It was way back, even before 2011, before the birth of the Civil Life Brewing Company. The long gestation process had begun. The first order of business was to craft some excellent beers, and the very first of these beers was to be the beloved Civil Life American Brown Ale.
Dylan Mosley and Mike Bianco were working like mad scientists at a heavily fortified compound somewhere near Lindenwood Park. Actually, it was Dylan’s basement. In between marathon ping-pong sessions, the two brewers poured batch after batch of brown ale wort through an elaborate system of mash tuns, brew kettles, carboys, alembics, retorts, and genie bottles.
What they were attempting to make (when not barbecuing or playing ping pong) was the most perfect beer ever created. Such a beer would have to have an appeal strong enough to be classed obsession, if not addiction.
The perfect brown ale would have to be roasty, without being too sharp, malty without being sweet, medium to full bodied without being heavy, and it would need a most judicious dose of American hops to balance the malt and provide some subtle citrus and floral notes.
After many batches sampled and tweaked by Dylan and Mike, the first Civil Life beer was perfected. And there was never a shortage of guinea pigs when it came to taste tests.
If the golden mean were a beer, it would be the Civil Life American Brown Ale. It appeals to novice craft beer drinkers as well as seasoned professionals and avid home brewers. It is regularly enjoyed by drinkers who claim not to like dark beers; one taste is generally all it takes to convert these drinkers.
In many ways, the American Brown embodies the brewing values at the Civil Life. It’s balanced and accessible, yet layered and complex. It’s malt forward without being sweet. And the malts it’s made from are very traditional, maris otter and brown malt especially.
This beer has irresistible coffee and cocoa roast notes. After four and a half years of brewing and selling the best beers we can make, the American Brown remains our best seller, accounting for over half of all the beer we sell in the market. We often hear, “I had one of your beers at X restaurant or Y bar, but I can’t remember which one it was.” Chances are good it was the American Brown.
A lot has changed over the past few years. We keep Dylan and Mike locked behind a tall fence so they don’t wander off to play ping pong, and we brought Brandon Stern on to help fill those forty and sixty barrel fermenters with double and triple batches of American Brown.
One thing that hasn’t changed, though, is the quality of that brown ale. It’s still a great favorite among Saint Louis craft-beer drinkers. And it’s also the first beer we plan to can. Stay tuned!
-Dr. Patrick Hurley, Barman and Civility Expert
After a long hiatus, the most excellent Northern English Brown Ale is returning to the Civil Life. Unlike our ever-popular American Brown Ale, with its characteristic notes of roasted coffee and cocoa, the Northern English has a decidedly earthy, nutty roast character with hints of toffee and chocolate. The “Northern English” take on a brown ale also has a rich history.
Many claim that almost every beer at one time was some type of brown ale, given the difficulty of getting lightly roasted malts until more sophisticated kilning techniques made light-roasted malts easier to produce. Some early malts were burnt and most were fairly smoky from the fires used to roast them.
Brown ales are among the earliest beer styles brewed in England, though they are not especially popular there any longer. In the seventeenth century, brown was the main style, but it lost ground to porter in the eighteenth century.
According to Martyn Cornell, the gravity (and consequently the a.b.v.) of beers had fallen during WWI. The lower gravity draft milds were much more perishable than the stronger, more highly hopped beers that wartime rationing and shortages had pushed aside, and pub owners needed to do what they could to please thirsty patrons. The most popular drink became draft mild mixed half and half with bottled brown beer. But when milds fell out of favor in the 1960s, so, too, did browns.
The browns of Northern England, however, retained their popularity, with Newcastle Brown Ale being the most famous. That famous brown is fruitier than our version. The northern browns tend to be dry, while many of the older browns from London and the surrounding area were somewhat sweet. Along with Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale, Newcastle was the exception in England, where brown ales had nearly died out.
At the same time, though, American craft brewers were reviving the style. Most of these, however, were the new “American” brown style. The Northern English Brown Ale is its own unique style, a style we our proud to brew and serve right here in South Saint Louis.
-Dr. Patrick Hurley, Barman and Civility Expert
Once upon a time, all beer was served with just the natural carbonation that was the byproduct of fermentation. Carbon dioxide is one of the compounds given off when yeast consumes the sugars in fermenting wort. Some of this CO2 is vented off (so excessive pressure doesn’t build up to dangerous levels) while some remains in the beer, giving it a pleasantly soft carbonation.
In the late eighteenth century, chemist Joseph Priestly discovered a method for infusing liquid with carbon dioxide and carbonated water was born. Techniques became more sophisticated and other liquids were carbonated. Over time, the much sharper artificially force carbonated beer in kegs gained ground. But cask beer or real ale remains popular, especially in England.
At the Civil Life, we have served beer on cask from early on and continue to refine our techniques. We try to have beer on cask every day and on weekends often have two cask offerings.
From the drinker’s perspective, cask beer differs from draught in three main ways: the beer is served less cold; it has only soft, natural carbonation; it is (usually) pumped out of a traditional English beer engine (rather than being pushed through draft lines by CO2), giving it a much creamier texture. All of these factors tend to accentuate flavors. Cold temperatures and sharp carbonation blunt the palate. This is why purveyors of fizzy yellow light lager often have signs proclaiming “Coldest Beer in Town!” or some such nonsense. These beers are undrinkable unless served as close to freezing as possible.
On the other hand, our less cold, less carbonated cask ales have pleasantly intense flavors. Bready, biscuity, and caramel malt flavors are richer, and piney, citrusy, spicy hop notes are more pronounced. The mouth feel of these beers is pleasantly full.
Some of our cask beers (like the porter) come off as creamier, more flavorful versions of their draft counterparts, while others (like our bitter) taste very different on cask. These two beers, by the way, are among staff favorites when it comes to cask offerings.
We are currently offering our bitter on cask. The delightful Northern English Brown Ale will be returning soon. Please keep checking with us to find out what’s coming to cask next. And stay tuned to the Civil Blog for updates on our cask program, including an exclusive interview with our Cellarman, brewer Brandon Stern, whose commitment to real ale is nothing short of fanatical. Until next time, drink more real ale!
~Dr. Patrick Hurley, Barman Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday Nights
The warm and wood-filled environment we’ve created makes many people think of us as the quintessential winter pub, which, indeed, we are. But most of us are ready for spring now, and as daylight savings time approaches, we dream of cold beers and friendly beer gardens.
If you ever stop by the Civil Life on the odd seventy-degree day in January or February, you’ll see our beer garden teeming with happy drinkers with friends, family, and even dogs. You’ll see six flags flying representing six great brewing nations, including (thanks to all of our outstanding craft breweries) the good old U.S. of A.
As you might guess, beer gardens got their start in Germany. It was most likely over the course of the sixteenth century that the beer garden got its first start, but it was the nineteenth century that saw the establishment of what we now think of as a beer garden. At first, breweries stored their barrels of beer in cool underground caves. It became common practice to plant shade trees over these caves to help keep the beer cool. If you have a nice shade tree, someone is going to pull up a chair, or better still a table and several chairs. And since the property belongs to a brewery, beer is going to be served to those shade-loving folks. There might as well be snacks and maybe some entertainment in the form of live music. It sounds like the making of a perfect summer afternoon.
It was such a perfect scenario, in fact, that German immigrants brought the custom with them when they emigrated in large numbers to Saint Louis during the nineteenth century. The brewers still needed to store their beer in underground caves, and our river city turned out to have a lot of lovely limestone caves where you could store plenty of barrels of tasty beer. The practice of planting trees above these caves and creating beer gardens continued in the new world. With over forty breweries in Saint Louis in the mid-nineteenth century, that was a lot of pleasant spots to enjoy a beer on a summer day. (Take note, beer drinkers: keep that pint in the shade. Sunlight and hops don’t mix. That delicious beer can become skunked in minutes!)
Many people think that Castle Clinton in Manhattan was the first American beer garden. It was established in 1824. According to Frances Hurd Stadler, the first beer garden in the United States was considerably west of Manhattan: “June 10, 1823: St. Louisans avoided the heat by visiting the city’s first beer garden, the Vauxhall Garden on Fourth between Plum and Poplar. St. Louis is credited with being the first city in America to develop outdoor restaurants and theaters.”
By 1854, the Uhrig Brewery set up an elaborate beer garden above their caves at Jefferson and Washington. That same year, Joseph Schnaider moved to Saint Louis where he founded Chouteau Avenue Brewing. Schnaider’s Beer Garden became one of the citiy’s most celebrated (and photographed) beer gardens.
By the early twentieth century, beer gardens were losing their popularity and prohibition did them in entirely. But American craft breweries are reviving this outstanding tradition. We no longer need underground caves to store our beer. At the Civil Life, though, we retain many features of the first German beer gardens, including gravel, communal tables, and of course great beer and food.
Beer garden season is almost here. You don’t have to fly to Bavaria to enjoy it. The best beer garden around is right in Tower Grove in beautiful South Saint Louis. Come down and celebrate the beginning of spring with us. Prost!
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.