New Beer Monday: Brooklyn Naranjito

Brooklyn Brewery
Naranjito – Pale Ale with Orange
Retreat Gastropub

Naranjito first presents citrus aromas. I struggled, delightfully, to discern a difference between the hops and the orange – they blend seamlessly on the nose.

When I hear “orange” in a beer’s description, or any fruit, I naturally think the beer will be sweet. But Naranjito is distinctly savory. The base beer is light, and the hops and orange float above it, somehow separate, coming to life after a moment in the mouth. The orange rind flavor is herbaceous, slightly bitter, and fresh, much like the hops – Summit for citrus and Simcoe for earth and pine.

When the beer warms, the orange becomes more prominent and more bitter, and the beer gives up new notes of grass. The last sip was the most complex.

Naranjito is available for a limited time only in the US. I found it at Retreat Gastropub by chance, but if you’d like to search it out, click here.

Image by Brooklyn Brewery.

Civil Life debuts a trio of inspired new beers for 2018

Here’s an experience you may recognize:

You’ve made dinner plans with a friend. They want to take you to their favorite local spot, or the new cool restaurant in a neighborhood you’ve never heard of. They have promised, promised, a good beer list. Your friend knows and loves you. You have no reason to doubt them.

The two of you arrive at the restaurant. You ask for the draft list. You flip past wine and cocktails and have to squint to find the beer. The list is… brief. You’ve drank everything on it, and don’t particularly care to drink them again. You start to tell your friend, “I’m never having dinner with you ever again,” but the last beer on the list stops you. It’s the Civil Life American Brown Ale.

The American Brown has become a staple of St. Louis beer. It’s the beer that’s always there for you, that could never let you down. Of course it’s delicious – rich but not heavy, nutty, and balanced by citrous hops. Almost as good, it’s everywhere. It’s ubiquitous but never pedestrian. It’s the perfect beer to pour for your friends who don’t “get” craft beer.

With a beer that’s so significant in St. Louis, it can be easy to miss out on Civil Life’s many  other beers. After all, they sell more of the American Brown than any of their other beers combined. But if you think the American Brown is all Civil Life has to offer, you’d be mistaken.

For the new year, Civil Life has released three new beers. Each new addition has a higher ABV than the pub’s typical offerings, and allows the brewers (and drinkers) to push the limits of Civil Life’s traditional personality. Last Monday, I had the opportunity to sample all three – plus a lineup of their other beers that was more varied than I could have imagined.

The Oatmeal Brown is a play on the American Brown, with an addition of oatmeal that adds body, an incomparably smooth mouthfeel, and impressive, pillowy head retention. I drank on one of the coldest days of the year, and found that it makes a perfect snow day beer. It is as comforting as the American Brown, and I plan to make several trips back to the brewery before it leaves the rotation (for brewer Troy Bedik’s “What makes a brown, Brown.” workshop, for starters).

The Dry Hop Red Ale is bitter and refreshing, with the complexity of Amarillo hops supporting the subtle malt. In a market currently overwhelmed by “juicy” IPAs and pale ales, this beer reminded me why I fell in love with hops in the first place – the bitterness, the drying effect on the palate that seems to wake up taste buds and prepare you for the next sip, the lip-smack effect.

The Extra Stout, based on a historical Guinness recipe, is the darkest beer I have ever seen. Held up to the bar window, no light passes through. It tastes just like it looks – deeply roasted flavors are balanced by herby notes of black licorice, all topped by a fluffy, impenetrable hazelnut-colored head. 

Civil Life debuts new beers every year, but 2018 signals something new for the brewery. When the weather thaws, the team will break ground on a new expansion, which includes a canning line that will allow for further distribution.

Have I been sleeping on Civil Life? Am I the only one who hasn’t spent much time with their beers, because I thought they were “traditional” (and I thought “traditional” was a dirty word)? It’s possible. I like to think I know what’s going on in St. Louis’ beer world, but I was blown away by my trip to Civil Life – by the knowledge and hospitality of its brewers, by the quality and variety of its beers, by the careful planning of its tasting room, and by the inspiration behind the events it hosts. 

In short, what Civil Life does better than anyone is create new and exciting beers within their chosen format. They don’t resist change or snub trends, they’re not luddites – they choose, instead, to adopt the methods they find useful and leave the rest.

I will be spending more time at Civil Life in 2018. I will be tracking its expansion, drinking its beers (more Vienna Lager, any day), and attending its events, particularly the book club meetings. Check back here and at the Civil Blog for updates.

A Cliff Notes response to the now-infamous Good Beer Hunting article, “I Know What Boyz Like”

On January 2, Good Beer Hunting posted an article called “I Know What Boyz Like”. By that evening, brewers and brewery owners were defending themselves on Twitter, Good Beer Hunting was engaged in a long and public argument with Libby Crider, co-owner of 2nd Shift Brewing, and beer drinkers and industry pros have been sharing their thoughts, uh… freely. Here are my two cents:

The article discusses Instagram accounts, including ones by Perennial Artisan Ales and 2nd Shift Brewing, that show off a “boys club” nature in the beer industry. I have not seen the @perennialfuckboyz account, as it is has been deleted or changed its name – but I have seen the posts by @2ndshiftsexytime. They’re in poor taste. I don’t think they poke fun or satirize the sexism of the industry.

However, the three images (one has been deleted and replaced with an apology) posted by the account do not cast a shadow over 2nd Shift’s actual practices of promoting women in the beer industry and fostering an environment that is welcoming to women.

2nd Shift is co-owned by a woman. The bar is managed by a woman. Many of the bartenders are women. Okay, you can say that having women at the helm doesn’t mean the brewery does what’s good for women overall.

But 2nd Shift is consistently one of the only breweries where I see groups of women drinking together. In many breweries and beer bars, I am often the only woman there at all. That is never true at 2nd Shift. It is also one of the only breweries or bars where I can go without being perved on by a 40-year-old with a superiority complex. Or asked whose girlfriend I am at a beer release. Or interrupted repeatedly when I’m reading or studying. Or rudely quizzed about my beer knowledge.

Last year, 2nd Shift hosted a group of St. Louis’ women brewers in creating NaSTLy, a sour brown ale served in a can designed by a woman and a 2nd Shift employee. They were the first to serve the beer. They promoted it, and they promote the work of women. They host pop-up markets where largely women-owned businesses have a chance to access 2nd Shift’s customers. If anything, 2nd Shift is doing more for women than almost any other brewery in St. Louis.

Do I like the Instagram photos? No. Do I think that means 2nd Shift is making the beer world inhospitable to women? Absolutely not.

Now, here’s what bothered me about most of the responses I saw. There were many, many defenses of our St. Louis breweries and their Instagram accounts, and many valid points about their friendliness to women. But I didn’t see any responses to some very valid points about the way breweries and distributors ignore minorities. There are social and economic barriers to craft beer that are not addressed by breweries even as they move into “up and coming” neighborhoods. There is very little racial diversity among brewers and brewery staff.

And, as the article points out, this will impact breweries sooner than later. The country will become more diverse (less white). And if breweries only cater to the people already drinking their beer, they will lose out. They will lose business.

More diversity in craft brewing can only mean more, and better, craft beer to choose from. The only reason to resist it is stubbornness. But diversity doesn’t happen simply by not resisting. It has to be intentional, thoughtful, and ethical. I don’t have the answers for creating a more equitable world of beer. I hope we can find them through collaboration and a critical look at the way breweries do business.

Maybe there were few responses to this portion of the article because people agree with it. I hope that’s true, and I hope it has fostered some introspection in the industry – about beer making, distribution, sales, and hiring.

“I Know What Boyz Like” was an interesting article that raised some important points. It also glossed over important facts to focus on its own narrow perspective. It failed in critical research. It has doubled down on this failure on social media. I enjoyed reading it. I have enjoyed responding to it. I have been irritated and I have nodded in agreement. At the very least, Good Beer Hunting have garnered themselves plenty of attention.

Seeking beer in new places

After two weeks in Florence, drinking glass after glass of stunning San Giovese wines and delightful, giggling bottles of Prosecco, I found myself staring down a lukewarm glass of Peroni in an Irish pub that had all the charm of Bud Light without the warm associations of patriotism and golden retrievers.

Florence is a small city but it’s jammed with tourists, especially in the summer. And if I were craving a good beer, other tourists – Americans, Brits, Canadians – had to be as well. There was good beer in this city (there was good everything in this city) and I was going to find it.

Luckily, it was 2015 and all I had to do was check Yelp reviews and then take a ten minute walk.

BrewDog is a Scottish brewery with outposts in 15 European cities, a couple dozen in the UK, and one in the states (Columbus, OH, if you’re interested).

Beers like Dead Pony Club, Elvis Juice, and Jack Hammer transported me home. Hops keep me grounded and remind me of what I love about beer even today – in 2015 I was drinking IPAs almost exclusively, and the waxy, bitter beers at BrewDog were invigorating and inspiring in a way I couldn’t put into words at the time.

I’m not a great traveler. I like my own home, my bed, knowing how to get around and being able to make myself understood. Going to Italy alone was hard for me – I still don’t know what I was mispronouncing when I tried to order a glass of pinot grigio at a café.

BrewDog’s IPAs and the friendly Scottich bartender and the comfortable bar stools gave me a place I felt at home in a city that seemed overwhelming, and that I was unprepared to live in. That safety net made me brave – I began to walk further from the city center, to try my baby talk Italian when I bought espresso and pastries, to buy tickets to museums and the opera. The beer wasn’t liquid courage – but it was encouraging. And comforting. And hoppy as all hell.

October Events at St. Louis Breweries

October is going to be a great month if you like fall weather, family-friendly outings, and beer. Some of St. Louis’s best breweries are hosting events this month that bring more than beer. Bring your friends, bring your kids – I’ll see you there!

Sunday, Oct. 8

Fall Popup Market an 2nd Shift

Popup STL and 2nd Shift host another popup market featuring fourteen vendors selling prints, knits, and more. While you’re shopping, grab a beer from 2nd Shift and lunch from Guerilla Street. The event page is here. Shop 1 pm-5 pm and stick around for one last beer – the brewery is open until 6 pm.

Thursday, Oct. 12

Craftoberfest at UCBC Midtown

On Thursday evening, Urban Chestnut will again hold Craftoberfest at its Midtown location. Craftoberfest is an open-air night market focused on bringing the best craft and design to St. Louis beer lovers. Get an early start on holiday shopping while enjoying local beers, food from Mission Taco, and tarot readings from Tarot St. Louis. Event is 5 pm-10 pm.

Saturday, Oct. 14

Volkstoberfest at Schlafly Bottleworks

Volkstoberfest is an annual car show for Volkswagen bodied and powered vehicles sponsored by Air Cooled Antiques and Schlafly Bottleworks. Come to Maplewood to see vintage beetles, busses, and wagons restored to mint condition, and chat with owners about what makes their car unique. And if you haven’t yet tried Schlafly’s dry-hopped cider, it’s the perfect beer for a fall afternoon. Event begins at 10 am.

Saturday, Oct. 22

City Wide Block Party at 4Hands

4Hands’ City Wide initiative connects the brewery with local organizations to impact our neighborhoods and communities. Join 4Hands as they celebrate these partnerships with a family-friendly block party featuring food from Peacemaker, Sidney Street, and Boylard’s, treats from Ices Plain & Fancy, balloon animals, face painting, and rock climbing. Kids get in free, and a $5 ticket for adults includes your first beer. Get your tickets in advance here. Event is 12 pm-5 pm.

Earthbound Beer’s new space is open now


Earthbound Beer reopened this weekend in its brand-new space, bringing the same hospitality and relaxed vibes to a bigger party.

The new tasting room at 2724 Cherokee Street features two levels of seating, increased brewing space, and a much larger bar with space for more than one bartender. The building is 150 years old and the former home of Cherokee Brewing Co.

Earthbound’s previous home was a narrow hallway at 2710 Cherokee. It was an ideal spot for a late-night drink if you weren’t willing to suffer the crush of the Whiskey Ring or didn’t want to drink a Stag (or if you did, Stag and Old Crow are Earthbound staples).

The new location resembles the old in some ways, like its green and purple color scheme, maps and globes as décor, and the familiar faces of Earthbound’s staff. But the tall, church-like windows and catwalk seating make the space a little more welcoming. Your parents wouldn’t be uncomfortable there, and neither would your date – unless they like ice with their liquor. Bartenders at Earthbound will pour you a shot, but you won’t find them mixing cocktails. It’s just not what they do.


At the opening party, there was a line of customers from the bar to the door. My friend Jess and I tried a few of the brewery’s selections from their 16 taps (including guest taps and those reserved for Stag and cider). Earthbound makes some of the most ambitious and interesting beers in St. Louis, and that innovation produces a ton of great beers, like the Blackberry Gose and the Jeff Goldplum, two tart fruited beers that I could have drank all day. It also occasionally produces some not-so-great brews, like the Cardamom Pepper Tea Blonde ale, which smelled beautifully of cardamom (think spicy fruit loops) but had a strong acrid note from the pepper that spoiled the beer for me. But Earthbound’s quirks are part of what makes it a great place, and experimentation is key to innovation.


After a few drinks, Jess and I walked down the street to Vista for dinner to celebrate Earthbound’s upcoming collaboration with the restaurant, which will provide food in the tasting room. Vista, which opened in 2016, is a feather in the cap of St. Louis’s growing and impressive lineup of restaurants. Earthbound is also working on a beer garden to open in the near future, which will create some much-needed outdoor space in the Cherokee Street bar lineup.

From my first visit, it looks like Earthbound has brought what it does well down the block to the new space, and adjusted to the increase in traffic pretty smoothly (though another point of sale would benefit the bar on busy nights). I’m excited to see what they can produce with more space and the potential for distribution. I will be back, and now I can bring friends.

It’s time for the cider revolution 

Stem Ciders (2811 Walnut St.) in Denver, CO specializes in dry ciders. It says so on the beer list. And the website. The bartender will tell you. 

But I was still suspicious. I didn’t want to get stuck with a syrupy, sugary drink that I hated. I ordered the Real Dry, thinking it was my best chance at a cider I would enjoy. 

Can you tell I was nervous? Maybe I have a personal prejudice against cider, but for good reason – I’ve had so many over-sweet, one-note ciders. Every time I think “a cider sounds great right now!” I’m disappointed. 

The Real Dry is served in a tulip. It is pale gold in color and crystal clear. 

Real Dry cider at Stem Ciders

And it was dry. Truly dry. And light, and effervescent. I loved it. 

So I tried the Crabby Neighbor, made with green apples and crabapples. It was sour and funky and the unique combination of fruits brought an extra complexity.

I ordered a flight:

Off Dry, Hopped, Le Chêne, and Pear ciders at Stem Ciders

I was impressed with what I had tried so far and wanted to see what else Stem was offering. I built a flight of Off Dry, Hopped, Le Chêne, and Pear ciders to sample. 

Drinking these ciders was a revelation – they reminded me what I love about craft beer. The exploration of flavors, the elevation of ancient recipes, the innovation – these ciders were unique, and wonderful. The Hopped is dry hopped with Cascade and Citra, and the aromas of hops lift and add depth to the cider. Le Chêne is aged in wine barrels, adding oak tannin and earthy flavors. The Off Dry and Pear, which I thought would be too sweet, were surprisingly light and refreshing. The pear added floral notes that were as complex as the hops and barrel flavors. 

In some ways, cider is today where beer was 10-15 years ago. It is often seen as unsophisticated or insignificant or unappealing (sometimes all these, sometimes by me). But Stem Ciders proved to me that cider is a contender in the craft beer industry, and there are brewers ready to show their skills in a new medium. 

This fall, Brick River (2000 Washington Ave.) will debut as St. Louis’s first cidery. Brick River’s brewer Evan Hiatt brings brewery and winery experience to the operation. No in-progress draft list has yet been released, but I’m looking forward to a selection of complex, carefully crafted ciders. Brick River is situated to bring a new product to St. Louis’s thriving beer market, and I can’t wait to drink more cider. 

Tell me what you love/hate about cider. @riverwaterblog on twitter and instagram.