I woke up this morning in Tulsa. That sounds like the beginning of a country song, but it’s the truth. This is going to be a longer post, since a painfully-slow wi-fi at the St. Louis La Quinta prevented me from doing anything online at the end of day 3, so this is going to encompass my final day in St. Louis, and the travel day between St. Louis and Tulsa.
Wednesday was an incredibly busy day when it came to doing work for the book. First stop of the day was the Schlafly Bottleworks, and a meeting with Brewmaster James “Otto” Ottolini. We had a great talk about beer, and then after an extensive checklist of questions, he let me behind the door into Willy Wonka’s beer factory. Really an impressive operation that’s running pretty much all of the time. They don’t have the largest brewhouse that you’ll ever see –only 20 BBL– but everything is so automated that one person can pretty much run things back there for a significant amount of time when it comes to brewing. The picture above is their Tasmanian IPA and everyone’s favorite Pumpkin Ale.
After Schlafly and a quick lunch, we headed over to a two-for-one shot at Perennial Artisan Ales and The Side Project. Not being able to get their beers in San Diego, I was excited to try some of their offerings, and they certainly didn’t disappoint. Owners Phil Wymore and Cory King were so much fun to interview, and you can really tell how excited they are for their projects, and the St. Louis craft beer scene in general. Wymore started Perennial in 2011, and Cory was employee number one. They’ve since branched out to allow King to start his own brand called The Side Project, which he describes as a “Gypsy brewery.” I even got to try a beer that King brewed for an upcoming Side Project anniversary called One Candle, which is a German chocolate cake stout. He said I was the first person outside of their company to try it, so it was an incredible honor.
The final beer-related stop in St. Louis was to Jake Hafner’s neighborhood hangout, The Civil Life Brewing Company. This tasting room really has the feel of a neighborhood watering hole, as it seems that Hafner knows almost everyone who walks in for a drink. Hafner was a great interview, as he’s incredibly friendly and enthusiastic about his craft. Their hard work is starting to pay off, as they entered a beer at the Great American Beer Festival for the first time this year, and they won a gold medal for their Rye Pale Ale. Not too shabby.
One of the really cool things about the St. Louis craft beer scene is that everyone seems to make it a point to reclaim old buildings to house their breweries. Schlafly’s original location is an old print shop in a part of town that burned so bad, that it looked post-apocalyptic enough to serve as a backdrop for Escape from New York. Perennial Artisan Ales is in an old Coca-Cola bottling plant, The Civil Life is in an old newspaper distribution center.
After a long day of drinking beer (it’s a hard job, I know), the final order of business in St. Louis was to walk around downtown to get some establishing shots for the book. We walked from the arch to the fountain in front of the old courthouse, which had been died red for the Cardinals, and finally to Busch Stadium. All of that walking worked up an appetite, so it was finally time to try one more St. Louis delicacy: St. Louis-style pizza. The pizza is razor-thin, and covered with a processed blend of provolone, Swiss and sharp cheddar called Provel. People in St. Louis are fiercely loyal to Provel as it was invented here, but I couldn’t get over the feeling that I was eating a pizza topped with cheese that had the same mouthfeel as Velveeta. It wasn’t for me.
You can’t have pizza without beer, and luckily I had some beer left in the growler that 4 Hands gave me, so I finished the night with a glass of Super Flare, a collaboration between 4 Hands and North Carolina’s Wicked Weed Brewing Company. Super Flare is a funky ipa with mango and guava, and inoculated with brettanomyces for extra funkiness. Really good stuff.
Day four of the trip was a planned travel day, as we had a lot of miles to cover between St. Louis and Tulsa. The journey along Route 66 is filled with tons of Americana like the Route 66 Rocker, which is claimed to be the world’s largest rocking chair. That’s my father-in-law standing next to it for a little perspective. There are also plenty of cool murals along the way, and some beautiful old school motor court motels that have been meticulously maintained (and plenty that are in much worse shape). Here’s one of the prettier ones in Lebanon, Missouri.
Since this IS a trip about the breweries along Route 66, we had to work at least one brewery in during the travel day, and boy am I glad we did. Mother’s Brewing Company in Springfield, Missouri is a real gem in the region. It’s housed in another reclaimed building, this time an old bakery that the previous owners just walked away from when they shut down. When Jeff Schrag and company took the building over to start work, there was still bread in the oven that had been abandoned for two years. That must have been pretty gnarly.
Mother’s is brewing some great beer. Pictured above is a Belgian Apricot ale that’s not ridiculously fruit-forward, but you can definitely tell it’s there. Lil’ Helper is another one of their beers, and they call it a “Midwest Coast IPA.” Really enjoyed that one. While it’s not as fragrant as some of the IPA you see on the West Coast, it had a really nice hop flavor. They also brew a brown ale called Three Blind Mice, which has characteristics of three different dark beer styles. I was fortunate enough to be there when they had a bourbon barrel-aged version of that one on tap, and it was very tasty.
One final thing worth talking about on the drive to Tulsa is Cars on the Route, which is a restaurant in Galena, Kansas. We didn’t get there early enough to eat, but the real reason to visit is to check out Tow Tater. This truck served as the inspiration for Mater from the movie Cars. A Disney animator was travelling Route 66 to get some inspiration, and they came across Tow Tater, and the rest is history.
The trip is wrapping up, as we’re only doing the first half of the journey on this trip. Our final brewery stop is at Tulsa’s Prairie Artisan Ales, and then it’s on to Oklahoma City to scope out some breweries for the second leg of the trip.