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St. Louis Lagers Shine Amid Craft Beer Renaissance

Lagers from Urban Chestnut Brewing Co.
Izaiah Johnson
Sauce Magazine
Lagers from Urban Chestnut Brewing Co.

This month, Sauce Magazine highlighted breweries around town that are adding their twists on what’s considered to be one of the oldest beverages in the world: lager beers.

While larger breweries like Budweiser and Anheuser-Busch made the drink vastly accessible, they’ve also given the drink the perception that it’s easily made. But local brewers can attest to the precision and dedication it takes to make a drink so flavorful and complex.

On Friday’s St. Louis on the Air host Sarah Fenske talked with Drew Durish, brewer at Side Project Brewing, and Kyle Kohlmorgen, head brewer at Wellspent Brewing, about the craft of brewing lagers.

St. Louis can be credited with pioneering American-style lagers.

St. Louis Lagers Shine Amid Craft Beer Renaissance
Here from two local brewers about the craft behind making lager beers.

“We saw such an influx of German immigration in the mid-19th century that they ended up bringing a lot of the German techniques with them,” Durish explained. “And kind of new to the world at the time was the lagering process — that low, slow, cold fermentation and maturation. And so as such, we kind of picked up on it. And then with the advent and reining in of Anheuser-Busch, bringing them into the fold, that really transformed the town.”

The mass marketing of lager beers over the past 50 years, according to Kohlmorgen, likely gave the impression that lagers often lack craft.

“The folks at Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis know what they're doing and have been doing it for 100 years and do it very well, Kohlmorgen said. “But that lager is marketed to the widest array of people, and so it has to offend less people; it has less bitterness and less overall flavor. And so that, again, times 50 years of marketing, kind of makes people associate lager with that one particular beer.”

Durish added that microbreweries have an advantage, compared to their larger counterparts, in the ability to experiment with new flavors and adjust their offerings, even halfway through the brewing process.

“I love the ability to adapt and manipulate our ingredients, and just have that ability to keep moving forward and innovate,” he said.

Just a few days ago, Side Project canned its latest lager, the Slap Concert. It’s described as a Vienna-style lager where “a lot of the flavor and character comes from the use of malts, with the hops kind of playing a second fiddle — pun very much intended,” Durish explained.

Kohlmorgen highlighted upcoming lagers from Wellspent Brewing that patrons can expect just in time for summer.

“We have one mainstay lager we call Keller Pils … and then off that beer we like to have seasonal or kind of time-period-based styles,” he said. “We're actually brewing a Vienna lager in July for the fall season. And right now, coming in a few weeks, we have what we call Light. It's our ode to an old St. Louis lager. It has rice and corn, but to kind of mix it up a little bit, we use organic popcorn from a local farm.”

Both brewers are optimistic about seeing old and new patrons at their establishments in the coming months as COVID-19 cases go down and restrictions ease up.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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