Square One Brewery & Distillery, St. Louis brewing institution

On any given day, thirty percent of Square One Brewery & Distillery’s customers walked from home or work to get there. That’s a point of pride for Square One, according to general manager and brewer emeritus John Witte.

Square One is a Lafayette Square institution. The brewery and restaurant opened in 2006, but owner Steve Neukomm has operated a restaurant in the space since the 1980s. Neukomm leased the space from Bob Cassilly (of City Museum fame) before purchasing the property.

Cassilly’s signature rummage style is apparent in the restaurant, if one cares to look for it. Don’t expect salvaged garbage or found art, but do expect a collage of architecture that celebrates and memorializes the city. The clerestory windows were given a second life in the bar after the demolition of a Catholic church. The massive and ornately carved arch behind the bar is another rescue, as is the stone fountain on the patio.

Just as the architectural quirks of the restaurant are parts of St. Louis’s history, so is Witte a part of the history of craft beer in the region.

Witte began homebrewing in 1988 while studying veterinary medicine. After a short time practicing as a vet, he knew that he wanted to brew beer instead. In 1994 he became the head brewer at Trailhead, one of the region’s early independent breweries. Since then he has mentored young brewers, consulted on brewing and helped to open new breweries in the St. Louis area, taken classes at the Siebel Institute, served as head brewer at Augusta Brewing Co., and in 2006 signed on with Square One as head brewer.

Witte also currently serves as the treasurer and a member of the board of directors at the St. Louis Brewers Guild.

Most of St. Louis’s breweries are on a specific mission: brew, pour, and distribute as much beer as possible on a narrow budget with a trim staff. Beer drinkers like this – it keeps our costs down and allows us to drink a wider variety of beers. Square One Brewery & Distillery has a different plan. Instead of distributing their beers, Square One brews to supply their bar and restaurant.

Dave Wohldmann started at Square One as an assistant brewer, working two days a week alongside Witte. Three years ago Witte began his transition to full-time management, and today Wohldmann is Square One’s head brewer.

Six or seven of Square One’s twelve beers on tap are Witte’s recipes, with varying degrees of collaboration from Wohldmann. The IPA, for example, reminded me why I started drinking craft beer. It was bitter, grassy, and refreshing – everything you’d want in an IPA. The IPA started as Witte’s recipe, but wasn’t dry-hopped until Wohldmann arrived. Wohldmann’s signatures – like dry hopping and late wort hopping – bring new and big flavors to Square One’s beers which allow the brewery to stay on-trend in the rapidly evolving St. Louis beer scene. Witte and Wohldmann continue to collaborate on beers such as the Oh Hawaii, an American wheat beer with carmelized pineapple added to the kegs.

Wohldmann also creates new recipes for Square One, like the MA Bay IPA, and a gose he’ll start brewing in a few weeks. Also in the works is a watermelon wheat, made with ice-distilled watermelon concentrate.

Square One also distills spirits, including three whiskeys which are distributed in Missouri and Southwest Illinois

Square One is located at 1727 Park Ave. in Lafayette Square. Check out their website and tap list at www.squareonebrewery.com. You can purchase tickets to the Brewers Guild’s upcoming Magic House Party here.

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