I know I gain absolutely no sympathy when I toss out the odd complaint about the day job, working for The Man, and so on, because, well...my day job rocks. In my capacity as an editor for St. Louis' visitor magazine, Where Magazine, I am charged with keeping up with and writing about what's going on in the worlds of dining, shopping, art and entertainment in the Lou. That's how I found myself, on two consecutive weekday afternoons in March, playing tourist for a day on the brewery tours offered by Anheuser-Busch (a.k.a. the World's Largest Brewery) and Schlafly Bottleworks, in the hoppin' burb of Maplewood.
Differences are apparent in ways big and small; as Schlafly's Dan Kopman wryly observed, the two companies are "both in the beer business, but we're not in the same business."
For folks from Philly to Phoenix, Anheuser-Busch is practically synonymous with St. Louis: there are the ubiquitous ads, with the hastily added hometown at the end of every spot. Anheuser-Busch brews Budweiser and Bud Light, the two best-selling beers on the planet. Remember, we were "first in shoes, first in booze"...let's not talk about the American League.
And what a difference that beer made transforming the dream of German immigrant Eberhard Anheuser, owner of just one of more than 50 local breweries in the 1870s, into an industry juggernaut whose architecturally stunning complex sprawls over 100 acres downtown. In fact, the brand the racecars, the Clydesdales, the Bud Bowl! is so ingrained in American culture (and in the tour lobby, a veritable temple to A-B) that it's almost possible to forget that light, amber liquid for a moment. Fans flock, so that even on the icy Monday after the Super Bowl, on the last tour of the day, eight stalwarts gathered, eager for a glimpse behind the born-on date.
Tour guides lead the group straight to the crowd-pleaser, the Clydesdale stables, one of several historic buildings on the tour and home to pampered horses and a spunky Dalmatian, Mickey. Staggering numbers pepper the tour: 200,000 six-packs of beer in each beechwood aging tank; a thousand bottles a minute filled on the many lines; 24,000 employees around the country. Five dizzying stops and several informative video clips later, you're in the hospitality room, sampling your two brews and contemplating the Bud briefcase in the gift shop. (Really, is it a wise career move?)
It's a different world than St. Louis' other brewery tour, at the new Schlafly Bottleworks in Maplewood. Running the first bottling facility opened in Missouri since the 1933 repeal of Prohibition, the small-but-mighty Schlafly crew are "beer missionaries," according to co-owner Dan Kopman, sure they can win fans to craft-brewed beer. The tour, light on gloss and heavy on the working brewery aspect, starts with a display of St. Louis' rich brewing history. (Schlafly seems eager to embrace its position in the pantheon of St. Louis beer history, while A-B would perhaps like you to believe that it's all A-B, all the time, since the beginning of time.) Enthusiastic guides lead groups past bags of barley in the storeroom, to the tank farm where beer ferments and out onto the brewing floor to marvel at the single, half-automated/half-handrun bottling line (80 bottles every minute!) My guide ditched the videos in favor of his own narration, and laughed when, over samples of cream and Scotch ales, I asked if Schlafly bikinis were for sale.
You can take the tours for yourself; you don't even have to pretend you're a tourist. A-B offers tours from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. M-Sa, and 11:30 a.m.-4 p.m. on Sun. Schlafly Bottleworks runs tours on the hour from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. M-Th and Su, and from 11 a.m.-7 p.m. F and Sa.
Amanda Doyle, given the choice, will almost always drink wine.