Dan Kopman, who got me into the business and is my Founding Partner at Schlafly, was working for Young’s Brewing in London - he was an Export Manager, selling Young’s here in the U.S. He noticed that local craft was being sold next to the exports in stores then - so he was the one that convinced me that Craft could work here.
What was it like to start a brewery in THE Budweiser Company Town in 1989?
Well let me put it this way; I wrote a book for our 15th Anniversary called “A New Religion in Mecca - Memoir of a Renegade Brewery in St. Louis.” Producing any other kind of beer in this town was considered HERESY.
I grew up in St. Louis. And in the beginning we were just a little brewpub in a crummy area of downtown. Funny story; before we moved in, the film ‘Escape from New York’ shot footage in what would become our taproom. I guess they couldn’t find a bad enough location in the South Bronx, so they came to our neighborhood.
Even today, years after Annheuser Busch has been sold to InBev and is no longer an American Company, I mean it’s owned by a Brazilian Hedge Fund… even today, on the radio if there’s traffic out on I-55, they’ll just say that there’s “Traffic out by The Brewery” - no name, just THE Brewery. We had our work cut out for us, but we started small and just kept going. Friends would say, “Oh that’s a terrible idea to open a brewery here. No one will come. I mean, I’m coming, but no one else will.” Turns out a lot of people said that. We’re the largest American owned brewery in Missouri now.
You helped change the legal issues around Craft in Missouri, yes?
AB was and is extremely influential in the Missouri Legislature. But when we started the law was that a brewery could not own an interest in a retailer, with two exceptions: If the retailer was Busch Stadium or Busch Soccer Park. That gives you an idea of the playing field, as it were. You also have this tension between those folks in the southern part of the state, what we call the Buckle of the Bible Belt, who oppose alcohol in any form, and the massive corporate lobby that the AB folk have. Big differences there. But we had an advantage in that no matter what the dispute was, they were never going to openly say they were picking on us. No matter what, we were David and they were Goliath - those optics in the press are terrible.