A Destination Microbrewery in the Gateway to the West: Schlafly Bottleworks

When people talk about St. Louis, beer usually comes up early in the discussion.  Before Anheuser-Busch’s rise to market dominance after the 1970s, St. Louis offered a home to dozens of breweries with its combination of ethnic immigration, access to resources, and a proliferation of caves perfect for storage.  With such a long and storied tradition of brewing, it is perhaps fitting that beer became a way to revitalize the city.  Tom Schlafly’s vision of bringing flavorful, handcrafted beer back to St. Louis started with a microbrewery in 1991 and now encompasses 34 different types of brew served across the region and at Schlafly’s two restaurants: the original Tap Room in St. Louis and the Bottleworks, which also serves as the main production center, just across the city line in the suburb of Maplewood.

Schlafly’s commitment to producing high quality, fresh beer has made the brewery a staple of St. Louis.  This commitment carries over into the larger environmental goals of the company.  Various green processes are incorporated into the brewing such as heat recovery, composting and recycling of waste products, as well as a larger commitment to using renewable energy.  At the Bottleworks, itself a recycled former grocery store, the green mission continues with a weekly farmers’ market during the warmer months and a more limited indoor market during the winter.  Taking the local food movement to heart, the Bottleworks’s kitchen garden, though diminutive in size at 1/5 of an acre, offers an outlet for compost from the kitchen and recently returned over 3,200 pounds of produce for use in the restaurant that supplements locally and regionally sourced products.  The brewery gift shop even offers several varieties of natural soap made with beer brewed twenty feet away.

After a long week, my colleague and I decided that a good meal and some excellent beer would be a nice way to start the weekend.  A trip to the Bottleworks was definitely in order.  The atmosphere is a bit industrial and plays to the theme of being a working brewery, which is visible through large windows and open for tours.  The concrete floors, metal work, and generally open floor plan link the production facilities to the eatery while a screen allows visual access to the kitchen.  Visually the theme works well, though it can get noisy with all the hard surfaces.

While the bar caters to the generally younger crowd, the restaurant is family friendly with a nice mix of young professionals, couples, coworkers, and families.  With a bar area, restaurant, and outdoor patio, there is plenty of space to sit back and relax, but on a Friday night prepare to wait for a little while.  We arrived at 6:30 and had about a 10-minute wait without reservations, but a quick trip to the bar got us started with a pint of the limited release Hop Harvest Ale ($4.25).  It was similar to an India Pale Ale (IPA), but less hoppy and with a mild, almost sweet flavor by comparison.  It was thoroughly enjoyable to drink separately or with a meal.  The hops provided just enough presence to balance out our main courses.

The menu offers extensive dining options from small pub fare through to substantial mains and is supplemented by specials of the day.  Conveniently for diners, those dishes featuring Missouri-sourced ingredients are labeled with a picture of the state, while chalk boards in the dining room detail the purveyors currently supplying the restaurant.  A popular appetizer is the spent grain bread made with left over grain from the brewing process.  For the health conscious red meat lover, bison features prominently on the menu with options for nachos, burgers, and stew and several juicy burgers passed by our table.

We opted to start with the smoked Missouri trout with orange Cognac honey glaze & horseradish mayonnaise that came on a bed of greens and plenty of baguette toasts ($11).  It was almost a meal in itself with two large filets.  A portion half the size would probably suffice for just two people.  The flavors blended together nicely with the smokiness pervasive but not overpowering the delicate taste of the fish while the glaze provided just the right amount of sweetness balanced with the tanginess of the mayonnaise.  The dish received high praise from my colleague, an avid trout fisher, for preserving the flavor of the fish itself.

Our mains consisted of hearty, comfort food.  My dining companion chose the sausage and kraut, a selection of hickory, Polish and boudin sausages served with sauerkraut and red potatoes ($14).  This very traditionally St. Louis German fare seemed to be designed for a workingman’s appetite and filled a large plate to the rim.  The roasted potatoes were fairly standard and the sausages had excellent flavor, but the highlight was the rather delicate sauerkraut.  The cabbage was incredibly tender without the stiff texture and overly vinegary taste of mass-produced kraut.  I settled on the meatloaf made with a mixture of beef, bison, and andouille sausage topped with Oatmeal Stout-tomato sauce and served with smoked Gouda gratin and pan-fried corn ($17).  With a surprising zip and tanginess to it, the tomato sauce added a nice spice to cut through the meat.  The addition of lean bison meant that the meatloaf had very little of the greasy heaviness more typical of the traditional dish while preserving the flavor of the meat.  The gratin was nicely baked with a crisp herb crust and creamy inside that had my colleague reaching for a second taste.  While fine as a side in itself, the corn was perhaps one starch too many as we were both looking for something a little lighter to balance the meal.  With a drink, huge appetizer and stick to your ribs main course we were far too full for any of the tempting desserts.

With their excellent food, outstanding beer, and commitment to sustainable, local production, it is easy to see why Schlafly has become such a popular name in St. Louis (Ethan Bennett 1/29/11). [Schlafly Bottleworks, Maplewood (St. Louis County, Mo), 7260 Southwest Avenue (at Manchester), 314.241.2337, Lunch & Dinner: Sun 11:00AM-9:00PM, Mon-Thur 11:00AM-10:00PM, Fri-Sat 11:00AM-11:00PM,  http://schlafly.com/bottleworks/menu/  ]

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