Beer Alien, being fascinated with all things beer, has begun interviewing professional brewers in order to better understand the humans that make the beer we love so much. Through these interactions we hope to better understand and appreciate the beer you humans create on this planet.
We had the distinct pleasure of talking with Stephen Hale of Schlafly Beer (Saint Louis Brewery):
Beer Alien: How long have you been a professional brewer?
Since October 1991, when I was hired to be Dave Miller’s assistant at The Saint Louis Brewery in St. Louis (now more commonly known as Schlafly Beer).
Beer Alien: What is your favorite part of the job? least favorite part of the job?
Being in production and operations for twenty-two years required that I do all sorts of things to keep the place going. On occasion, I’ll still wax nostalgic about all the “Egyptian techniques” required to commission the brewery in this old building; that kind of rigging was fun to me, but limiting this to a favorite is difficult. Brewing professionally entailed so many different things that I felt challenged on a variety of levels and really loved them all, from cleaning kegs (physical, plenty of time to think) to all the PR engaging with customers (I love schmoozing…). Living in a neighborhood where I still smell wort boiling almost daily makes me realize why I pursued brewing, I still love that aroma. Least favorite part of the job would certainly include doing taxes, which is funny because I actually love numbers, but there’s so much I love about all the other parts of brewing.
Beer Alien: How has your opinion of brewing beer changed from when you were a home brewer to now being a professional brewer?
I realize now how much I didn’t know when I started homebrewing, and how lovely and vast a world it was to learn so many things. I’m pretty sure that I never let it become “just a job”, the whole process intrigued me and other than various refinements it really hasn’t changed much. Having put in my time in the brewhouse and cellars, I don’t feel compelled to keep doing it (Ambassador Brewer obligations these days), but if they were ever short staffed, I’d jump at the chance to have a brew day again.
Beer Alien: When did you realize you wanted to be a professional brewer and how long after realizing did it take you to become a professional brewer?
After four years of jumping off a lobster boat in Maine, in the winter, to harvest sea urchins for the sushi industry; that in the winter and sweeping chimneys in the summer combined with more than a decade of home brewing and the beginning of the craft beer revolution, it dawned on me that I should pursue another career, and the timing was right. It took less than a year to start with Schlafly, and I also did a few guest brews at Gritty McDuff’s in Portland, Maine.
Beer Alien: Share your most interesting brewing disaster.
Becoming solo on the system at the Schlafly Tap Room in St. Louis after Dave Miller was injured, and I hadn’t had much experience on the system at that point, we were still new to all of it, and leaving vorlauf in wide-open mode before slowing it down led to compacted grain bed that was more embarrassing to fix than disastrous; we got a batch of beer out of it. Getting covered head-to-toe with yeast (you know, those connections…) was entertaining, that happened only once, I think. Fortunately I never had the honor of crinkling a tank…
Beer Alien: On your days away from the brewery, what activities do you indulge in?
My wife owns a local-food company, a CSA, so that occupies a bit of my time, but traveling, reading, representing the brewery and enjoying everything life has to offer are all my priorities when I’m not at the brewery. I split my own firewood, love to sail, and enjoy all sorts of things life offers us. Trying to give back.
Beer Alien: Do you have an experience that stands out above all others during your time as a professional brewer?
Lots of them: every time customers tells me how much they love Schlafly Beer, I feel that everything I’ve done has been worthwhile. Standing on top of the grain silo was fun, too; great view.
Beer Alien: How long did you home brew before you became a professional brewer?
Twelve years (1979—1991)
Beer Alien: Do you still home brew?
Not a lot, more meadmaking, limoncello, cioccolato…
Beer Alien: What was the first beer you brewed? What do you remember about the experience? (Come on, we all know the first time is an experience)
Stout, I think, I’d have to check the brewlog (yes, it still exists); that was a long time ago. With my brother Billy who taught me how to brew at home, I was immediately hooked, and fascinated by every step. And it was drinkable, wow! Back then the information was more scant than it is now.
Beer Alien: If you could give one piece of advice to new home brewers, what would it be?
Follow the basics. Only One? Read a lot, brew with others, RDWHAHB, and dive in, it can be a life-changing hobby.