Holy Craft!

How brewpubs and tasting rooms are redefining the beer market, and what we can learn from their success.

Melissa Vonder Haar, Freelance Writer

Angel Abcede, Senior Editor/Tobacco, CSP

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Such growth is understandable for a metropolis such as Chicago. But what about a city where “big brewing” has reigned supreme for more than a century?

“St. Louis is certainly a beer and baseball town,” admits Kevin Lemp, president of the recently opened Four Hands Brewery in St. Louis. “I don’t think that will ever change.”

However, even St. Louis drinkers are apparently willing to explore the craft movement. Located less than 2 miles from Anheuser-Busch, Four Hands has had no problem tempting locals to the craft side with options such as Prunus Saison, a cherry seasonal that landed on Draft Magazine’s Top 25 Beers of 2012 list; and Smoked Pigasus, a collaboration with a local barbecue joint that includes malts smoked in the restaurant’s meat smoker.

“The community has been very receptive to our brand,” Lemp says. “I believe they appreciate our creativeness and our passion for the city.”

In many ways, the craft-beer movement is part of a larger trend toward high-end local products across the board. From farm-to-table dining to community-supported agriculture groups (CSA) and farmers’ markets, consumers across the country are showing a willingness to spend more in exchange for quality, locally produced goods. Beer is no exception.

“That consumer wants to know and understand the product they are enjoying,” says Lemp. “They become passionate about the brewing process. They want to know more about the farm that raised what is now on their plate.”

Many brewers recognize the power of this consumer base and cater beers toward the fresh “foodie” crowd.

One of Half Acre’s beers is called Sticky Fat, named after a fictitious bear that “comes out of the mountains every year to eat the fresh hops off the vine,” Kapraun says. Half Acre brews Sticky Fat only once a year, when it can get the freshest possible hops from the Pacific Northwest or Michigan. “The hops are picked on a Tuesday, and we’re brewing on a Wednesday,” he says.

The result is a crowd that flocks to tasting rooms such as Half Acre’s to enjoy a freshly brewed draft, surrounded by other beer enthusiasts and the brewers behind the beers. It hits on yet another unique aspect of these brewpubs and microbrewers: the appeal of the tasting room.

“I believe we are able to capture such a great clientele at our tasting room because of the experience we offer,” says Lemp. “We offer a very inviting space with passionate team members behind the bar, a 2-foot-by-20-foot window looking into the brewery, and food that pairs great with our beer. There is something fun about drinking a beer 20 feet from where it was made.”

A key highlight of these tasting rooms is the passionate and often colorful individuals serving up the suds. Whether it’s the brewmaster or a part-timer behind the bar, the craft-brewing movement seems to have perfected the hiring process to ensure a personable expert is serving their clientele.

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