Thursday, October 25, 2018
It’s a rainy Friday night, and the newly opened Ebb & Flow in downtown Cape Girardeau is a cozy sanctuary from the wet and onset of autumn chill. In the front room, pairs of friends sit on the old, orange-cushioned church pews, deep in conversation in the low lights. On the other side of the wall, couples sit on vintage furniture, green and floral couches and chairs washed in lamplight. A man from a corner table thumbs through the crate of records next to the antique record player before flipping the one that’s just finished playing. A group of friends from a center table laughs loudly as they finish up their meal of lamb and beans and gyros and craft beer, their plates and glasses empty.
It’s not quite a bar; it’s too quiet, and the focus is on atmosphere. It’s not quite a restaurant; the focus is on craft beer rather than the food.
Rather, it’s a brewpub, a concept that began on the coasts and within the past few years has made its way to the Midwest, founded upon the craft beer trend.
Ryan and Kayla Droege of Cape Girardeau are having a conversation in front of the bookshelf that displays quirky tchotchkes: a Sacred Heart of Jesus statue, the bust of a flapper, travel guidebooks to Iceland, to name a few. Earlier in the afternoon, the couple was at Scratch Brewing Company in Ava, Illinois, the much-talked-about brewery that uses locally foraged and grown ingredients to brew beer, and is located in the middle of the woods.
For the Droeges, brewpubs are all about atmosphere.
“Two different things,” Ryan says of why he and Kayla enjoy brewpubs. “It’s very inviting, cozy, a quiet place to sit and have a conversation with someone. It’s not like another bar where it’s loud and there are TVs.”
He adds, “They have fantastic beer, as well.”
Shifting drinking habits
It’s a scene playing out across the U.S.: local brewpubs are popping up in large cities and small towns, each with their own style of brewing and atmosphere. According to the Brewers Association, the not-for-profit trade association dedicated to small and independent American brewers, as of June 30, 2018, there were 6,655 active breweries in America, while in June only a year before, there were 5,562. As of June 30, the Brewers Association estimated approximately 2,500 to 3,000 additional breweries were in the planning stages, based on active Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau licenses.
This, compared to the 49 breweries that existed within the U.S. in 1983; it’s a historic high for breweries within the United States. The last numbers that came close to these, The New York Times reports in “How Local Craft Breweries are Helping Revive Local Economies,” recorded 4,131 breweries in the country. That was in 1873.
It’s a phenomenon Mike Kohlfeld, of Kohlfeld Distributing in Jackson, Missouri, attributes to open-mindedness amongst the Millennial generation.
“People definitely have brand preferences; I think people are brand loyal when they get to be a certain age,” Kohlfeld says. “I think when they’re younger, brand loyalty doesn’t mean quite as much; they’re experiencing new things, trying new things.”
The numbers back up this theory. While craft beer still accounted for only 12.7 percent of the U.S. beer market by volume in 2017, sales grew in 2017 at a rate of five percent by volume, according to the Brewers Association. Retail dollar sales of craft beer increased eight percent, up to $26 billion, accounting for more than 23 percent of the $111.4 billion U.S. beer market. The craft beer industry generated 500,000 jobs, with more than 135,000 jobs directly at brewpubs and breweries. The Brewers Association also reported the craft brewing industry contributed $76.2 billion to the U.S. economy in 2017, deriving this number from the “total impact of beer brewed by craft brewers as it moves through the three-tier system (breweries, wholesalers and retailers), as well as all non-beer products like food and merchandise that brewpub restaurants and brewery taprooms sell.”
This, in contrast with statistics from the five major brewers, Anheuser-Busch, MillerCoors, Heineken, Pabst and Diageo, which fell by 14 percent between 2007 and 2016, according to The Atlantic’s “Craft Beer is the Strangest, Happiest Economic Story in America.” This story also reported average beer prices have grown nearly 50 percent in the past decade, and that “while Americans are drinking less beer than they did in the 2000s (probably a good thing) they’re often paying more for a superior product (another good thing).” (This, of course, assuming smaller, craft and more expensive means superior.) This equation leaves the market wide open for independent brewers to create a variety of beers and to charge more for them.
Kohlfeld, based on the trends of Kohlfeld Distributing, believes there is room for both big beer and craft beer within the market, as many people tend to choose the beer they’re drinking based on the social situation, he says. The number of products handled by distributors demonstrates people’s willingness to try new things: according to the National Beer Wholesalers Association, the average distributor managed 190 SKUs in their warehouses in 1996. In 2016, that number skyrocketed to 1,025.
Although Kohlfeld Distributing does not handle this many unique products, their experience is similar to what statistics show. This is Kohlfeld Distributing’s 50th year in business, which they celebrated with the purchase of Bluff City Beer Co. in July. Kohlfeld, whose father Leo Kohlfeld founded the business in 1978, has watched the business grow to incorporate many more brands of beer, as well as other types of nonalcoholic beverages, which Kohlfeld Distributing began to incorporate in the 1980s.
“We used to have Stag and Schlitz. That’s what we started with,” Kohlfeld says. “I don’t even know how many brands we have now. It’s a bunch.”
Marketing craft beer in an area that drinks big beer
What exactly makes a craft brewer, a craft brewer? According to the Brewers Association, to be designated with an “independent craft brewer seal,” the brewery must be small, producing 6 million barrels of beer or less each year. It must be independent, with less than 25 percent owned by a beverage alcohol industry member that is not a craft brewer. And it must be traditional, with “the majority of its total beverage alcohol volume in beers whose flavors derive from traditional or innovative brewing ingredients and their fermentation.”
Minglewood Brewery in Cape Girardeau fits this bill. Owner Stuart Matthews employs approximately 20 people and keeps five year-round beers on tap, also brewing seasonal beers in seven barrel batches. He also creates smaller, experimental 15-gallon batches, which he releases on Friday afternoons to start the weekend. He features other area brewers’ beer that he enjoys on guest taps.
Drinking local -- and shopping and eating -- he says, is important because it keeps the money in the community, supporting people who live within it. It also creates an atmosphere that encourages interacting with both strangers and friends alike, he says.
“It’s a little warmer, I feel like, coming in here with the lights down, the Edison bulbs up,” he says. “People can hopefully get off their phones long enough to maybe say ‘hi’ to the person they’re sitting next to.”
Matthews says he enjoys educating people about craft beer and providing the opportunity for them to taste beer brewed with Cape Girardeau water. One way he’s been able to bridge the gap in familiarity with big beer to craft beer is through Minglewood’s Roadie Soadies, 16-ounce cans of craft beer he cans and seals in-shop, on the spot. He sells single cans or packs of four.
The idea initially came when he realized people in Southeast Missouri didn’t know what a growler was. Although he sold 52-ounce growlers and 32-ounce growlettes, he says the sealed containers for transporting the beer from the tap were made from glass and bulky. However, Southeast Missourians were already familiar with the concept of a 16-ounce tall boy; Matthews decided to sell these cans of his own craft beer. The last step? Dubbing it with a catchy moniker -- he sells the Roadie Soadie in 8-, 12- or 16-ounce cans for the road. They’ve become a commodity craft beer enthusiasts trade for.
Craft breweries: key to growing an economy
A common denominator James and Deborah Fallows, authors of the book “Our Towns: a 100,000-Mile Journey Into the Heart of America” found in thriving towns they flew into across the Midwest: the presence of local brewpubs.
Each town that was being revitalized had at least one.
“Downtown ambitions of any sort are a positive sign,” the Fallows write in their book. “Occupied second- and third-floor apartments and condos over restaurants and stores suggest that the downtown has crossed a decisive threshold and will survive.”
It’s a phenomenon happening in Perryville, Missouri: just five years ago, thirteen of the storefronts around the downtown square were vacant. Currently, that number is zero. Among other businesses, there is a coffee shop, a florist, a guitar shop. There is a venue space, a salon, an interior design store. There is a bank, two barber shops and a furniture store. And there is a brewpub.
It’s called JStreet BrewCo, and it was founded by mary jane burgers + brew owner and JStreet operations manager, Carisa Stark, and head brewer and executive chef, Matt Ruesler. While mary jane burgers + brew opened in Oct. 2013, J Street came two and a half years later, in April 2016; together, the businesses employ approximately 70 people.
The historic Jackson Street buildings date back to 1894. They once housed Dr. Morton’s Pharmaceuticals, the United States Post Office, the real estate offices of Brown and Fenwick, HomeTrust Bank, Mercantile Dance Hall, a grocery store and the town’s first telephone operation system.
Stark says before mary jane and JStreet, there was talk of tearing the buildings down. Now, people travel from an 80-mile radius every day to eat and drink at the brewpub.
The brewpub is just one portion of the revitalization of Jackson Street, the street from which JStreet takes its name. The City of Perryville has allowed Stark and Ruesler to string Edison bulb lights across the street. Stark has created an Airbnb above the restaurant, and is currently building eight loft apartments above the brewery. The brewery and restaurant also host cruise-ins and other events throughout the year. The street, for many, is a destination.
“I love it when I see someone come in, looking around like, ‘Am I in a town of 8,225 people?’” Stark says.
These experiences are what Trish Erzfeld, Perry County Heritage Tourism director, says the City of Perryville hopes to continue to cultivate.
“One of the main reasons Perryville’s downtown has become so lively is because of the unique collaboration efforts,” Erzfeld says. “You can get a delicious Villainous coffee stout craft beer brewed by JStreet made with fresh coffee beans purchased from Villainous Grounds, our local coffee shop down the street. You can also relax sipping on a craft beer from JStreet while visiting The Man Cave, a local traditional barber shop and men’s spa. Perryville’s plans for the future are to continue to welcome new and creative entrepreneurs to the area.”
Ruesler agrees the City of Perryville and his fellow entrepreneurs have been key to JStreet’s success.
“It takes a village,” Ruesler says. “Without the help of the other businesses around the square, without the help of the City, people being open-minded to these things, it would never have happened.”
Taking local to the next level
Dewayne Schaaf, owner of Ebb & Flow in Cape Girardeau, says the vibe of his brewpub is traditional, quirky and modern all at once. He’s creating this vibe by taking “local business” literally: he plans to use hops, spruce tips and fir tips from his family’s farms in Southeast Missouri. He also will use yeast he has foraged from the area. “Trusting the yeast of the region,” as he says, is just one of his efforts in beer tourism, helping people to literally taste the region.
Within Southeast Missouri, Schaaf has foraged yeast from Gordonville and Cape Girardeau. When foraging, he marks the spot in which he found the yeast with the GPS on his phone so he can pinpoint exactly where it came from.
Process is important to Schaaf while brewing. One project that evidences this: during the 2017 solar eclipse, Schaaf collected yeast. He plans to brew with it and release the beer during the next solar eclipse in 2024.
Schaaf also collects yeast from around the world, through the connections he has established with other brewers through Milk the Funk, a Facebook group dedicated to homebrewing. His yeast bank is 125 varieties strong, including yeast from his friends in Tasmania, India, Lithuania, Estonia, Russia and Norway. He and his fellow brewers have passed yeast to each other across six continents and 47 different countries, brewing with it and adding their own local yeast to the mix before passing it on; in this way, the beers have remnants of all the places across the world where the yeast has been.
Drawing from his background as owner and executive chef of Celebrations in Cape Girardeau, Schaaf says he will be brewing “culinary-style beers,” inspired by international dishes. He also will be using historical methods to brew these beers, including the Russian technique used for brewing kvass, which includes mashing with stale sourdough rye bread rather than with grain. He also plans to utilize the Lithuanian brewing method used for brewing keptinis, which includes making a thick porridge from grain, putting this mash on top of hay and caramelizing it in a woodfire oven. A broom with the mash wrapped around it then acts as the filter when it is pushed around inside the brewing barrel. He also plans to use original Old English brewing recipes.
“That’s probably not really necessary, but if we’re going through the effort of everything else, we might as well,” Schaaf says. “For me, doing stuff like this is more about art and reverence.”
It’s part of his aesthetic, which is half of the business of craft beer. Schaaf does not plan to have a beer that is on-tap year-round; instead, he says Ebb & Flow’s constant will be change. He plans to brew and serve sours, fruit beers and pale beers from around the world, as well as darker historical beers.
Beer, he says, is about identity. This is what makes local beer important.
“I think there’s a sense of self, and not just self personal, but a sense of self as a community,” Schaaf says.
The science and art of the trade
As at Ebb & Flow, change is a constant factor in the craft beer world; craft beer drinking is all about variety and trying new things. This, Shawn Patterson, Vice President of Sales at River Eagle Distributing in Cape Girardeau, says is the challenge of craft beer.
As a result of this, Patterson says although River Eagle Distributing started with only distributing a few beers at its establishment in 1990, they now distribute more than 100 different types of beer, selling approximately 800,000 cases each year in five Southeastern Missouri counties.
“People used to be brand loyal, and most of the people you see that drink Budweiser or Bud Light don’t drink Miller Light or Coors Light,” Patterson says. “But craft beers -- especially if you pull into a brewpub -- they’re going to try what’s there. They’re going to try what you have. That’s what’s hard as far as selling it, is trying to figure out what people want. We’ll have a really hot beer right now but in a few months, they’ve moved to something else.”
It’s this element of randomness Schaaf says is part of the draw of craft beer.
“What we’re going to be creating is stuff that’s indicative to us and to our flavors like what we want to create; some of it’s random, and some of it’s controlled,” Schaaf says. “That, I think, is part of the beauty.”