St. Louis native Yogi Berra said it perfectly: “You have to be careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.” In the summer of 1983, I certainly didn’t know where I was going. I was a full-time lawyer who had just spent two weeks at Oxford in a course that compared the differences between English and American law. Upon returning, I told several people that I had learned a lot more about English beer than English law. I said I missed the real ale I had tasted in Oxford and wished that someone in St. Louis were brewing similar beer.
Among those to whom I spoke was Charles Kopman, a former law partner, whose son Dan was working for Young’s Brewery in London. Dan’s job consisted of traveling around the U.S. working with wholesalers who carried imported beers. In many parts of the country, these same wholesalers were starting to carry beers from microbreweries. It was Dan who finally convinced me that a microbrewery would be viable in St. Louis. For a number of reasons, we concluded that the best plan would be to start with a brewpub.
In 1990, the Missouri General Assembly passed a law that allowed microbreweries (defined as breweries that produced no more than 2,500 barrels per year) to hold retail liquor licenses for the brewery premises. They were not allowed to sell beer anywhere else. In 1991, we were issued the first microbrewery license in the state of Missouri and opened The Schlafly Tap Room on December 26 of that year.
Soon thereafter, owners of other bars and restaurants began asking us how they could offer Schlafly Beer and were amazed to be told that the Missouri General Assembly wouldn’t allow us to sell to them. Responding to these requests, in 1993, I successfully lobbied the General Assembly to amend the Missouri microbrewery law to allow us to brew up to 10,000 barrels per year and to sell our beer to licensed wholesalers. In August of that year, several bars and restaurants in St. Louis began serving Schlafly.
In 2003, we opened Schlafly Bottleworks where we now brew most of our beer including almost all of our packaged beer. In 2008, we brewed approximately 25,000 barrels of beer and owned two restaurants, The Schlafly Tap Room and Schlafly Bottleworks. In 2009, we brewed over 30,000 barrels. We reached this point without amending the law that restricted microbreweries to 10,000 barrels of annual production. How did we do this? Easy. We’re now licensed as a winery. That’s right. In the eyes of the law, Schlafly Brewery is a winery.
Like microbreweries, Missouri wineries are allowed to hold retail liquor licenses on their premises. Unlike microbreweries, however, wineries are not subject to an annual production limit. Because we make cider, we can qualify as a winery (cider being considered wine because it’s made from fruit juice). As bizarre as it might seem that a brewery could be licensed as a winery, it’s even more bizarre that Schlafly is now the largest American-owned brewery in St. Louis (Anheuser-Busch is now owned by a Brazilian-Belgian conglomerate). What does all this mean? Once again I must defer to Yogi Berra: “It’s hard to make predictions, especially about the future.”
Learn more about Schlafly Beer.