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Stirring up questions for local brewmaster Phil Wymore
Mr. Beer

Stirring up questions for local brewmaster Phil Wymore

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Brewmaster Phil Wymore started as a sushi chef.

But he soon traded sashimi for stout.

Wymore, 33, is preparing to open Perennial Artisan Ales in South City in July.

The small-batch craft brewery will be competing with a handful of new small breweries this year in the expanding St. Louis craft brewer market.

Wymore also will be competing with established brewers this weekend at the St. Louis Brewers Heritage Festival in Forest Park.

Compete is perhaps too strong a word. The two-day, 17-brewer event is billed as an "educational festival" rather than an outright competition.

For Wymore, whose brewery promises to make beer with "beer geeks" in mind, it's a good opportunity to put lips to glasses.

We took the opportunity to speak to Wymore about his history as a brewmaster, what makes a good brewer and what kind of exotic creations he's busy devising for St. Louis craft beer drinkers.

Question: How did you get started in the brewing business?

Answer: I fell into it by accident. I was going to Mizzou and working as a sushi chef. A guy who came in a lot owned a brewpub and wanted me to come work for him. I went in, met the brewer and was fascinated. I decided to make it a career.

Q: After that first job, how did your career get going?

A: I went to Chicago and worked for Goose Island for three years, then I left and went to Half-Acre for a year.

Q: Goose Island is a well-known outfit. How did you get your foot in the door?

A: It was timing. This was 2006 and there wasn't the same supply of brewers there is now. I cold-called them. I had already applied to every brewery in Chicago with little success. But a guy was leaving for Bell's (brewery) and I said I could be there in two weeks.

Q: What skills are required in your line of work?

A: Beyond competency, you have to get good at formulating beers. I formulated nine beers for Half-Acre in a year. I also formulated a beer called Red Woody for Goose Island that won a silver medal in the wooden-barrel aged category at the Great American Beer Festival in 2009.

Q: What do you drink at home?

A: I drink a lot of sour beers. I don't think it's a fad. I really like Cantillion, a Belgian brewery. I like (St. Louis brewer) Urban Chestnut. I like a well-made German lager.

Q: What will Perennial offer?

A: We'll have three beer categories: The Farmhouse, In Season and Cellar. One of our In Season beers will be a strawberry rhubarb witbier (wheat beer). One of the Cellar beers will be a wheat wine, like a barleywine, but more wheat.

Q: What distinguishes Perennial from the other local craft brewers that have opened in recent years?

A: I don't want to be the 12th guy making pale ale when I can be the first wheat wine. We're not trying to please everyone. We're not trying to be the most palatable. We're servicing the beer geeks, the enthusiasts.

Q: Do you have to come up with more esoteric recipes to create a niche?

A: There is a motivation to push the envelope on styles. We'll focus on the sour barrel aging niche. A lot of people are playing the straight game.

Q: Give me some other examples of what you're working on that might surprise people?

A: One thing we're looking at, for St. Patty's Day, is a strong stout with mint, aged in whiskey barrels.

Q: Do you drink domestic macro beers like Budweiser or Coors?

A: Sure. Not my first choice, but if that's what's available I'll go for it.

Q: It's tough to distinguish one from the other.

A: Yeah, there is a lot of compositional similarity. So much of the loyalty to domestic macros is a direct response to marketing. But craft beer drinkers are not loyalists; they want to try new things.

Q: Is the local craft beer market saturated?

A: There's room for growth. People here were so loyal to Anheuser-Busch, but with the sale to foreign owners and the layoffs I think there's been a backlash.

Q: Give readers a recommendation for a great beer.

A: Bob's '47 from Boulevard is a good one. And so is New Belgium's La Folie.

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