Of all the jobs one could aim towards on those ASVAB and similar tests to which high-schoolers are continually subjected, founder of your very own microbrewery sounds pretty cool, does it not? We recently caught up with Tom Schlafly, the man behind the magical suds on Locust Street and now, in Maplewood.
1) How much time do you spend lawyering and how much time do you spend being a beer baron in a typical week?
A: I probably spend at least 75% of my time on beer. Some of it would be devoted to legal work for the brewery. But beer accounts for the lion's share of my workday, no matter how you measure it.
I sometimes describe myself as a recovering lawyer.
2) Have things at Schlafly turned out like you thought they would when you started this business more than a decade ago?
A: The business has been more successful than I would have dared to predict in 1991, when we bought the building at 2100 Locust Street. Lots of people were telling us that a microbrewery would never succeed in St. Louis; that the neighborhood at 21st and Locust was beyond hope; and the building, which had been vacant for 22 years when we bought it, could never be profitably renovated.
It's very gratifying to have the business do well; to have saved an architectural gem of a building; and to contribute in a minor way to the revival of Downtown.
I've also made lots of great friends through the brewery, an unexpected bonus from the business.
3) What's the relationship like between Schlafly and those other guys down on Pestalozzi Street?
A: Because of A-B, St. Louisans are more aware of beer than people in any other city in America. Because of this heightened awareness, we get a lot more attention here than a comparably sized business in any other industry would.
At the same time, you have to keep in mind our relative sizes. In one hour they brew more beer than we make in an entire year.
That having been said, the relationship is very good. I've worked with their government affairs department on issues of common concern. Our brewers learn a lot from being in the same chapter of the Master Brewers Association as the A-B people. And, when A-B started its specialty beer group, they took a busload of trainees to The Tap Room as part of the orientation into the world of craft beers.
4) Can you tell our readers about any new songs you've written lately for The Courthouse Steps?
A: "Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be lawyers" to the tune of the Willie Nelson number, and "Coral Court Motel" to the tune of "Heartbreak Hotel" the songs are written. Whether the others in the group have gotten around to rehearsing them is another story.
5) What's the best thing about St. Louis? The worst?
A: We have an abundance of one of the scarcest commodities in the world: fresh water. In the U.S. it's not just in the West that the shortage of water is a problem. Maryland and Virginia are fighting in the Supreme Court over rights to the Potomac. In China, the Middle East and elsewhere the situation is much worse and is likely to become even more severe in the next 50 years. Looking ahead, St. Louis is in a very enviable position vis a vis the rest of the world.
One of the worst things about St. Louis is our negative self-image. I remember when we first opened The Tap Room, someone came up to me and said that St. Louis wasn't cool enough to have a microbrewery. We've got to overcome that attitude. When I graduated from law school I could have taken a job anywhere in the country, including the so-called hot cities like Seattle, San Francisco, Boston, etc. I don't have the slightest regret about the choice I made.
My wife and I have hosted visitors from all over the world, and they rave about this undiscovered jewel where we're lucky enough to live. St. Louisans need to learn to appreciate their own city as much as others do.
6) Of what accomplishment are you most proud?
A: I got married at the age of 46, completely astounding friends and relatives who had assumed I was a bachelor for life. It was the first marriage both for me and my wife, Ulrike, whose age I won't reveal.
7) Where do you get your inspiration for "Top Fermentation," your column in the monthly Schlafly newsletter, The Growler?
A: A lot of it comes from magazines and newspapers. If I see an interesting article, I often clip it and start to try to think of ways to work it into a column. Before I start a column, I'll have a folder full of clippings. I then try to find a way to put them together and look at them from a perspective wholly unintended by the original authors. Also, when I get the germ of an idea in my head, I flesh it out with Internet searches. If Rick Bragg from the New York Times is in trouble for not acknowledging all his sources, maybe I should start crediting Google under my byline.
8) How's it going over there in Maplewood?
A: Very well so far. The reception from the community couldn't be better. By the time this is in print, we should have lunch and dinner available in the beer garden Tuesday through Saturday, and our brewery tours should be up and running.
9) What's your favorite beer besides your own?
A: I honestly don't know. When I visit in-laws in Cologne, I always enjoy Kölsch, the style indigenous to the city. I've enjoyed the authentic Pilsners from the Czech Republic and the Hefeweizens in Munich. I like the real ale in Britain.
Without picking a single beer, I'll answer your question by saying my favorite country for beer is Belgium. It has by far the best variety of any nation I've seen.
10) What's your favorite Schlafly brew? Your favorite Tap Room menu item?
A: Again, I honestly don't know what my favorite is. At The Tap Room or Bottleworks I tend to order the current seasonal special. At the moment I have Schlafly Kölsch on tap at home.
As for the menu items, again I tend to order the specials. The last time we had dinner at The Tap Room, Ulrike ordered mussels and I had chicken fried steak. The last time we ate at Bottleworks I had a pulled pork sandwich and I think Ulrike had a tuna steak sandwich.
11) Is there a heinous punishment for staffers who can't seem to spell Schlafly right?
A: They have to listen to a lecture from me. I start by comparing them to the army drill sergeant who called me "Shoo-fly." I then point out that anyone who can learn to pronounce the "l" in "Schlitz" can learn to say the two "l"s in "Schlafly."