This story is part of our special Craft Beer Guide, publishing Sunday in the Post-Dispatch.
Title: Brewmaster, Kirkwood Station Brewing Co.
Hometown: St. Louis
Family: Parents, brother, sister
What is the first beer you tried? Stag
What is the first beer you loved? Pliny the Elder
What beer can’t you stand? None
Where do you drink on your day off? Nick’s Pub
What do you drink that isn’t beer? Whiskies and scotches
Kirkwood Station brewmaster Brian Ilg came up through the ranks. That is the traditional way for people to get ahead in restaurants, but it’s not typical for brewers.
Most brewmasters begin brewing beer at home and turn their obsession into a career. But Ilg almost fell into the job.
“I was a server and a bartender here. Then the brewmaster at the time (Dave Johnson) asked if I wanted to start cleaning kegs. ... After his assistant left, I came in and started working,” he says.
“Once you start doing it, it’s hard to see yourself doing anything else.”
It is not all about the glamour and the satisfaction that comes from creating a successful and popular beer or ale. Brewmasters have to do everything from cleaning out the kegs and tanks to ordering the grain and paying the liquor taxes.
Kirkwood Station can brew 15 barrels of beer at a time, twice a day. Its beers are sold at its home brewpub and other restaurants and bars, and are also available in cans throughout the area. To keep up with demand and to encourage its customers to come back for more, Ilg continually has to develop new brews.
“I envision something that I want to taste that is kind of different. Then I think of what ingredients to use to get the right mixture, what would be needed to be something that hasn’t been done before, that hasn’t been tried. It’s kind of nice to be able to taste other beers for inspiration. There aren’t a lot of jobs where you can do that,” he says.
The standard has been set by three brews created by Johnson, Ilg’s predecessor. The brewery’s top seller is Blackberry Wheat, a light and quaffable fruit-flavored beer. Sugar Creek Lager, which is an American light lager, and Big Five-Oh, a Belgian-style saisson, follow close behind.
Ilg has high hopes for the brewery’s latest release, Grass Cutter Cream Ale. It is a light, American-style ale, the sort of brew to drink when you come inside after cutting the grass on a hot summer’s day, he says.
But his ultimate beer, his idea of a perfect beer, is the highly touted — and hard to find —Pliny the Elder. It was love at first sip.
“It’s one beer that, after it’s been hyped so much, after reading so much about it, it lives up to the hype.”
At 7 years old, Kirkwood Station is one of the more established craft breweries in the region. This stability and high name recognition help to perpetuate its own success, Ilg says.
For instance, when the St. Louis Football Club was looking for a beer to be associated with its soccer team, they came to Kirkwood Station. The team picked one made with Citra hops, now called Ale Fleur One.
“Now it’s being sold in cans and in soccer bars around town,” Ilg says.
The brewery is in the heart of Kirkwood, a fact that adds immeasurably to its success. “Our location is awesome, being downtown. And being in the community is keeping us established. Kirkwood is kind of a tight-knit community.”We get a lot of people from out of town. A lot of people come into St. Louis for brewery trips. And we’re only a block away from the Kirkwood train station. We get people in for a beer between their train travels.”
What Kirkwood Station Brewing Co. • Where 105 East Jefferson Avenue, Kirkwood • More info 314-966-2739;