In St Louis, small craft breweries are reviving a city and a beer culture
By Franz Strasser
BBC World News America
St Louis has long been known as America's beer capital. It's the home of the US's largest brewery, Anheuser-Busch, and more than a dozen craft breweries - which have been gaining new fans after Anheuser-Busch's sale to Belgium's InBev in 2008.
To most people around the world, Anheuser Busch is America's brewery and America's beer is Budweiser. To its hometown crowd, it has simply been known as "the brewery".
"There was no part of this community that wasn't a part of the brewery," says Dan Kopman, who founded Schlafly Beer in St Louis in 1992.
"Everyone in town knew someone who worked for the brewery."
My grandfather, my father, they were the guys drinking this beer and they drank it because they had pride in St Louis
Mike Sweeney, STL Hops
It gave its name to university and hospital buildings. It donated beer to charity events. It "touched so many people in so many ways," Kopman says.
The fact that "AB", as most locals call the company, became a major international player only added to their sense of pride.
When Kopman and his partner opened what was then the second brewery in town, they had to build a restaurant along with it, to get people to try their beer.
"Reaching consumers through the normal channels was going to be very difficult because the bars were so loyal to Anheuser Busch," said Kopman, who learned his trade in the UK at Young & Co's Wandsworth brewery.
There are more new beer styles being created here, there are more rules being broken here.
Dan Kopman, Co-Founder Schlafly Beer
At the time of Schlafly's opening, there were around 100 small and independent craft breweries in the United States. That number has grown to more than 1,500 in the last two decades, according to the Brewers Association.
There are now 14 in St Louis alone - and the sale of Anheuser Busch to the Belgian beverage giant InBev, has given them a big chance to expand sales to drinkers re-thinking their allegiance to the AB.
"My grandfather, my father, they were the guys drinking this beer and they drank it because they had pride in St Louis and because they had pride in the brewery," says Mike Sweeney, a local beer blogger.
"The younger people are going to try something from the guys that they know are brewing here in St Louis," said Sweeney.
"The ones that are actually hands on, somebody that they can go into the bar and actually sit next to and start talking to about beer."
Kopman calls it a revival not just of the beer culture in St Louis but in America in general. In St Louis, 40 breweries were wiped out during the prohibition, leaving only one.
The variety of beer available in the city now would have been unthinkable just a few decades ago.
"There are more new beer styles being created here, there are more rules being broken here, there are new beer styles being created every day in the 1,500 small American breweries," says Kopman.
Opened in 2004, Schlafly's Bottleworks houses the main brewing operation.
"If I was to change our Pale Ale recipe at Young's, the head brewer I worked for in London would have had something to say about that.
"The new generation of brewers in the US wants to experiment with different combinations of grain, hops, and yeast strains. They do not feel that tug of a tradition that might tie them to do something a certain way."
While overall beer sales in the US were down 2.2% in 2009 and the sales of imported beer were down almost 10%, growth of the craft brewing industry in 2009 was up 10.3%, according to the Brewers Association.
For Dan Kopman and Schafly Beer, the biggest challenge at the moment is how to stay small.
Right now, the brewery is producing 50,000 barrels a year, while in St Louis alone, some 2.5 million barrels are consumed each year. For Kopman, it is not about challenging Anheuser Busch, but offering something that makes St Louis unique again.
"You are not going to get Schlafly Light in 30-packs," he says, with a smile.
"In a time when you can get everything everywhere I really enjoy people coming up to me and asking where can I buy this beer. And I'll say - St Louis."
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