It goes without saying that college students enjoy knocking back a beer once in a while… or every Thursday through Saturday. St. Louis, home of Anheuser-Busch (ever heard of them?), is no exception. But, before you go out and order a pitcher of Bud Light for your table, check out St. Louis’ own home brewed beer, Schlafly.
Tom Schlafly, co-founder and co-Chairman of the Board for the Saint Louis Brewery, partner at a prestigious law firm, and part-time lyricist for a troupe of singing lawyers, talked to us about how Schalfly beer all started, why you should drink what you want and forget about the haters, and the future of the Budweiser.
Q: What made you want to get involved in the brewery and beer industry?
“Microbreweries had been succeeding elsewhere. At the time, I had been at Oxford in England for a continuing legal education program and learned more about English beers than English law. Why should I be able to get beers like that in the UK but not at home? … At this point, the mid-80s [in the US] there were a few local microbreweries, in the Bay Area, Denver, and a few other cities, but I knew someone was going to do it [in St. Louis]. I wanted to see a microbrewery in St. Louis, figuring it’d be fun, and if it worked, it’d be great. If it doesn’t work, so be it. But, I don’t want to kick myself later for not trying… I wanted to brew the styles that the big guys didn’t want to.”
Q: Were there any challenges you faced while opening the Tap Room?
“We have the first brewery since Prohibition. Under the law, breweries can’t own retail establishments. We opened the Tap Room in 1991. We started [Schlafly Tap Room] and could sell beer here, but not anywhere else. We got the law changed in 1993; [it] raised our production limit and allowed us to sell to retail accounts through licensed wholesalers. One of the first places we served was Blueberry Hill on Delmar, then Cardwell’s in Clayton, and Trainwreck on Manchester…Then people wanted to know why they couldn’t get [Schlafly] in bottles…In 1996, we got contract bottling…in 1997 we went back to the Missouri General Assembly to raise our production limits. Instead, we got an administrative interpretation that had the effect of eliminating our production limit. It came from the Division of Liquor Control.
Q: Do you feel your beer is particularly related to St. Louis?
“Most of the styles we do are recognized styles out there. One cliché is that it’s American brewing of European styles. But we’ve moved beyond that. We’re not really big on the gimmicks. What we’ve tried to do is offer a broad range of styles…St. Louis is a big center of German brewers; the first lager in the United States might have been brewed in St. Louis in 1838. But, St. Louis is behind the rest of the country in craft beer.”
Q: So what should students be looking for in a “good” beer?
“I’m going to give an indirect answer. I don’t want [beer] to become so unapproachable like wine. I hate to be didactic, I mean, it’s, I guess, whatever you like! There are people who drink the mainstream US lagers…Then there are the craft beer people, and god bless ‘em. But there is a huge population of crossover…What we do here [at Schlafly Tap Room and Schlafly Bottleworks] is a sampler, and you can see which one you like the best. Personally, I don’t like the same beers in the summer as in the winter. Just go with what you like, and what you like today may not be what you like tomorrow.”
Q: Schlafly has 70 different beers available. What is your favorite year-round Schlafly beer and what is your favorite seasonal Schlafly beer?
“That is hard to answer…the Kölsch…If I had to name one, that’s what I’d say; that’s what I have on tap at home. [For seasonal] I always look forward to our Oktoberfest beer. That would certainly be up on the list…Of the 70 beers we have, there are none I dislike.”
Q: You came into the beer industry from another profession. WashU has a popular business school. Do you have any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs who may want to get involved in the food or drink industry?
“I entered restaurant business as a means to get into the beer business. For any entrepreneur, whatever you think it’s going to cost, it’s going to cost more. However long you think it’s going to take, it’ll take longer. It is trial and error…There is no single formula. Have good food. But, who knows what the trend is going to be? I’m looking at the app world, and here I am selling beer that is older than the wheel…As a lawyer, you want to be the one to help other people do things, but you’re not doing it yourself. It was a good lesson, but when it’s your name on the loan guarantee it’s a whole different feeling. But a big part of the exhilaration is with the risk.”
Q: What can we expect from Schlafly? How has the experience of owning the largest American owned brewery been?
“We don’t know what kind of expansion we’re going to do…What I’d like to do is get more penetration in our current markets… I would love to see employee ownership increase…We want to help St. Louis get a little better. We’ve done a little bit of good in the community; we’ve gained a seat at the table for community projects. Here’s my advice for entrepreneurs: be big enough to be important, but small enough to make a difference.”
Schlafly Tap Room and Bottleworks both offer amazing food and ice cold beer to keep you happy. If you want a more involved experience, Bottleworks has tours and a great Farmer’s Market. But don’t worry if you’re not hanging out in St. Louis any time soon; Schlafly is also sold in 15 states plus Washington D.C. Be sure to pick up a six-pack next time you’re thinking about having a cold one.