A Civil Week
We’re proud of the great beers we brew and always grateful for the compliments we receive for our tasty pints. But more often than not, customers also praise the atmosphere we’ve created in our pub. We can’t take all the credit, though. Our regulars shape our pub every night of the week.
In fact, every night the Civil Life is a different place, with different bartenders working and different groups of regulars coming to see us. Unless you’re that tall, blond, white-wine-quaffing friend who comes in every night, you probably have a picture of our pub drawn from the experience you have on a particular night.
Tuesdays and Wednesdays tend to be a little slower, with lots of regulars taking their seats at the bar. Thursdays are generally busier, with lots of regular faces. You might even hear our notorious bluegrass jam band that plays twice a month. The early part of Friday is slower, but with a loyal coterie of regulars served by either Joe or me––we take turns bartending Friday’s early shift. The night is busy, but plenty of regulars are still in attendance.
Saturdays bring a diverse crowd, with regulars weighted on the early end of the day. Many people from the hinterland make their way in, often for the first time. We sometimes get buses of revelers, and we are thankful when they don’t come in drinking cans of beer and raising a ruckus. Getting twenty customers at once, who’ve already been drinking, makes it harder to attend to our cherished regulars, which is one reason we continue to discourage buses. On the plus side, all of our full-time bartenders work Saturday, including the Captain of the barley ship himself.
Sundays feature tacos in the warm months and soup in the cold months with lots of regulars in attendance. We’re only open noon till seven, but the kitchen stays very busy.
Whichever day you come in, we thank you. Over the next several weeks, we’d like to paint a series of pictures of what the Civil Life is like each day of the week. We hope you’ll enjoy this peek into the different faces of the Civil Life. As always, keep drinking and being Civil!
The Tent Returns
While summer doesn’t officially arrive until June 20, the most reliable indication of this seasonal change is the reappearance of our compact tent, providing a modicum of protection against the punishing rays of the sun, as well as beer-diluting raindrops.
Normally, the tent also symbolizes the coming of our Pigs and Pints festival. Unfortunately for this event’s legions of rabid fans, we are not doing it this year. Our expansion plans are underway, and soon many changes will be gracing the Civil Life.
In the meantime, enjoy our beer garden and the pleasures of taking a restorative pint al fresco. Bask in the cool shade of the tent in the full knowledge that the sun will not skunk the delicious pint you are about to enjoy. Yes, just minutes of sun exposure can cause your beer to become light struck.
True, a sip of skunky beer may bring nostalgic memories of a clear bottle of Corona consumed at the beach or poolside, but Civil Life beers are best enjoyed in the shade. And you will no doubt enjoy many in shady bliss this summer. The time is now! Come enjoy the beer garden.
Your traditionalist friends at the Civil Life know that once upon a time, our South City neighborhoods were dotted with crowded beer gardens, where Saint Louisans enjoyed good beer in good company (and sometimes good weather). Relive these days with us, a time when local breweries thrived and neighbors enjoyed the kind of community that a good beer garden fosters.
And you’ll also be enjoying some great traditional beers, staged for a comeback soon. Our delicious German Pilsner is lagering in a big tank now, and will soon be ready for consumption by our thirsty neighbors. If we keep our regular Mark from siphoning all the pilsner into his gigantic growler, there may be enough to go around.
We are brewing a double batch of this refreshing summer beer exclusively for cans! They will be released in June … just in time for float trips and outdoor events. Our cans protect against the light and air that could damage your beer. That’s more than can be said for glass, especially clear glass. And let’s face it, the taste of Corona is better as a distant memory.
Come visit us soon and enjoy the weather and great beer in our beer garden. We’ve got a nice tent up for you again. No need to thank us … it’s all part of the Civil way. As always, be Civil and drink Civil.
Beer … It’s Mostly Water
“Brewed with water from when the earth was pure” … “from the land of sky blue water” … “it’s the water” … “brewed with pure Rocky Mountain spring water.” Many big breweries tout the water they use in their ads. Some of these beers taste as if water is the only ingredient, but there is truth in assertions that water is critically important. In terms of volume, it’s the main component used in making beer.
We’re lucky here in Saint Louis. Our city regularly makes lists of the best water in the nation, with special note of its superior flavor, aroma, and clarity. As a local brewery, we’re glad to start out with such a good ingredient. We do filter our water and sometimes treat it to adjust the pH, depending on the style we are brewing.
The world’s greatest brewing cities happened to have great water and be near to areas producing excellent barley, and eventually hops. Almost every list of the greatest brewing cities in the world will include Munich, Germany; Pilsen, Czech Republic; and Burton on Trent, England. The interesting thing is that these cities had very different types of water that led to the styles that originated there.
One of the most important factors in water chemistry for brewers is the “hardness” of the water. Harder water has higher concentrations of minerals, especially calcium and magnesium. Softer water has less.
Burton on Trent was known for extremely hard water with very high concentrations of calcium sulfate and magnesium sulfate. Beers brewed with this water even have a slightly sulfury note. The hardness of the water allows greater hopping and promotes yeast growth. The great beers from Burton achieved tremendous clarity and were bright and sparkling with a delightful hop bitterness.
The early IPAs from Burton on Trent were also an aesthetically pleasing lighter color. Hard water is efficient at extracting fermentable sugar, but pulls noticeably less color from roasted grains.
Pilsen in the Czech Republic, on the other hand, has remarkably soft, sandstone-filtered water. This is why Czech pilsners are generally darker than their German counterparts. They are also more delicately flavored, with hops expressed subtly in grassy and floral notes rather than just sharp bitterness.
We take authentic beer styles seriously, so when we brew Burton on Holt or UK IPA, we use gypsum (calcium sulfate) to harden the water. This method of hardening water for brewing is so historically tied to the water at Burton on Trent that it is called “Burtonizing.”
When we brew our Czech Pilsner, we give the water a good long boil to drive off excess minerality, achieving a softer water. This will help achieve the delicate flavors and deep golden color we are after.
When you drink Civil Life beer, raise a glass to Saint Louis water and join us, too, in celebrating authentic recreations of the world’s greatest beer styles. And remember, we are always being told to drink more water. If beer is mostly water, that means we ought to be drinking more beer!
We talk about being a “malt-driven” brewery, but what exactly is malt? Malted barley is the base of beer, whether ale or lager. Barley was first domesticated thousands of years ago in both Mesopotamia and Ethiopia. It was for a flavorful mildly alcoholic beverage we call beer these early farmers were growing this crop. Over the years, generation after generation bred and improved varieties of barley to make them more suitable for the brewing of beer.
In order to use barley for beer, it must be “malted.” In simple terms, barley grains are treated with water so that they germinate. The grains start to sprout and are then dried to halt germination and generally roasted to some degree. This malted barley now just needs to be milled (not so fine as a flour) then steeped in hot water to extract the fermentable sugars that yeast will turn into alcohol.
The key to malting is to optimize the compounds that will feed the yeast. This cereal powerhouse contains carbohydrates, proteins, and enzymes. The malted barley also contributes the layered flavors that make beer so tasty.
When beer is brewed, a base malt accounts for over 60% of the grain bill. These malts are the workhorses and have the highest levels of enzymes needed to convert starches into fermentable sugars in the mash.
Lightly roasted pale malts are among the most widely used by craft brewers making ales. We favor a few old-school varieties.
Smaller amounts of various specialty malts are used to achieve specific effects. Here are just a few.
There are many more base and specialty malts with a wide range of colors and flavors. Come down to the pub and taste how these malts create such delicious flavors. Maybe you can even talk malt with one of our talented brewers. Every beer you sip honors a long history of agriculture, brewing, and civilization itself. Cheers!
Much of what is now part of Tower Grove South neighborhood (bounded by Arsenal, Grand, Chippewa, and Kingshighway) got its start a hundred or so years ago. Over 13,000 people call this fine neighborhood home, whether they own homes or rent apartments. It’s a diverse and friendly area and we are proud to be a part of it.
Just the other day, I, like many Saint Louisans, was doing my civic duty by voting in our recent mayoral election. I walked down to the Fanning School gym, where I have voted for years. A Civil neighbor recognized me, saying “You guys put our little Holt Avenue on the map.” No one ever recognized the name of her humble little street when she told them where she lived. Now she says people say on hearing “Holt Avenue,” “Oh! That’s where the Civil Life is!”
She also thanked us for keeping the area clean and doing our part to make the neighborhood a better place for everyone. We are happy to do our part, just as we know our neighbors do all they can to keep Tower Grove such a great place to work and play.
We want to make sure we can always live up to our name, and that means more than just making and serving great beer. But a community only works as well as all of its members work together. We are honored to live and work among so many great people. We’re fortunate to have so many neighbors as great regulars, and we can’t do it without you.
This neighborhood has many fine bars and restaurants, and their continued support for the Civil Life has kept us strong. From the beginning, we’ve enjoyed the support of great places like Amsterdam, the Royale, and Mangia Italiano. You can always enjoy Civil Life beer at Ryder’s Tavern (just around the corner on Chippewa), Three Monkeys, Tower Pub, the Black Thorn Pub, Tree House (and the Night Owl upstairs), and other area spots. In Tower Grove East you can find us at Riley’s Pub and the Tick Tock Tavern. We are proud to tell our loyal South City fans that 6 of our top 20 draft accounts are located within a mile and a half of the brewery.
South City no doubt supports South City.
When you’re not headed to our pub, stop by and support other neighborhood businesses. Wherever you drink Civil Life beer, you support us, and we thank you for that. A stroll or a bike ride through the neighborhood, with a stop or two for a pint is not just a pleasant activity, it’s a real way of supporting the neighborhood and building community.
Let’s continue working together to keep Tower Grove South the safe, beautiful, fun place that it has become. Just like the neighborhood, the Civil Life is a place where all are welcome. Stop in any time for a pint. We’d love to see you!
The Angel & the Sword (Can release party on Tuesday, March 21st)
Your friendly bartenders hear a lot of questions again and again. No doubt one that crops up the most often is “What’s the Angel and the Sword?” We pride ourselves on naming beers by their styles so you know what you’re getting, but this very special beer deserved a very special name. This celebration of great malts of the world is named after a statue in Toledo, Spain.
The statue depicts an angel holding a sword aloft in supplication. It’s often called the Angel of Peace. Toledo in the Middle Ages was known as a center for translation and publishing and was famous for the peaceful coexistence of Jews, Christians, and Muslims.
Our beer embraces the same spirit of cooperation, using some of our favorite malts from around the world.
So we’re known for brewing traditional, origin-specific beers, but our one-of-a-kind Angel and the Sword boldly uses the finest malted barley from a handful of great brewing regions. See if you can taste a little of Germany, England, and North America in this sophisticated celebration of malt, the heart and soul of your favorite beverage.
A base of ESB and Munich malts is enriched with a handful of secret specialty malts and judiciously hopped with two of England’s most traditional varieties, fuggles and East Kent goldings. We call it a malty amber ale, but you can think of it as a less hoppy more sessionable take on an ESB. Either way, a beer doesn’t need to fit neatly in some category to be great.
The taste of the Angel and the Sword is unparalleled and unique. It’s malt rich with caramel and bready overtones and nutty and toasty notes. There’s just enough of a woodsy English hop note to balance all that malt. At 4.6% alcohol and a modest 32 IBUs, it’s an eminently sessionable brew.
In a craft culture that sometimes competes to see who can fit more hops into a serving of beer, we wanted to offer a reminder that without malt, there’s no beer. America’s great inclusive beer culture welcomes every beer drinker and it has room for every style of beer and every brewing philosophy.
And like historical Toledo, the site of the statue that gives our beer its name, the Angel and the Sword is a celebration of unity and international cooperation. Now that’s something to drink to.
Way back in January, we offered a peek at four delicious Scottish ales, starting with our light, dry, and very drinkable 70 Shilling. All four are now available, and each one is unique and very tasty. This selection of Scottish styles offers something for every palate.
The Scottish Export Ale is brand new. The “shilling” rated ales tended to be dark, malty, and somewhat sweet. The Scots started brewing special “export” ales that were more like the lighter, drier English pale ales. This is the historical style our export ale is modeled on. We use pilsner malt as the base and hop it somewhat modestly. The Scottish Export Ale is 5.6% alcohol, but light bodied with a dry finish. It’s a beautiful amber color with some toasty roast malt and a nice clean finish.
We also recently re-released our original Scottish Ale. You can think of it as a 90 Shilling. It’s dark and malty, but hopped a bit more than the style generally is. It comes in at 5.7% alcohol and 44 IBUs. The base malt is Golden Promise, a traditional Scottish-grown spring barley. We hop it with good old American Cascade hops, which show subtly on the finish. The beer is a deep reddish mahogany color with loads of caramel malt notes and a little spice. Despite the big malt presence, it doesn’t finish cloyingly, as some Scottish ales do.
Finally, our “Wee Bit Heavy Ale” is this year’s third beer in our “big beer” series. That’s right, Civil Life beer topping the scales at 6.5% alcohol … around these parts, that’s plenty big. Wee Heavies are Scottish strong ales. Heavy refers to the full body. Such beers, being higher in alcohol, were originally served in a “wee” glass. The Wee Bit Heavy is deep copper to brown in color with a rich, layered malt character. It’s complex with huge caramelized malt notes, nice spice, and a little sweetness. If you see a fifty-year-old Ford pickup truck with a bed full of growlers, you’ll know our regular Keith has replenished his supply. Hurry down before he finishes it!
No matter what you like, one of our Scottish ales is sure to please. You don’t see an awful lot of Scottish ales at American craft breweries, but your friends at the Civil Life are making sure great styles keep flowing, especially those that celebrate the malt backbone of every great beer. Cheers!
We recently released a new beer sure to please those drinkers who enjoy nice hop character, without excessive bitterness or lack of balance. Our American Session Ale is a truly American take on our beloved British Bitter. While the bitter (an English pale ale) is made with British malts and hopped with East Kent Goldings, the American Session Ale is made from all American malted grain and hopped with El Dorado, a variety developed less than ten years ago.
Like our bitter, the American Session Ale is a modest 4.2% alcohol and just 40 IBUs. It fits perfectly with our philosophy of full-flavored session beers that always keep the malt and hops in perfect balance.
A few years ago, brewers of IPAs began to develop beers that would appeal to session beer drinkers. With many IPAs coming in around 7% alcohol, they were not the best choices for those who wanted to enjoy a few pints with friends. These brewers began making session IPAs coming in around 5%. Unfortunately, some of these beers were hugely hopped and bitter, but somewhat thin.
Our approach is to make a balanced beer with enough malt structure to support a generous hop load. And the hops are used in such a way as to highlight flavor and aromatics without imparting a tongue-punishing bitterness.
A short digression on dry hopping … the American Session Ale is dry hopped with the same El Dorado used at each stage of the brewing. Those who homebrew know that hops are added at multiple stages during the boil. The earlier the hops are added, the more bitterness they impart. The later the hops are added, the more flavor they impart. If you crush a hop cone between your fingers, you feel an oily resin and smell some intense notes of fruit or flowers or herbs. The compounds responsible for those aromas are quite volatile and will dissipate quickly in the presence of high heat. Dry hopping (not dry at all, as it turns out) is a way to capture those divine scents. Hops steep in the cool beer for several days or so. The result is intense aromatics.
The smells and flavors of El Dorado hops are very enticing. Overall there is an intense note of candied fruit. You might detect apricot, peach, melon, citrus, berry, tropical fruit, wild flowers, and caramelized notes of honey.
Come down for a balanced pint that combines malt presence and delightfully fruity hop characteristics. Like all our beers, it invites civil consumption and rewards every civil drinker.
Beer Is Not the Only Craft at the Civil Life …
In this plastic world, your traditional friends at the Civil Life like to celebrate wood. From the beginning, customers have reacted very positively to our cozy wooden respite from the trials and tribulations of the modern world. From our beautiful ash bar and back shelving to the old school wainscoting and hand-made wood tables and snugs, the warmth of wood makes every pub-goer feel instantly at home.
Some time ago, one of our regulars surprised us with a gift. Steve Reynolds has been working with wood for decades: “while I was a computer professional I have been making sawdust for 40 years.” He can’t help turning a humble block of wood into an object of beauty … and utility. The first tap handle Steve made for us was turned from a piece of beautiful cocobolo, a Central American hardwood.
That first tap handle sits on the faucet dispensing the Angel and the Sword, Steve’s favorite beer at the Civil Life. As time permitted, Steve fashioned more tap handles from a variety of woods he had around the shop. “Naturally if the woods were different I also used a variety of shapes and dyes,” Steve explains. There was never any official agreement that Steve would make all of our tap handles, but as time permitted, he would work on a couple of new handles and drop them off.
We were all excited as the set grew toward completion, with a quirky variety of shapes and finishes. They have become a real conversation starter. Once, a set of twelve uniform plastic handles peeked above the traditional ash coffin box (very much like the ones you see in Irish pubs) where we dispense twelve delicious Civil Brews. Now we have twelve unique handles, all a testament to the skill and vision of Steve Reynolds.
About seven years ago, Steve “got into woodturning in a big way.” Curmudgeon Woodwerks is the name of his shop. He grew up seeing his father working on projects around the house, so woodworking never seemed like some mystical practice, but a real craft. He eventually took to making furniture and other objects, knowing he wouldn’t get exactly what he wanted if he didn’t. That’s very much the philosophy of the Civil Life itself. Well-crafted, flavorful, traditional session beers were hard to come by, so the founders of the Civil Life decided to make these beers themselves.
Next time you stop in for a beer, check out our unique tap handles (pub only, our market tap handles are crafted by another St. Louis woodworker ~ Marvin at Burkarts.) While you enjoy your pint, you’ll probably have a conversation with one of our many regulars who, like Steve, enjoys doing things the right way instead of the easy way. That, friends, is the Civil Life.
These are exciting days at the Civil Life with lots of new beers appearing on our list of Civil Brews. Our Scottish Ale season has officially begun with our 70 Shilling Scottish Ale available on tap now. We also recently started pouring the second in our series of “Big Beers,” Big American Stout.
You couldn’t ask for two more different beers. One is light and quaffable while the other is big and robust. As always, there’s something for everyone at the Civil Life.
At just 3.5% alcohol, the 70 Shilling is a true session beer. This beautiful pale orange beer is very light bodied with a clean dry finish. Like most Scottish beers, it’s lightly hopped (just under 20 IBUs). Though light, it doesn’t lack flavor, with a slightly toasty character and some subtle earthy roast notes. It’s easy drinking and delicious.
On the other end of the spectrum is our Big American Stout, a big black beer with 6.5% alcohol and 65 IBUs. This stout is full bodied with deep dark roast character, featuring notes of dark chocolate and coffee. There are earthy undertones and a subtle dried fruit note. You’ll enjoy the complex layers of roasted malt.
These two great additions to our list are part of our commitment to offer the sophisticated beer lover plenty of options. We like to think we have something for everyone. It’s always gratifying to hear customers tell us we don’t make a bad beer. We’d like to show our thanks to all of you, so here’s a promise: we’ll keep making great beers as long as you keep drinking them. We couldn’t do it without you!
The Civil Blog has returned. It is predominantly authored by Civil Life Barman, Dr. Patrick Hurley, who can be found tending to our bar patrons on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. He is also responsible for tending to our draft lines, which is recognized as one of our most important tasks. Special guest writers will appear from time to time. We hope reading this blog will give you much insight about the Civil Life and most importantly help you understand a bit more about all of us that work here and the beers we put our hearts into.