St. Louis’ craft beer scene is booming with over 20 well-known microbreweries operating in and around the area. The small-scale brew has even made its way to Webster University, thanks to a garage-based brewing company with two recent Webster graduates at the wheel.
At 6 p.m. on Nov. 8, visitors hopped over to the Sunnen Lounge in the University Center for “BYOB: Building Your Own Brewery,” an event hosted by Webster’s entrepreneurship program. The event featured a small seminar on what it’s like to turn a hobby into a business. Visitors tasted beer samples from Hat Trick Brewing, a local microbrewery started by Webster alumni Steve Albers and Josh Snyder, and University of North Alabama alumnus David Caldwell.
“We always sat around coming up with crazy beer ideas, and thought about making stuff we talked about,” Snyder, a 2009 finance graduate, said. “Then I thought, ‘I don’t wanna work for the man, I love beer — let’s try to make this a viable project.’”
Hat Trick Brewery — named after the hockey move in which one player scores three goals during a single game — kicked off in July 2010. Albers, Snyder and Caldwell came together over their mutual love of craft beer and hockey — the company’s logo features a hockey stick and they serve draft beer from tap handles topped with hockey pucks.
The trio’s first batch of beer was an English brown ale. Before operations moved to a garage, the company brewed beer in the backyard. The set-up resembled a campsite more than a legitimate brewing operation.
“You try to explain to the neighbors, ‘We’re trying to start a brewery!’ and they’re like, ‘I thought you were just having a party every weekend.’” Snyder said. “But a lot of great craft breweries started in the backyard.”
Eventually, Madagascar vanilla beans made their way into the mix and the company had their flagship beer, that they named “Branilla.” Hat Trick now has four regular beers: Branilla, Neapolitan Porter, Caldi’s Cream Dream Ale — named after Caldwell, the company’s head brewer — and It Is What It Is (IIWII) Pale Ale.
The Neapolitan Porter, brewed with real strawberries, vanilla beans and cacao nibs, was the first beer the trio ever entered into a contest, the Home Brewing Contest in Ste. Genevieve, Mo., in November 2010. However, contest judges voted the beer dead last.
“You get there and you sink or swim,” Albers said. “But that contest made us realize that we brew for the people, we don’t brew for the judges. Just like if you make movies, you make movies for the people, not for critics. Critics hate movies.”
Since then, the brewery has made considerable strides, participating in several beer tasting events and festivals across the country. Most recently, they participated in the Nashville Beer Festival and the Brewsboro Fest in Murfreesboro, Tenn. Because Hat Trick Brewery still makes its brew in a garage and doesn’t yet have a storefront, festivals and tastings are the biggest way to get their product out there.
“You want people coming back for more and you have to follow up with those people that you see,” Albers said. “Education is the key.”
Despite the large number of craft breweries popping up throughout the St. Louis area and throughout the country, Hat Trick doesn’t view other breweries as competitors. Albers said one of the company’s main goals is to collaborate with other small brewers to fight against the, “big guys.”
“The big problem with the brewing industry is all we know is Anheuser-Busch, Miller and Coors,” he said. “We know one style of beer, an American light lager.
Beer shouldn’t be equated with beer bongs and college kids.”
For the time being, Hat Trick Brewing’s beers are impossible to find outside of the tastings and festivals they attend. Caldwell said they’re currently in the process of getting the required licenses to sell their beer in different venues.
Sometime next year, the trio hopes to have their own venue, a tap room near Washington Avenue in downtown St. Louis, or in Soulard. They eventually hope to expand to Nashville. Once they have a location, the plan to sell their beers exclusively in their brewery, so customers can drink their beer where it was brewed and learn Hat Trick’s story.
“It’s amazing how it has worked out,” Caldwell said. “We’ve been on cloud nine.”