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The Beer Dance: How Schlafly Craft Beer Shook Up St. Louis

Stocks in this article: SAM BUD

Schlafly still not only speaks in respectful tones about Anheuser-Busch and its connection to the city, but still gives it a great deal of consideration when mulling growth. Schlafly has managed to get multiple taps for its beer in Busch Stadium for Cardinals games, but Kopman still refers to Schlafly's "place" in St. Louis behind A-B and the deference required to prevent beer growth in the city from becoming "a fistfight."

Kopman notes that St. Louis now has nearly 20 small breweries joining The Brewery within city limits, but notes that A-B still plays a large role in the St. Louis Brewers Heritage Festival in June that features city brewers creating and serving unbranded styles of beer just outside Busch Stadium. Both Kopman and Schlafly factored A-B into their original business plan, but Kopman admits he never prepared for the sale of A-B when he returned from a job at Young's Brewery in London to open his own facility.

"When I moved back from England and we started this small brewery, we knew it was a long-term survival project in which we would start very small selling beers over the bar because no one would sell our beer," Kopman says. "Part of that was that they were unfamiliar with other beer styles, but part of that was the loyalty that they felt they owed to Anheuser-Busch, which in many cases was well-deserved."

That all changed in 2008 and Schlafly's sales skyrocketed in the wake of the A-B sale. Kopman figured Schlafly could always be a nice local beer and perhaps a regional product, but the sale made him and his partner wonder "what we're going to be when we grow up." Schlafly has already begun distributing beer to Washington, D.C., Virginia and Maryland as the brewery attempts to lobby the government for graduated excise taxes on craft brewers. On May 17, Schlafly makes its first appearance in the New York metro area when it puts 16 of its beers on tap at Barcade in Jersey City, N.J.

The A-B sale worked in Schlafly's favor, but neither Kopman nor anyone else at Schlafly seem to be clicking their heels over it, given the cost. Neighbors lost their jobs, former lifelong A-B workers are now opening small breweries in St. Louis and some A-B brewers have jumped on with Schlafly as consultants. In a city that's lost residents each decade since the 1950s and is just starting to see those losses dwindle after dropping from more than 856,000 in 1950 to just under 320,000 in 2010, the pain of landmark institutions is felt by everyone.

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