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Festivals galore at Schlafly Beer

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 22, 2009 - You'd be forgiven for thinking there's a special Schlafly event taking place every week at Downtown's St. Louis Tap Room or at Maplewood's Schlafly Bottleworks. In reality, they come to pass only about once a month, on average.

The biggest draws would include the large outdoor festivals, such as the Tap Room's Hop in the City tasting festival and the Bottleworks' annual art'n'craft fair, Art Outside. But peppered throughout the year are the beer-and-food events that turn local foodies into calendar watchers.

This weekend is the fourth annual Belgian Beer and Mussel Mania fest, with the stars of the show arriving from their home in Penn Cove, an hour north of Seattle. It might not be as big as March's Oyster Fest - which will require 30,000 oysters next year and finds lines snaking throughout the Tap Room. But Mussel Mania is developing a pretty good-size fan base of its own.

"It started like our other events," says Susan Haberer, Schlafly's events coordinator. "Dan Kopman, our VP and co-founder, has an idea. He'll say, 'What if we did a festival to highlight mussels?' From there, you find out when you want to do it and what else to serve alongside. With mussels, there are only so many things you can do. You can steam them. And this year, we're going to fry them. Another big part of this is the Belgian beer. We'll have seven paired this year, up from three or four the first year."

Asked if she sees other microbreweries or brew pubs attempting the same ambitious scheduling or outright "borrowing" of Schlafly concepts, Haberer says, "I wouldn't say that I've seen a lot of people doing what we do on the scale or the frequency of events. Even for a regular event, a brew pub or microbrewery might attempt one or two big events a year. Doing 10 to 12 is ridiculous!

"We're in a unique position in St. Louis, and we really use these as a way of teaching people about beer. Events, in general, seem to be increasing around the country. Maybe it's part of being influenced by what we do, but you do see people pairing food and beer the way we do with oysters and stout or mussels and Belgians. We're educating them to match food with beer the way people are used to doing with wine."

Plenty of ideas exist for more concepts, but at this point, the staff's nervous systems and the public's ability to handle all the ideas would be stretched by more action.

"Yeah, it's hard on the staff," Haberer admits. "These are pretty busy events. And you'd never want to schedule on back-to-back weekends. And people wouldn't want to spend a entire month of weekends at Schlafly specialty events."

Even if it seems that way.

Thomas Crone is a freelance writer.