Back in the day, I went to school in Peoria. I had a friend who worked for a distributor there and got way into craft beer before it was even cool. We had a post-graduation gathering at Rachael's townhouse to celebrate her being the first of us to actually own a home rather than the rest of us who retreated to living with parents or in crappy apartments. Schlafly pumpkin ale made an appearance and it was my first exposure to beer that was purchased for flavor rather than price. I was informed I couldn't get it in Chicago, and it's best served slightly warmer than fridge temp. We enjoyed them with a toasted marshmallow on top.
Now, I'm an unabashed beer girl and am not even a little sorry about my love of pumpkin. But not all pumpkin stuff is created equal. I do not, for one, like pumpkin spice lattes. I said it and I stand by it. There's nothing pumpkiny about it. It's just spice. All I taste is the ginger and it makes me think I'm eating Asian food. Bleck. When I saw Schlafly at Binny's last fall, it was such a blast from the past that I couldn't resist picking up a six pack. It was everything I remember, and reminded be that I started my craft beer tasting career on a high.
I was really looking forward to learning more about what makes Schalfly different during this month's beer dinner at Lakeshore Beverage. First, the office is amazing. Calling it a workspace doesn't give it justice. This building is nicer than most bars I frequent and was all ours. Lakeshore invites a handful of friends, influencers and writers to #BeerHQ every month to take beer. It's a way to connect with the beer community and learn more about what beers tickle your fancy.
After being ushered into the main bar (because of course Lakeshore has more than one), we took the tour with Matt and started on a welcome beer, which was Schlafly Kolsch, which is made with the authentic yeast strain sourced from Koln, Germany. It's so close to the original method and recipe that it's been mistaken for a German beer before.
After our welcome beer and chatter with Maggie and Natali, we moved to the theater to meet with co-founder Dan Kopman. It was probably the coolest and most approachable beer talk I've ever attended. Dan talked about his early days as a brewer, learning about homebrewing at Kenyon College and then apprenticing at breweries all over London and Scotland before returning home to St. Louis, where he started a brewery with his dad's business associate. Dan said he never planned to settle in the area, but the beer had different plans.
We learned about Schlafly's Tap Room, which started as an abandoned warehouse in a blighted neighborhood people just didn't go to. After acquiring the former printing facility and $2 million in renovation (and 20 years later), the neighborhood is starting to come back. It was also the first brewpub built in the state after prohibition.
It was after Schlafly got rolling that Dan noticed the influx of pumpkin everything - candy and crappy beer and spirits. But everything on the market was just a crappy facsimile containing extracts added in at the end of processing that left so much to be desired.
So Dan set out to make a pumpkin beer that was worth savoring. He determined it had to have actual pumpkin, which was a bit of a messy process. They started with cutting up pumpkins and adding it to the mash at the beginning of the process. Unfortunately, the pumpkin just sat above the mash and added little to the mix. The next try was freeze-dried pumpkin, which yielded the same result once hydrated.
It was when Dean picked up a green juice at a grocery store that the light bulb went off - a juicer removes all the fibrous materials and just leaves the flavors and sugars and essential. What they needed was the world's largest juicer. They found it in Salem, Oregon, which is where the pumpkins are harvested, pureed, concentrated and stabilized each fall for the following season's crop of beer.
But that was only part of the equation. If you think about a pumpkin pie, you've got crust and the filling. Crust is made of carbs and sugar, which beer has, and the filling is pumpkin and spice. Without the flavorings of spices, you'll be missing something.
However, now was not the time to ruin this game changer with extracts, which contain food-grade glycol to stabilize. Instead, they learned how essential oils are made, which is a process in which scientists take fruits and vegetables and process it with carbon dioxide to yield essential oils. They created a device that uses beer instead of CO2, and that is how the most sciencey beer I've ever savored gets into my bottle.
Before we left, we enjoyed pumpkin bread made with the beer (it's amazing and I'll be replicating just as soon as I replenish my Schlafly supply) and Dry Hopped APA, which was a wonderful way to end the evening. You know why I love beer? It brings people together in an unpretentious, approachable way. And that's exactly what happened - we had a blast sipping and savoring, learning and chatting.
Big thanks to Lakeshore for hosting!