Every morning at 11 at the corner of the bar in Urban Chestnut Brewing, the brewer, quality control guy, and brew team all join together to sample their creations, ensuring their product stands as what they want to turn out into the world. In early May 2013 I walked into the middle of it and started nosing around…
Urban Chestnut Brewing is located at 3229 Washington Avenue in St. Louis, in what is known as Midtown Alley. The brew house and bar are in an old 1920’s garage – a really cool place – and flanked on its side is an German-style bier garden with a outdoor bar, “The Cabin”, where beer is also served during busy times and special events.
As I walked up alongside the brewery and peered in through the garage doors, I got excited. The equipment looked clean and well taken care of and there were plenty of people working in brew house, so I was hoping I could talk one of them into letting me walk around back there. I went into the bar area and was greeted by the morning bartender who ended up being near worthless to me. It was obvious he was hung over and didn’t want to work. I had shown up right as they opened with a million questions, so I’m sure he was thrilled to meet me.
At first none of the gentlemen at the end of the bar paid me any mind, until they started eves dropping on my conversation with Mr. Hangover. I think they got that I wasn’t an idiot and that he was giving me bad information regarding how many barrels a year they produce and the ABV levels of their beers. I was shocked by his lack of knowledge given that the brewery for has employed him over a year and a half.
Almost as long as Urban Chestnut has been open. They are only two years old, operating on a 20-barrel system; their first year produced 3500 barrels, the second 7000, and 10-15,000 hopefully in year 3. That’s with the addition of a new 60-barrel facility, also located in St. Louis. They have a bottling line at their current location and plan to brew and package at both in the future. I firmly believe that this will be a brewery we all know about soon.
The Brewmaster, Florian Kuplent, is the man I attribute Urban Chesnut’s awesomeness to…a German-born and trained brewer who has had experience in micro and macro breweries on both sides of the pond. This is exactly what his brewery’s philosophy is “Beer Divergency – a new world meets an old world; modern American beers paying homage to European styles”. You can see it in the décor of the building and the marketing choices of the beer labels; you can most certainly taste it in the beer served and I (eventually) got to see it in the equipment they use to brew it.
I asked Mr. Hangover some questions about the place, about the beer, and asked if there was anyone around that would let me go through the place and check out their brewing facility and he shot me down.
“Not while during production is going on, sorry. So did you want a beer?”
They had 14 beers on tap that day. I got a sample of the Zwikel, an Unfiltered German Lager at 4.8% and also the breweries flagship lager. It was a nice bright color, wonderfully carbonated, and very refreshing – it could quench a thirst on a hot, sunny day. The next sample I had was the Winged Nut Signature Nut Ale, it was a fine beer for the style – an English style brown ale – but not what I wanted. My final sample and what I had a Nonick pint glass of the Half Crown Session IPA. Standing at 4.5% it was beautiful orange color and the hoppiness was a nice citrusy end that other session IPA’s lack or that are more bitter than my pallet prefers. They serve all of their beer in the “appropriate glassware”…you know I like that!
After I got my beer, I headed outside and checked out their beer garden, which was amazing. (There’s a panoramic picture of it in the slideshow below.) I would love to come back sometime when they have a beer festival and see it bustling with yummy beer goodness and fun! I was told at one of their events they had 2400 people through their door. While taking in the sunshine Kurt Driesner, their quality control guy, came up and asked if I was still interested in a tour. And of course I said, “Absolutely.”
He took me through the brewhouse – a 20-Barrel system with eight 40-Barrel fermenters. He let me check out the keg and bottle coolers, the bottling line and keg washing machine. A lot of their equipment is German and reused, they’re the fourth owners of their bottling line. I got to meet the guys bottling, washing kegs, moving stuff around, it was great. Kurt politely answered all my questions about the brewer, brewery, and the future of the place. They are opening up a second location in “The Grove” neighborhood; a 70,000 square foot building that Kurt described as “enormous as shit”. I believe that they’re going to grow into a force to be reckoned with in the world of craft beer. Clever branding with a neat theme backed up by solid beer and an experienced, well-trained master brewer is why I’m thinkin so…
I’m excited to visit their new location as well as some of the other craft breweries in St. Louis. I believe the city is up and coming in the world of craft beer. After Prohibition there was one brewery that survived – Anhesuer-Busch. In 1991 Schlafy’s opened up. And then in 2008 InBev (a Belgian brewer) bought Anhesuer-Busch and St. Louis got mad. So they started opening up craft breweries and now there’s ten of them down there. What’s great is not only is it fostering a sense of local community and is supporting locally made products, but they are also reusing downtown city space that has been sitting empty for years.
4Hands Brewing Company, The Civil Life Brewing Co., and both Urban Chestnut’s locations are in old St. Louis buildings reused for the purpose of making delicious beer. I love the greenness associated with the brew community; reusing space, recycling spent grain to feed animals, and utilizing different forms of energy are just a few ways I’ve seen American breweries working towards reducing their carbon footprint. And this is the MidWest I’m talking about, it’s not very far away. All of these things are just 4 hours south from where we are now, go visit!