The public has been screaming for session ales. Low alcohol, easy drinking beers are a much needed antidote to the many palate-shaking extreme brews flooding the craft beer market. Starting Monday D.C. will have one: a collaboration beer brewed at the Schlafly Tap Room in St. Louis by the District’s own Greg Jasgur, overseer of the Pizzeria Paradiso craft beer empire, Sam Fitz, beer director at Meridian Pint, and Greg Engert of Birch & Barley and ChurchKey fame.
House In Session Ale is a 4.2 percent alcohol by volume American session ale dry-hopped with Simcoe and Amarillo hops. “We wanted to make a sessionable American-style pale ale that would be great on draft but also on cask, since all three bars serve cask ale,” Engert explains. “It’s an English-style bitter pale ale with an American twist.” The American twist being the citrus and pine flavor-producing hops, of course.
“We were all interested in brewing something coming out in Spring that the entire city could get behind,” Fitz says. “We wanted something light and floral, reminiscent of spring and the Cherry Blossoms,” Jasgur added.
The project came about when Schalfly co-founder Dan Kopman approached Jasgur with the idea of making a beer exclusively for Pizzeria Paradiso. Jeff Wells of DOPS Inc., a local beer and wine distributor who works with both Kopman and Jasgur, suggested that the project be a collaboration between Paradiso, Meridian Pint, and ChurchKey. The full group soon met at ChurchKey to plan this low-alcohol brew, and the beer was appropriately named “House In Session” at the suggestion of ChurchKey’s Nahem Simon. Jasgur, Fitz, and Engert collaborated with brewers at Schlafly via email to develop the recipe. Then in early February they flew to St. Louis to brew the beer.
“These are three of the most passionate beer people in D.C. I thought it would be fun for them to visit St. Louis to learn about the history of brewing in the city, see what is going on with the redevelopment of the St. Louis brewing industry today, and put on some boots and brew a batch of beer,” Kopman explains.
The story of American brewing is well anchored in St. Louis, as Budweiser makers Anheuser-Busch expanded from a small family company there in the 1860s to the global beer giant AB-InBev is today. One of many pioneers in the craft brewing revolution over the past 30 years, the Schlafly Tap Room opened in 1991 and was the first small independent brewpub to operate in St. Louis since before Prohibition. Schlafly is now the largest locally owned brewery in the city and has superseded Anheuser-Busch as the object of local pride since the St. Louis-based corporation was bought by international conglomerate InBev in 2008. Today, thanks in large part to Schlafly’s legacy, a thriving craft beer scene flourishes in St. Louis. And Jasgur, Fitz, Engert, and Wells got to experience it first hand.
Fitz, who went to school at Washington University in St. Louis, is no stranger to the city, but it was the first trip to St. Louis for Jasgur, Engert, and Wells. The group got their fill of St. Louis craft brews across local beer bars and brewpubs, and had the chance to tour the AB-Inbev facility. “It’s like the history of beer and it’s also where we’re going to. It’s the juxtaposition of one of the oldest breweries I’ve ever been in, one of the most important in American brewing, but also one of the newest in terms of technology and scale,” Jasgur explains.
But the point of the trip was, of course, to brew a beer and bring it back to D.C. In a full day of work with Schlafly brewers Stephen Hale and Brennan Greene, the D.C. crew got their hands dirty doing everything from milling and mashing the grain to adding hops at each point in the boil. “It was cool for us to brew beer at a craft brewery in a major city in American brewing where we could see the history alongside all these new innovations,” Engert says.
The group came with a variety of brewing experience. Jasgur, who in High Fidelity fashion describes himself as more of a “professional critic” than a brewer, has hung out with friends as they homebrewed but has not done any brewing on his own. Fitz has three years of homebrewing under his belt, mostly with friend and experienced brewer Tim Adams who is starting his own brewery in Maine. Fitz also brewed an exclusive beer for Meridian Pint with Steven Jones of Oliver Breweries in Baltimore. Engert has not done is own homebrewing but had the special opportunity to attend Sierra Nevada‘s Beer Camp where he used the high-tech facility to brew an exclusive beer for Rustico in August of 2009.
A sneak preview of Jasgur, Fitz, and Engert’s final product will be on draft at Pizzeria Paradiso, Meridian Pint, and ChurchKey starting Monday, March 28. House In Session Ale will be available at other local bars and an official launch event for the beer is being planned. Check back here for updates.
Stay tuned for part two of this story with more on this D.C. collaboration beer, the many ties between Schlafly and the District of Columbia, the beer release’s connection to The Small Brewer Reinvestment and Expanding Workforce Act currently being introduced in Congress, and how half-smokes from Ben’s Chili Bowl found their way to the Schlafly Tap Room on brew day.