Perennial Artisan Ales released their Abraxas Imperial Stout this past weekend, and my wife and I, accompanied by my homebrewing partner, were fortunate enough to attend and tour the brewery.
Abraxas, for the uninitiated, is an Imperial Stout with cacao nibs, cinammon, vanilla beans, and ancho chiles. I first encountered it a year ago when my beer guy offered me a bottle when I was at the shop last year, and the three of us drank it while boiling what turned out to be a quite tasty raspberry IPA in my kitchen. All three of us essentially stood there sipping the beer and saying things that could best be summarized as "holy hell this is fantastic." I'm a bit surprised at its standing on our leaderboards, though the lack of barrel aging may explain a portion of that.
It is an utterly fantastic beer, starting with deep chocolate, caramel, and roasted malts with just a whisper of coffee that finishes with a subtle vanilla sweetness and a surprisingly clean cinammon/chile burst that fulfills the promise of the aroma while leaving the palate relatively unscathed in comparison to other mouth-coating beers in the style. The 10% ABV is masterfully hidden, and the spicy finish develops without becoming an overpowering blast of heat. I wouldn't choose it as a desert island beer, but it would be at the absolute top of the list of winter in Antarctica beers for me. Because weather.
The release itself was without a doubt the best organized and executed beer release I've ever attended. Tickets were sold in advance, each ticket granting the purchaser two 750 ml bottles of Abraxas plus one Coffee Abraxas. There was no admission fee, brewery operations carried on as normal, and the release was spread over four days to minimize crowding. Other than the few groups of people conducting bottle shares in the beer garden, there was no indication whatsoever that we were at a beer release for which tickets sold out in less than five minutes. There were certainly no riots of any kind, and the wait to get a glass at the bar was minimal.
After we got our glasses of Abraxas for sipping, we waited a few minutes for the start of the brewery tour, conducted by one of the actual brewers. We were shown first to the brewhouse and shown the 7.5 barrel system on which every Perennial beer (and every Side Project beer) has been produced, along with the 5 gallon 3 tier system on which all of thos beers were originally conceived and perfected.
Following that, the tour proceeded to the cellar, filled with 20 and 30 barrel fermenters along with several 60 barrel oak foeders sourced from California wineries, each of which has been inoculated with a different blend of yeasts and bacteria to produce saisons, wild ales, and sours.
I was particularly fascinated by one foeder which is constantly being partially drained and replenished with the exact same beer recipe, creating a truly living ale that is different with each subsequent bottling as the older versions blend with the newer and the microflora culture in the foeder evolves. Sadly, there were roughly 50 people on the tour with us and I couldn't determine which beer this is.
The real highlight of the tour for me was the barrel room, though. Imagine a dark, pungent, windowless room filled with wooden barrels, themselves filled with beer. And in one corner of this already magical place are 10-20 5 gallon carboys, each filled with ther brewers' wild yeast/bacteria experiments. Yeasts collected from pears in their backyards, from grapes grown on their family farm, and more. I actually thought the grapes were the pellicle on a particularly wild carboy until our guide informed me otherwise.
Most of our fellow tour participants were a bit put off by the smell of the barrel room, wheras my immediate comment was "Fuck, I like this room." The yeast experimentation in particular fascinated me utterly.
I haven't yet attempted harvesting my own wild yeast, but I do have cultures from a couple of common Saccharomyces strains in my fridge, and a carefully curated blend of bottle dregs culled from Cantillon, 3 Fonteinen, The Bruery, Almanac, Crooked Stave, Rare Barrel (thanks Eno!), Perennial (natch), and a few others. Currently fermenting in my basement is my first attempt at brewing with that culture, and it's only a few weeks in but so far is performing admirably. In 12-24 months I'll let you know how that works out.
Actually, don't imagine the room, here's a shitty iphone photo that captures the character of it pretty well, with bonus glimpse of the top of my wife's head in the foreground.
The header image for this article is the brewers' lockers, which provide an accurate sense of the playfulness that permeated the entire brewhouse.
After the tour, we retired to the beer garden to sip a Pineapple Kumquat Berliner Weisse and a Simcoe/Amarillo IPA, both of which were delightful, though I felt the fruit was a bit overpowered by the lactic acid in the Berliner.
When I began this post I'd intended to pay a bit more attention to Civil Life and Schlafly, the other breweries we visited this weekend, but this seems to be getting a bit lengthy, so very briefly: Civil Life is small and makes outstanding European styles, with an emphasis on sessionability. You won't find anything barrel aged or affixed with the double or imperial prefix here. The black lager and english rye in particular were exceptional. Based purely on our two hours there, I also suspect that handlebar mustaches are required attire for all male employees.
I'd hoped to stop at 4 Hands, but time, hunger, hotel check-in times, and reluctance to drive combined to make our final stop the Schlafly taproom. I'll assume you're all reasonably familiar with Schlafly, but their Hop Trial Hull Melon pale, which doesn't appear on our leaderboards, was quite refreshing and the hop variety is perhaps the most aptly named I've ever encountered.
In summary, St. Louis has one hell of a burgeoning beer scene made all the more intriguing for its location in the shadow (literally, in the case of 4 Hands) of what is now the ABMillerCoorsInBev hydra headed beast, which now counts Ballast Point among its associated brands. Insert .gif of Leia chastising Tarkin about what slips through his fingers. And if you have the opportunity, you should drink anything produced by Perennial, especially Abraxas. They're clearly passionate about what they do, and they're even better at it than that. At least in my admittedly regionally biased opinion.
Ben says stuff and drinks beer. And is still uncomfortable talking about himself in the third person.