facility that could do three to four times that capacity. Kopman found a building that formerly housed grocery store at the corner of Southwest Ave. and Manchester and the partners bought the property. They spent over $1 million dollars in setting up and renovating the building and the Schlafly Bottleworks opened in 2003.
With distribution now approaching 10 states in the Midwest and South (we began to get Schlafly beers in Iowa earlier this year), the capacity of the Bottleworks is fast approaching its capacity of 45,000 to 50,000 barrels annually. In the summer of 2010, Schlafly contracted with the Stevens Point Brewery in Wisconsin to brew and can their Summer Lager beer. And earlier this year, Kopman announced that they had signed an agreement with Nashville-based Blackstone Brewery to brew Schlafly beers to increase distribution in the Southeast. The head brewer of Blackstone Brewery is Dave Miller, who left the Schlafly brewery to head up the brewery at the Blackstone Restaurant and Brewery when it opened. Blackstone just opened a new facility that features a 30 barrel brewhouse similar to the size Schlafly has in St. Louis.
Stephen Hale is the current brewmaster for Schlafly's, which produces six year-round brews and over 40 seasonal or special brews. Still known to many as "the other brewery" in St. Louis, Schlafly is celebrating their 20th year of business with a limited series of four commemorative beers including an Imperial Pilsner and a Citrus Witbier.
I've been to the Bottleworks for beers a couple three times in the past, but had never gone there for food. The food menu consists of locally grown natural foods and produce. They also feature pizza at the Schlafly Bottleworks with toppings such as bison, goat cheese and a host of fresh vegetables. Their appetizers are well-known throughout the St. Louis area for such eclectic items as their sausage platter that features lamb, salsiccia (sweet St. Louis-style pork sausage), and andouille sausages; as well as their bison nachos.
Schlafly Bottleworks has a large bar area (above left) that features just bartender service for food and drink, along with a dining room with full waitstaff service. In the warmer months, the Bottleworks has a very nice beer garden that offers dining al fresco (above right). Even though it was a beautiful fall day when I was there, I decided to eat inside at the bar.
The guy seated next to me at the bar was eating one of Schlafly Bottleworks pizzas - a 10" thin crust pizza that had multitudes of toppings on it. Since I was going out for dinner with my dealer that evening, I quickly knocked the pizza off my list of possibilities.
Another thing that completely caught my attention on the menu was their meat loaf entree. It featured bison, ground beef and andouille sausage mixed together and topped with an oatmeal stout tomato sauce. That sounded great, but it also sounded way too filling for lunch. I've got to go back to Schlafly Bottleworks for that at some point.
I ended up opting for the bison burger - an 8 oz. lean bison patty on a brioche bun. For extra measure, I had them put some bacon and Swiss cheese on top. Cole slaw came with the bison burger. In the meantime, I had already ordered the seasonal Oktoberfest beer they had on tap.
Here's the bison burger as it was presented to me. Most bison burgers are usually too lean and they dry out from the cooking process. I have to say the bison burger at the Bottleworks was one of the better ones I've ever had - coming very close to the bison burger at the Ted's Montana Grills that I've visited in the past. It had great flavor and was definitely helped by the cheese and the bacon on top. The brioche bun was also very good.
The cole slaw - eh! It was pretty bland and I only had one bite of it before I decided that it wasn't all that great. But I definitely finished all of the bison burger.
After I finished my lunch, I took a quick walk around the Schlafly Bottleworks to check out the merchandise they have to offer (below left). In addition to shirts, sweatshirts and other nice items to wear, the Schlafly Bottleworks also sell their beers - at the same price as local grocery and liquor stores so not to undercut their distribution. However, like nearly every other brewery that sells neat clothing, it was way too expensive for me.
In the bottleworks is also a small museum that commemorates the history of brewing in St. Louis (above right). There were old time pictures of breweries and the people who were the pioneers and legends of brewing beer in St. Louis. An audio/video presentation was playing on one of the flat screen TV's regarding Schlafly beers and their brewery.
Brewery tours are available at the Bottleworks and it would probably be a fun thing to do at some point. It isn't all that long and then you have the chance to have some of their good beer and very good food at the end of the tour. Even if you don't want to do the tour, the Schlafly Bottleworks is a unique destination to have a good in-house brewed beer, good food made with natural ingredients, and a laid-back atmosphere that allows you to chill out and enjoy your food and beer. Later that evening, my dealer signed up to come back on board with my company's products and I was happy about that. I was also happy because their store is not far from the Schlafly Bottleworks. I foresee a number of evenings quaffing a few brews and having some good food.