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!
Having eaten at restaurants all of our lives, most of us have never stopped to consider the origin of this noble and necessary institution. Tony, the mastermind behind our internationally renowned Civil Eats program recently informed me about the origins of the term restaurant and the first such places, French eateries that served nourishing soups.
We’re well into Soup Sunday here at the Civil Life and it’s high time we discussed something besides delicious beer. Restaurant derives from the French verb restaurer (to restore) and was first used in Paris in 1765, according to the OED.
A little place called Bouillon is widely considered to be the first modern restaurant. The name means “broth” or “stock” and the place opened in 1765. They served just soups: simple, hearty, nourishing meals served up in a single bowl.
Tony and Dave honor this tradition every Sunday at the Civil Life, serving three different soups, all lovingly prepared and designed to restore the hungriest diners. They come with crusty, locally baked bread and pair well with our beers, as well as our wines (three of which currently come from France).
The public house has a similar tradition, though what we think of as a pub traces its origin all the way back to the first century, when travelers on the new system of roads constructed in England by the Romans could stop and take refreshment at taverns opened for that purpose. What these travelers sought was a restorative.
Restaurants began to transform themselves into more elaborate and more expensive places that scarcely resembled their humble origins. At the Civil Life, we maintain the tradition of offering a comfortable place to get good, nourishing food and drink at an affordable price in good company.
That’s why you see so many of the same friendly faces when you stop into the Civil Life. Our neighborhood and our city have many souls in need of a restorative. Travelers, too, stop into our pub for restoration.
You may have heard us use the term “restorative pint.” “Restorative” itself refers to a drink that restores strength and health. We are confident that the unwholesome effects of whatever grueling labor you might be required to perform can be quickly reversed with one of our excellent ales.* On Sunday, allow restorative soups to prepare you for a new week of work. Tuesday through Saturday, stop in for a filling, affordable sandwich and a pint.
Whenever you might be in need of a restorative, call on your friends at the Civil Life. You’ll feel like a new person after a pint and a snack. Salut!
*The Civil Life makes no health claims relating to the consumption of alcohol. But we do whole-heartedly believe a trip to the pub can be quite good for your mental health and sharing pints with friends undoubtedly is a noble endeavor. We can make claims that eating food is important as without it you could just wither away. Perhaps a pint with that morsel for refreshment.
The term “session beer” gets used quite a bit these days, but what exactly does it mean? Its wide use has taken away any truly fixed definition. Basically, a session beer is a beer low enough in alcohol to be consumed in quantity over a long drinking session.
The English consistently use the term to refer to beers almost exclusively below 4% ABV. This covers a great many British milds and even bitters. American craft beers tend to be higher gravity, but a relatively recent move toward session beers has been a great boon to those who like to drink a few pints with friends at the pub, rather than going out to get drunk. Even so, plenty of American beers that are closer to 5% are generally regarded as session beers.
Martyn Cornell, noted English beer historian, gets to the heart of the matter:
A good, quaffable session beer should have enough interest for drinkers to want another, but not so much going on that they are distracted from the primary purpose of a session, which is the enjoyment of good company in convivial surroundings. Like the chamber music that Mozart and Hayden wrote for their patrons’ soirees and divertimenti, a good session beer is a backgrounder to human interaction, capable of being appreciated as a work of art if you pause from the conversation and consider it, but good-mannered enough not to intrude unless asked.
This is a very apt description of how civil drinkers enjoy their pints at our establishment.
Here’s how Beer Advocate defines session beer:
Any beer that contains no higher than 5 percent ABV, featuring a balance between malt and hop characters (ingredients) and, typically, a clean finish—a combination of which creates a beer with high drinkability.
So the higher limit on alcohol fits the American palate a little better, but notice the emphasis on balance. Again, this is what we always strive for, the judicious use of hops and the celebration of the richness of high-quality malt, a richness that should never come off as cloying.
Since the day we opened, the Civil Life has excelled at brewing flavorful session beers. Old-timers recall, the day we opened our pub, we had four beers on tap: American Brown Ale (4.8%), British Bitter (4.2%), British Best (4%), and German Wheat (just around the upper limit of 5%).
We have also brewed a mild ale and a Belgian table beer that registered under 4%. And when it came time to brew some higher gravity beers, our Big Beer Series kept it civil at a modest 6.5%. But no matter the alcohol content, we have always brewed flavorful, enjoyable beers.
The big domestics have made “drinkable” synonymous with bland. Let’s take back these terms and celebrate them for their centrality to beer and pub culture. Spending an evening at the pub with friends is a supremely civil activity. Like our fellow drinkers in England and Germany, we know beer is not just a drink, it’s a celebration of our shared humanity.
What does session beer mean to us? As we like to say, Drink Civil … Be Civil. Thanks for sharing our philosophy, and thanks for supporting our constant task of keeping pints filled with balanced, flavorful, drinkable beers. Cheers!
An IPA at the Civil Life? The third, in fact. We have brewed an English IPA and last year’s collaboration beer, Merchant Ship IPA. We have always resisted the easy path of brewing the “popular” beer just for the sake of sales. But we are a traditional brewery, strongly informed by English beer styles, and IPA is one of England’s great contributions to world beer.
American craft breweries have popularized a particular take on this venerable style, generally marked by a huge load of American hops with big citrus flavors. These beers aren’t a lot like the original English IPAs.
There is a longstanding myth that IPA, with its higher alcohol content and big hop presence, was designed to withstand the long hot sea journey to India, where it would be consumed by thirsty British expatriates. The fact is, English brewers had been shipping pale ales, porters, and stouts to India for many years with no difficulties whatsoever.
The real story, according to Martyn Cornell, is that the Bow Brewery owned by George Hodgson happened to be a stone’s throw form where the East India Company docked its ships. Hodgson’s beers were the easiest to load on the ships. They brewed a fine, well-hopped stock bitter. These stock ales required one to two years to mature in cask before they achieved optimal drinking condition.
English merchant ships made many stops on their long, rough sea journey to India, and what that process inadvertently did was to considerably speed up maturation. When these barrels of beer arrived in India, they were crystal clear, crisp, and delicious. Thus was India Pale Ale born.
Our brewer Seymour, always a stickler for historical authenticity, personally loaded our UK IPA on a ship and sailed to India and back (this statement has not been fact-checked #fakenews). What Seymour did do was scour the historical records and peruse scores of authentic recipes.
It turns out that many British brewers in the late nineteenth century were adding sugar to the mash when making IPAs. Sucrose is highly fermentable and adds some caramel complexity to beer. It can also help achieve dry, light colored beers.
Our UK IPA starts with a very lightly kilned base malt and some English specialty malts, as well as dark brown cane sugar. We add some torrified wheat for body and head retention. The finished product is dry-hopped with three English hop varieties: Progress, Challenger, and East Kent Goldings.
The final product is light colored and crisp with a hint of caramel sweetness. Look for floral, woodsy, and slightly fruity (think stone fruit, rather than citrus) hop character. At just over 6% alcohol and a modest 48 IBUs, the beer is well-balanced and elegant.
Come down and quaff a UK IPA while supplies last. We think you’ll find it doesn’t taste quite like any IPA you’ve ever had.
After several days of cold temperatures and a couple big holidays around the corner, many of us forgot that winter wasn’t even here yet. The winter season is now officially underway. There is no better way for beer lovers to survive cold temperatures than by downing imperial pints of malty goodness. Malt-rich beers nourish body and soul, and your friends here at the Civil Life are unabashed in our love of malt.
Somewhere back in prehistory, an anonymous hero remembered that bowl of porridge he or perhaps she left out in the rain. It looked O.K. and smelled … kind of interesting, certainly not bad. Hunger drove that soul to consume it. It provided satiety, but also a feeling of pure contentment. Naturally occurring yeasts had triggered the mysterious process of fermentation, and the first beer was “brewed.”
Naturally abundant water (generally a source of microbes if not boiled) was finally good for something besides bathing and irrigating crops. Later, hops would be used to bitter and balance a drink made from malted barley, which was somewhat sweet even after most of its natural sugars were converted to alcohol by yeast. Malted barely was and is the very heart of beer.
Here at the Civil Life, we celebrate malt in our beers, sourcing the finest traditionally malted and roasted barley and using it as the base of your favorite drink. You’ll never be served a glass of thin hop-water here. But in the cold months especially, we’ll offer you plenty of beers characterized by layered malt richness. All of the flavors you love in our beers—bread, biscuit, caramel, toffee, chocolate, and coffee—are from a variety of excellent malted grains.
The weather’s perfect for a pint of our holiday brew, Burton on Holt. Or enjoy a traditional ESB or premium bitter. Soon, our old favorite the Angel and the Sword will return (and we should have it in cans next spring). No matter which of our beers you choose this winter, you’ll be treated to layers of tasty, nourishing malt.
Wrap your Civil Life scarf around your neck and head to Tower Grove’s friendliest pub. Our warm and woody bar space is waiting. Malty beers, the most civilized regulars in town, and a variety of nourishing victuals are all you need this season. And when you can’t make it to the pub, visit many of the fine establishments in the area serving Civil Life beer.
This season, we invite you to join us in toasting how fortunate we are to have friends, family, and good beer. In good cheer and fellowship, raise a pint of ale and recall how human ingenuity turned an accident into an institution, a most civil one at that. Cheers!
More News from the Canning Department …
The United States of America may be preparing for a regime change next month, but at the Civil Life Brewing Company, we’re still saying, “Yes We Can!” We released our beloved American Brown Ale and our “Craft Beer” in cans (both are still available at the pub with a special holiday price of just $36.00 a case). Next week, we are canning our GABF-gold-medal-award winning Rye Pale Ale (Best Rye Beer in America 2014).
We were pretty pleased with how are brown and bitter turned out in cans. If you haven’t tried them, you’re missing out. Did I mention our $36 case holiday special? We have every reason to believe the Rye Pale Ale will be excellent in cans. It should be bright and crisp with some beautiful pine and citrus and loads of tasty rye spice (think earthy peppercorn).
Our previous plans to get the ESB and Porter in cans were derailed by technical difficulties to the disappointment of many (especially us!), but rest assured, cans of delicious Rye Pale Ale will be available at the pub next Tuesday December 20th. That’s just in time for Christmas. Who on your list wouldn’t want a six-pack of rye? Or better still, a case. Don’t forget to leave some out for the man in the red suit; save the milk and cookies for the children.
And when you stop in for canned beer, don’t forget coozies. We’ve got plenty of shirts, hats, scarves, and other great gifts (including gift certificates), so The Civil Life is the obvious stop for last minute gifts.
We don’t mind repeating ourselves: we’re really excited about these cans! Just remember, for now our cans are only available at the pub. After we complete our planned expansion, we hope to see Civil Life cans gracing the shelves of our city’s finest grocery and liquor stores.
For now, stop by the pub and load up on the best canned beer around. It’s just another excuse to stop by the pub and have a pint. We’re always glad to see you.
Civil Reads 2017
Saint Louis native T.S. Eliot famously said, “Dante and Shakespeare divide the modern world between them: there is no third.” While most people are still exposed to Shakespeare, even if only a couple of plays in school and a handful of pithy quotes wrenched from context, few Americans have read Dante. This is a crime (or perhaps a sin).
Having not read Dante since I studied him in the mid-nineties, I have decided to make 2017 the “Year of Dante” for me. Next year, I will primarily be reading Dante’s Divine Comedy in several translations, as well as lots of relevant background material by Virgil, Augustine, Ovid, Aristotle, and many others.
I would like to invite Civil Readers to join me on this rare journey. Next year we will meet just three times (April, August, and December) to discuss the Inferno, the Purgatorio, and the Paradiso. If you’ve ever thought you should read Dante but haven’t had the gumption to sit down and actually do it, now is the time.
Most modern editions come in three fairly inexpensive paperbacks consisting of the one hundred cantos of poetry making up the three parts of the Divine Comedy, as well as notes putting the work in its late-thirteenth-century Florentine context. There are prose as well as poetry translations. I hope we will read many different translations, so we can compare how different poets render various passages.
I am currently finishing rereading the Mark Musa translation I studied many years ago and getting ready to tackle Singleton’s six-volume Dante with thick commentaries. There are excellent translations by Dorothy Sayers, John Ciardi, Allen Mandelbaum, Charles Hollander, Robert Pinsky, and many others. Ideally you might read excerpts from several translations and pick one that speaks to you.
And speak to you Dante will. The Divine Comedy would not still be translated, read, and discussed today if it did not remain deeply relevant. To distill this work down to its essence, the Divine Comedy is about love (in all of its forms). It is widely considered one of the greatest works of literature written in any language at any time. And with it and Dante’s decision to write in his vernacular instead of Latin, he essentially created modern Italian. Soon writers throughout Europe turned to their native languages as suitable vehicles for art, changing the face of European literature.
Despite the Divine Comedy’s “importance,” sometimes abstruse subject matter, and elaborate structure, don’t let this very readable work intimidate you. There is something for everyone to enjoy. Oxford University Press has a good post on why we should still read Dante: http://blog.oup.com/2015/02/enjoying-dante-vsi/
Pick out a translation of this excellent work and join me in reading it next year. There probably aren’t too many reading groups tackling Dante. Then again, there aren’t too many breweries focusing on malt-forward session beers. See you in 2017 if not before. Until then, drink civil and be civil … and keep reading!
WANT TO JOIN: CLICK HERE GO TO THE BOTTOM OF THE PAGE AND ENTER YOUR NAME
~Patrick Hurley, Barman Civil Life
Extra Special Bitter
Now that our ESB is back on tap (and cask) old regulars and new customers alike are downing one pint after another. It’s so balanced and delicious. It’s also an iconic English ale, making it just right for us here at the Civil Life.
This venerable style dates all the way back to … 1969. Crikey, that’s the same age as your humble barman, Old Man Hurley! But really, 1969? Well, sort of.
According to the Oxford Companion to Beer, Fuller’s ESB, brewed in Chiswick near London, was the original ESB and dates to just 1969. Martyn Cornell claims that Fuller’s Old Burton Extra lost popularity some time after WWII. It was replaced in 1969 by a beer called Winter Bitter, which was quickly renamed Extra Special Bitter. At the time, it was the strongest Bitter in England (5.5% on draft and 5.9% in the bottle).
Of course before 1969, there were many strong or premium bitters that were close stylistically to ESB. Many styles had the strength designated on the bottle with Xs, X being the hypothetical standard strength variety, with XX and XXX being increasingly stronger. In the case of bitter, this meant both maltier and hoppier.
Our take on this newish classic is balanced and traditionally English. The base malt is Maris Otter. Coincidentally, this very “traditional” English base malt was developed on Maris Lane in Cambridge in the 1960s. We use the “London ESB” yeast strain and finish the beer with a nice dose of good old fuggles hops. Fuggles imparts a delightfully woodsy hop note that is classically English and marries very well with the intense malt richness of the beer. The full, layered malt profile of our ESB has notes of bread, biscuit, and caramel.
Civil Life ESB is 5.8% alcohol and around 60 IBUs. It is an excellent winter choice, guaranteed to keep you as warm as English tweed and twice as civilized. Our ESB is just one more element in our plan to make the world a more civil place, one pint at a time. Be civil; drink civil!
Black Friday? Or Civil Friday …
This is a busy week for all of us here at the Civil Life. Our warm and woody pub will be packed with friendly faces celebrating friends and family with the finest ales and lagers available at any price (bonus: we only charge $5 for an Imperial pint!). We are thankful for our great regulars and all of you who choose to bring visiting relatives and friends to see us during the holidays. Cheers!
Some of you may be planning to get a head start on holiday shopping, by taking advantage of sales and special promotions. After braving the crowds and traffic and lines and (let’s face it) unseasonal incivility, you will probably want to stop by the Civil Life for a restorative pint. That’s a wise strategy.
Allow us to suggest an even wiser approach to the madness and chaos of Black Friday shopping. Sleep in … you have the day off, why get up at the crack of dawn to stand in line? Enjoy coffee and snacks in the comfort of your own home. Around noon, get your friends and family and head down to the Civil Life for lunch … and ALL of your holiday shopping needs!
Enjoy a pint of porter or ESB and one of Tony and Dave’s award-winning sandwiches. Contemplate the many fine gift options available. We have growlers and six-packs of cans. We have plenty of T-shirts. We have giant soccer scarves and tweed caps. You can kit out your favorite sport enthusiasts with Civil Life Rugby shirts, cycling jerseys, and soccer shirts. Don’t forget mesh-back trucker caps. A decorative “Be Civil” tin sign will brighten any room. We have pint glasses, patches, and stickers. Get a limited edition print featuring our logo characters from 2011-2016, drawn by Saint Louis’s most talented tattoo artist, the great Joe Allhoff.
Can’t decide … have Jake write a gift certificate for you. The promise of a visit to the Civil Life will bring joy to the heart of anyone on Christmas morning.
The important thing is to skip the mall and the big box stores and come where you really want to be. Call it a gift to yourself. You deserve it. Happy Thanksgiving from the Civil Life. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family. We hope you can find time to stop in for a pint and a case of beer to go!
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.