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Rural Missouri Magazine

The brewer's art
Missouri's handcrafted beer gains a loyal following

by Jason Jenkins
 

Four simple ingredients: water, malt, hops, yeast. For centuries upon centuries, they have been combined to create one of the world’s oldest prepared beverages. Whether light or dark, bitter or sweet, strong or weak, beer is a part of nearly every culture around the globe.

But in the past 15 to 20 years — after decades of domination by light American-style lagers such as Budweiser and Miller — beer drinkers in Missouri and around the country have rediscovered the entire gamut of beer thanks to craft brewers creating distinctive, full-flavored traditional varieties.

“At one point in time in early American history, we brewed predominantly ales, and we were known for our beer,” says Chad Frederick, owner of Little Yeoman Brewery, located just outside of Cabool. “We were known for our strong beer.”

Today, while giant multinational brewing conglomerates produce a vast majority of the nation’s beer, they are far outnumbered by smaller breweries.

According to the Brewers Association, a national organization that represents the interests of small and independent American brewers, craft beer only accounted for about 4 percent of the U.S. beer market by volume in 2008. However, of the 1,527 U.S. breweries in operation that year, 1,483 of them were craft breweries — or roughly 97 percent.

The Brewers Association claims that the majority of Americans live within 10 miles of a craft brewer. Here in Missouri, those practicing the brewer’s art can be found in every corner of the state. Increasingly, the consuming public is finding both them and their beers.

Shawn Briggs, co-owner of Bootleggers Restaurant and Brewery in Aurora, pulls a pint of one of the brewpub’s eight house beers.

Make a meal of it

By far, most microbreweries in Missouri are tied to a restaurant, winery or other eatery that provides the venue for putting the brewer’s work on full display. Brewpubs such as Flat Branch Pub & Brewery in Columbia, which opened in 1994, and Bootleggers Restaurant and Brewery in Aurora, which opened in 1998, actually have their brewing equipment front and center in the dining area, allowing people to see exactly how their beer is made.

“A lot of the business is built around the beer,” says Lance Wood, general manager at Flat Branch. “The premise starts with the brewery, then it goes from there. Really, though, we’re actually more of a restaurant than we are a bar.”

When Flat Branch opened 16 years ago, the brewpub produced roughly half a dozen styles of beer. Today, brewer Larry Goodwin keeps about 12 varieties on tap at any one time, mixing a selection of regular fare with seasonal specialties such as strawberry lager in the summer and pumpkin ale in the fall.

“We’ll go through a batch of strawberry in about 2 or 3 weeks,” he says. “Pumpkin, we can sell out in one day.”

Larry, who was been brewing for a decade, says that while he doesn’t consider himself an innovator, he likes to play around with ingredients, tweaking recipes for different effects.

“There’s many, many yeast strains. There’s 40 to 50 varieties of hops, and there’s a bunch of different companies that make different specialty malts,” he explains. “Between those variables, it’s endless.”

Malted barley is the main source of starch in beer. It also provides the beer’s color. Darker malts produce darker beers.

Lance says Flat Branch fans drive from as far as St. Louis and Kansas City to enjoy their favorite brew. While you can order a pint at the pub, you also can purchase a half-gallon “growler” of beer to enjoy at home.

“We have some people from Kirksville who drive down regularly and get growlers of our green chili beer,” Lance says “Once, they came down and we had run out of chili beer earlier in the day. There’s nothing else you can satisfy them with.”

At Bootleggers, Shawn Briggs and Scott Young are the co-owners and co-brewers. Housed inside the former Aurora Bank building, their brewery is set up inside the bank’s original vault. The pair’s eight varieties of handcrafted beer have found a foothold in this town of roughly 7,500.

“I’d say we’ve pretty much doubled our business since we opened,” says Shawn, a member of Ozark Electric Cooperative who began brewing while in college. “We did a lot of sampling with our customers. Any time somebody would order a domestic beer, we would bring out a glass of our beer and say, ‘Just try it, it’s on us.’”

Scott adds that they’re seeing more customers gravitate toward higher-end beers. “They’re ready to take off the training wheels and try something with flavor,” he says.

By beer alone

While combining a microbrewery with a restaurant is the most popular business model for Missouri’s craft brewers to share their creations with the masses, the brewpub is not the only way a microbrewery can be successful. Just ask Chad Frederick.

The master brewer for Little Yeoman Brewery serves no food. His beers currently are not distributed to any retail outlet in Cabool or anywhere else. Instead, Chad relies on his customers to drive up the stretch of gravel called Dallas Lane that winds from Highway M and buy their beer straight out the brewery’s front door.

“This is a production facility, but you’d be surprised how many people come out and sit at the picnic tables,” says the Intercounty Electric Cooperative member. “In the summer, I’ll set up a rinky-dink tent for a bit of shade, and there can be 40 to 50 people here drinking beer. In the winter, there’s a lot of beer drank in the backroom where I store the grain. There’ll be people sitting on equipment while it’s being used. It’s pretty informal.”

No matter what style of beer is being brewed, the first step is “mashing in,” where hot water and grain are mixed together in the mash tun. Here, the starches in the grain are converted into sugars. At Flat Branch Pub & Brewing in Columbia, it’s a process that assistant brewer Kyle Butusov begins about three times each week. Here, he’s using crushed malted barley in a batch of Flat Branch’s popular green chili beer.

After working for previous owner Stephen Markley for about four years, Chad took the reins of Little Yeoman in 2004 when Stephen retired after 10 years of business. Today at 33, he’s creating a small selection of beer varieties that have people from around the country and around the world flocking to his Texas County farm.

“I actually had a couple from Germany come visit us,” says Chad, who brewed his first batch of beer at age 11 under the supervision of his father, a science teacher. “I’ve had people drive up here and camp out in their RVs. You just never know who will come up that driveway.”

Chad says that today, the beer enthusiasts that visit Little Yeoman are seeking bolder flavors. While his biggest seller is his porter, a smooth, medium-bodied beer with an alcohol content of between 7 and 8 percent, he’s now brewing a double India pale ale that his wife has dubbed “Crazy Juice.”

“It’s a hop monster with about 13 percent alcohol, but it’s smooth as silk,” he says. “That seems to be the trend that people are following, extreme beers. People seem to want these big monsters, and I don’t mind making them.”

Little Yeoman hand-bottles its beer, but because of a loyal, thirsty following, Chad sells 60 percent of his product in kegs. He says he’d like to expand his operation, perhaps even franchising down the way.

“I don’t want to get too big, though,” he admits. “You start losing quality if you get too big, and that just can’t happen.”

Brew clues

For the uninitiated, making a selection from a list of handcrafted beers could only be more difficult if it were written in Latin. With so many styles and variations on styles of beer, understanding what you’re ordering can be downright intimidating. Luckily, though, the world of beer is fairly simple.

When it comes down to it, there are really only two categories of beer — lagers, the category in which beers such as Budweiser and Coors are found; and ales, where beers run the gamut from lighter-colored pale ales to darker porters and stouts. Because lagers take more time to ferment and age, most handcrafted beers are ales.

“Lagers are fun to do because you have to bring in a different yeast, but they’re challenging,” says Larry, who brews the occasional lager at Flat Branch. “We don’t have enough tank space to really keep a lager. They tie up a fermenter for 2 to 3 weeks, and they tie up a conditioning tank for a couple of months.”

Chad Frederick, owner of Little Yeoman Brewery outside of Cabool, caps bottles of the brewery’s porter using a manual capper. The beer will continue to ferment inside the sealed bottle producing natural carbonation.

Among ales, the variations in flavor and appearance result from differences in the types and amounts of beer’s chief ingredients: malted barley and hops. How these marry together and balance each other affects the beer’s taste. Darker beers accentuate the malt, using the hops to balance the malt’s sweetness. Lighter beers accentuate the hops’ floral and even citrus flavors, using the malt to balance the bitterness.

“Don’t be afraid to experiment and try dark beers,” says Lance. “Because frankly, for someone who drinks Budweiser, a brown ale, which is a fairly dark beer, is not going to be that huge of a shift. It’s going to have a little different flavor, but hop-wise, it’s not overly aggressive.”

Like most microbreweries, Flat Branch and Bootleggers both offer samplers, so don’t be afraid to experiment and give your local brewer a chance to become the purveyor of your favorite pint.

Where’s the best place to enjoy a pint of handcrafted beer in Missouri? What’s your favorite? Join the discussion on Rural Missouri’s Facebook page.

 

Missouri’s Rural Microbreweries

If you’re ready to give handcrafted beer a sip, there’s likely a local brewery eager to help you find that perfect porter, awesome ale or stupendous stout. Here’s a list of rural microbreweries licensed by the Missouri Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Control:

Augusta Brewing Co.
5521 Water St., Augusta
636-482-2337
Little Yeoman Brewing Co.
12581 Dallas Lane, Cabool
417-926-9185
   
Bootleggers Restaurant & Brewery
101 S. Madison St. Aurora
417-678-2888
Prison Brews
305 Ash St.
Jefferson City, 573-635-0678
   
Broadway Brewery
816 E. Broadway
Columbia, 573-443-5054
Springfield Brewing Company
305 South Market St., Springfield
417-832-8277
   
Buckner Brewing Co.
132 North Main St.
Cape Girardeau, 573-334-4677
Tin Mill Brewing Company
114 Gutenberg St., Hermann
573-486-2275
   
Charlie’s Steaks, Ribs & Ale
3009 W Hwy 76, Branson
417-334-6090
139 State Highway Y, Forsyth
417-546-2011
Trailhead Brewing Company
921 South Riverside Dr.
St. Charles, 636-946-2739
   
Flat Branch Pub & Brewing
115 South Fifth St.
Columbia, 573-499-0400
 
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Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives

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2722 E. McCarty Street
P.O. Box 1645 • Jefferson City, Mo. 65102
573-659-3423

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