Thursdays at the pub tend to be pretty busy from opening on. The bar is packed with regulars, and the tables both inside and outside gradually fill with cheerful beer lovers.
The Civil Hour group generally arrives early. Among them you’ll find the Count of Monte Carlo, English professor and world traveler. He has lived in almost every city on the planet and perhaps even in cities on planets yet to be discovered. His group engages in lively conversation fuelled by good drink, snacks, and, of course, civility.
One regular couple takes a break from a hectic week of work and family to restore with pints and sandwiches. Another couple plots their strategies for the next Pennsic War (held annually by the Society for Creative Anachronism) over pints of cask beer.
By seven pm, a group of traveling minstrels arrives (twice a month) with fiddles, mandolins, banjos, and other instruments in tow. They are led by two of the metro areas most talented beer drinkers.
One of these men hosts the wildly popular KDHX program “Down Yonder” (Saturdays 11–1). Over the course of the evening he showers the staff of Civil Life with an inexhaustible supply of coins, like some benevolent numismatic deity.
The other man is a tall bearded fellow, bearing a striking resemblance to his ancestor, who famously painted a panoramic depiction of the entire Mississippi River Valley on a canvas over half a mile wide. These artistic talents were translated in musical skill in our regular, who saws madly at his fiddle, while dipping whatever is handy into horseradish sauce. So powerful is his addiction to this savory root (the densest concentration of which grows just south of Collinsville), we have to dole it out to him like methadone.
Together these gentlemen lead an old time jam band, playing plenty of bluegrass music out on our patio. We supply the musicians with some pints in order to support the arts and promote civility.
Outdoor drinkers and diners listen and sometimes even dance while enjoying pints of great beer and tasty snacks lovingly prepared by Tony and Dave.
When you head back to the bar, just be careful not to get roped into a lengthy conversation about Estonian woodworking with a regular having a crazed look in his eye and his hand clamped in a death grip around his dry cider (or Czech Pilsner, when it’s available). You’ll remember this regular as the young man who was almost Civil Life Customer of the Year last year!
Good beer, good food, good music, friendly regulars, and conversation. That’s Thursday at the Civil Life. See you then!
Civil Life June Updates
The month of June is already almost half over and we are already feeling summer in Saint Louis. We’ve been busy making great beers to keep you hydrated all summer long. Great new things are afoot here at the Civil Life.
We released a new T-shirt with our mantra “Be Civil” spelled out in rainbow letters. It’s a celebration of diversity and civility. Wear it with pride!
We also canned a huge batch of refreshing German Pilsner, a crisp golden lager that can stand up to the punishing heat and humidity that mark our summers here in south Saint Louis. It’s the perfect restorative for any outdoor activity.
Like Pride Fest, for example. The first Pride Fest events in Saint Louis date back to 1980. Organizers representing the local LGBT community planned events, including a parade, which originally centered around the Central West End and Forest Park. By the nineties, Pride events had moved to our own Tower Grove neighborhood, with a parade down South Grand to Tower Grove Park.
You could say the core values of this annual celebration are diversity and civility, and Tower Grove was the perfect venue. As it attracted more people, it moved downtown, with a parade down Market Street. Last year’s Pride Fest events attracted a quarter of a million people. That’s a lot of people braving the heat and humidity to celebrate. If you go this year, remember to drink Civil!
Though the parade moved from Tower Grove, the area is still filled with outdoor opportunities to drink cold cans of Civil Life beer. The Whitaker Music Festival (formerly Jazz in June) brings neighbors and music lovers to Shaw’s Garden (a.k.a. The Missouri Botanical Garden). They bring picnics and coolers and enjoy music in a beautiful outdoor setting. Just don’t bring glass bottles. Cans of Civil Life German Pilsner are the perfect option.
Tower Grove Park itself will be hosting many parties and reunions all summer. When you find yourself at one of these events, be sure to enjoy a cool Civil Life beer under the shade of one of the park’s almost 7,000 trees.
Civil Life cans travel well, so pack them up for your camping and float trips. Even when you venture out, take a little of Tower Grove with you. Summer in Saint Louis is the perfect time to enjoy great beer and to celebrate diversity and civility. And you can always do so at our pub and beer garden. Wherever you drink Civil Life this summer, thanks. We’re proud to have you as our customers.
Civil Wednesdays––A Day to Honor Craftsmen and Craftsmanship
Like Tuesday, Wednesday is a day when our pub is a little slower, with many regulars lining the bar. But among those regulars, you’ll find two unsung heroes of the Civil Life. Let’s call them “Ray” and “Jim.”
Way back before our bar opened, the unassuming structure that would house the Civil Life was in need of distinction and character. Plans were drawn up with our friend Shamus, Saint Louis’s tallest architect. The founders turned their eyes to the details that would make our pub special. Lots of wood was critical, but any bar in Saint Louis should have some brick, too. And so the founders reached out to two legends in their fields, Jim the Carpenter and Ray the Bricklayer.
Jim constructed our beautiful ash bar. Its clean lines and simple beauty evoke the designs of the arts and crafts movement of the early twentieth century. Every inch of the elegant ash expanse was lovingly cut, sanded, and assembled by the skilled hands of Jim. The bar’s solidity and aesthetic perfection tell the story of Jim’s supreme artisanship. When the work was done, Jim sipped a beer and lovingly inspected his handiwork.
Meanwhile, sparing no expense, Jake enlisted his mother and some of her retired friends to stain the new bar. They then applied hundreds of layers of nautical-grade polyurethane. This thousand-year bar was built to withstand anything, even a long ocean voyage. We have broken open millions of rolls of gold dollar coins on its uncomplaining surface. Every time we do, you can see Jim the Carpenter wince, as if that solid roll of gold was brought down upon his very soul.
Even gallons of spilled beer and copious sprays of natural cleaning compounds have left our bar in beautiful shape, showing just the warm patina imbued by the sustained use of our thirsty patrons.
But before you even enter our bar, you’ll see fine craftsmanship adorning our pub. The brick façade of the east exterior wall of the tasting room was constructed by a local legend, Ray the Bricklayer.
He built so many buildings in Saint Louis, he can no longer remember them all. If you ask him about those historic buildings, he will get a faraway look in his eyes, before saying, “Hell, those places all fell down.”
Like the Roman Forum and Coliseum, those ruins are a crumbling testament to a powerful vision, one man’s monochrome vision of a red-brick city rising up beside the nation’s greatest river.
Ray’s self-deprecating jokes aside, our brick wall still stands almost six years after its construction. With luck, Ray’s handiwork will last another six years. Rumor has it, Ray mortared a beer can on top of the wall, after quenching his thirst as the work neared completion. Thousands of years from now, archeologists will stare in awe at that can and wonder who put it there.
Ray and Jim like to come inspect their work on Wednesdays. You’ll find them at the bar drinking from special gemstone encrusted goblets (actually small mugs with handles to keep Ray and Jim from dropping them).
Lewis and Clark, Laclede and Chouteau, Ray and Jim––visionaries who built Saint Louis. Come in some Wednesday and raise a pint to them in the best-built pub in town.
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!
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.