Your Guide To The Best Brews In CoMo
Beer has been around for millennia, at least since the Babylonians wrote down the first known recipe in 4300 B.C., but that doesn’t keep each successive generation from trying to make a good drink even better. This month, we set the mood for a glorious Oktoberfest with our comprehensive guide to beer. We’ll help you find the best beers in Columbia, introduce you to the entrepreneurs who are brewing up something special, share some tips for beginning home brewers, and suggest some can’t-miss food and beer pairings.
Get to know your local beer makers.
Flat Branch Pub & Brewing
Larry Goodwin can make the heat disappear from 50 pounds of peppers. This trick might seem a magician’s work, but Goodwin has no background in conjuring illusions. He’s the head brewer at Flat Branch Pub & Brewing, where the recipe for chili beer has been a staple almost since the brewpub opened in 1994.
“We’re shooting for flavor and little heat,” he says of Flat Branch’s popular Green Chili Beer, which claims one of the top three spots at the brewpub each week.
Goodwin chops up 50 pounds of Anaheim peppers for each 265-gallon batch of the beer and adds them to the fermenter to extract the flavor. The result: a light-colored brew with all the bittersweet notes of a pepper and none of the spice.
In a business already so engraved in the Columbia community, Goodwin says simplicity is key. Patrons expect consistency in what he brews, so the chili beer is about as adventurous as he gets.
“Most people that come to Flat Branch aren’t looking to drink on the fringes,” he says. “They’re looking for traditional beers.”
This atmosphere is the product of being a brewery that also serves food, he says. If you’re coming in for dinner, you don’t want a beer that will overshadow the food.
If peppers aren’t your preference, try the Honey Wheat or Katy Trail Pale Ale.
Most 4-year-olds don’t know much about beer. That’s not the case for Broadway Brewery, though, which celebrated its fourth anniversary in September.
Since the doors opened, the brewpub’s mission has been to use as many local, organic and seasonal products as possible. Whether it’s sourcing organic malt or creating specialty beers just for Columbians, brewer Michael Ivancic says the community-centric vision of the company even spreads to the brewing room.
Take Cask Nights, for example. Once a week, Ivancic fills a small cask with one of Broadway Brewery’s regular beers and adds a new flavor to it. Sometimes he’ll puree and pasteurize a fruit or sometimes he’ll add extra hops. On Thursday evenings, anyone can try the one-time brew.
In August, Ivancic made an Espresso Black IPA by adding a pound of Kaldi’s espresso beans to the cask.
“The coffee and chocolate notes really play off the malt body” of the IPA, he says. “It tasted just like espresso. If your eyes were closed, your first thought would be that it’s cold coffee.”
Cask Night also acts as an outlet for customers to try something new. Ivancic says when people come into Broadway Brewery to eat, many will still stick with beers they know.
“If I can get someone to try our honey wheat instead of a Bud Light,” he says, “that makes me happy.”
Rock Bridge Brewery
A 1,500-square-foot storage unit isn’t a typical place for beer to brew. But that’s exactly where Stu Burkemper and Dave Brouder of Rock Bridge Brewery create their draught-only beers for local Columbia restaurants.
In November 2011, Brouder wanted to expand his home-brewing operation, so he posted an ad on Probrewer.com for a head brewmaster. Burkemper responded, and the two were making their first commercial batch of beer four months later.
“Stu and I always joke that we met online,” Brouder says.
Burkemper interjects: “It was romantic.”
The friendship that ensued is to blame for the brewery’s uniquely named beers. If you’ve tasted their Sock Puppet IPA, for example, you’ve tasted the light-hearted atmosphere of the company.
Brouder directs a hand puppet toward Burkemper and jokes in a gravelly falsetto, “I’m not the one that turned off the fan.”
“When we argue, we talk in sock puppets,” Brouder explains. “It’s kind of like therapy for us.”
Hence, Sock Puppet IPA. There’s also Lizard Fish Pale Ale, named after a fish they caught together in San Diego.
When Rock Bridge Brewery moves out of the Storage Mart unit later this fall into its new 18,000-square-foot location across the street from 63 Diner, the two will start producing cans for retail.
Try Rock Bridge’s Tailgate Smoked Brown for football season. If you’re not looking at what’s in your hand, you might be tricked into thinking the beer beneath your nose is actually a seasoned brisket.
Bur Oak Brewing Co.
For many mid-Missourians, the “Big Tree” in McBaine is a stargazing spot, a biking destination or the perfect shade for a picnic. For Craig Stichter, it represents a light bulb moment.
Since summer 2010, Stichter had been formulating a plan to open a brewery in Columbia, but nearly three years later he still was struggling to come up with a name. Then, as he rode his bike toward McBaine and saw the massive bur oak, he found the name: Bur Oak Brewing Co.
“When I turned that corner, it was like the tree was there waiting for me,” he says.
Stichter is a mechanical engineer by trade. When he started home brewing in 2000, he discovered a joy in not only being able to create something tangible, but also in playing with recipes.
Now, with head brewer Kraig Bridgeford and assistant brewer Phil Fuemmeler, Stichter is getting ready to bring flavors such as Chamomile Wheat, Chocolate Porter and Farmhouse Saison to Columbia.
Bur Oak Brewery will be on draught in local restaurants by the end of this year and hopes to open a tasting room in 2014. One of the main goals: encourage craft beer in Columbia.
“If we can get the beer community energized here, there’s so much we can do and so many opportunities we can take advantage of,” Stichter says.
Consider pairing Bur Oak Brewing Company’s Broadway Brown Ale with your next steak dinner. It’s hearty enough to stand its own ground but also has a smooth sweetness to it.
Logboat Brewing Co.
The creators of Logboat Brewing Co. are pouring the idea of “local” into every corner of their new business. So when co-founders and Missouri natives Judson Ball, Tyson Hunt and Andrew Sharp were searching for a head brewmaster to bring their idea to fruition, Sharp says, “It was important that he was a Missouri boy and had a love for Columbia.”
Enter Josh Rein, who was brewing for Broadway Brewery and Flat Branch at the time. The crew met with him several times for unofficial interviews.
“We were basically seeing if we could hang out with him,” Sharp says. “Can we take him to visit our grandmas? Is he that quality of a human?”
A few months later, Rein passed the group test and jumped aboard Logboat.
Right now, half of Hunt’s garage has been deemed the “laboratory” and plays host to many a brew session aimed at perfecting Logboat’s recipes. By the beginning of 2014, though, the operation will move to its new home inside the former Diggs Packing Co. on Fay Street.
When the renovation is complete later this fall, Logboat’s industrial-meets-rustic building will feature wooden accents from Elmwood Reclaimed Timber in Peculiar, Mo., a wood-burning stove and fire pits in the beer garden. There will be yard games on the lawn — including croquet, the quartet’s favorite — a garden and possibly a book or record exchange, Hunt says.
Look out for Logboat’s Shiphead Ginger Wheat. A little milder than most ginger beers, it has a hint of coriander that adds a light complexity to the brew.
Love Beer? Join The Club!
Columbia Beer Enthusiasts started in 2008 as a group of people that would gather at Sycamore Restaurant to sample craft beers not available in the area. Today, the organization tastes together at a variety of locations such as 1839 Taphouse, Uprise Bakery and 44 Stone Public House. Beer and movie nights and an annual picnic are just a few of the events hosted by the organization.
The group’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/pages/Columbia-Beer-Enthusiasts also acts as a hub of information for local beer buffs wanting to start or improve home brewing operations. Although there are no official membership dues, tastings that feature rare beers or ones not on the market will often have a fee.
Top 10 Most Profitable American Breweries
Anheuser-Busch Inc. in St. Louis
MillerCoors in Chicago
Pabst Brewing Co. in Woodbridge, Ill.
D.G. Yuengling and Son Inc. in Pottsville, Pa.
Boston Beer Co. in Boston
North American Breweries in Rochester, N.Y.
Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. in Chico, Calif.
New Belgium Brewing Co. in Fort Collins, Colo.
Craft Brew Alliance, Inc. in Portland, Ore.
The Gambrinus Co. in San Antonio, Texas
Source: The Brewers Association’s 2012 annual list of top 50 overall brewing companies in the United States. The rankings were based on beer sales volume in 2011.