A gem tucked away in St. Louis’ historic Tower Grove, the Civil Life microbrewery certainly isn’t hidden. The Civil Life is a destination brewpub, offering good beers served by a welcoming and knowledgeable staff that is passionate about its brews.
One of the main draws of the Civil Life is the raw simplicity of its beers — they might not be flashy or loaded with a million different flavors, but they craft smooth-drinking beer with care. Malt-driven, sessionable, well-crafted beers are the Civil Life’s signature.
Principal Owner Jake Hafner founded the Civil Life during 2011 alongside “Head Beer Magician” Dylan Mosley and co-founder Mike Bianco.
Hafner previously owned 33 Wine Bar in Lafayette Square but he says he was looking for another venture to put his energy toward. That’s when he says he attended a homebrew party that forever changed his life.
Hafner talks about Civil Life’s roots, beers, accomplishments and goals.
Right around the time Hafner decided he wanted to sell 33 and was searching for his next food and drink venture, Hafner says Dylan Mosley, his soon-to-be “Head Beer Magician” at The Civil Life and then 33 Wine Bar employee, threw a basement party.
Mosley provided his home-brewed creations, and Hafner says the consensus of everyone in attendance was that the beers were very good. The party sparked Hafner’s interest, and Hafner says not long after, he, Mosley and Bianco were working at 33 Wine Bar together one night and decided they should open a brewery together.
“Within an hour or two of that, we [purchased] this consumer-type homebrew system,” Hafner says. “And then we started home brewing with the intention of opening up the Civil Life.”
Preparing the line of beers that would end up comprising the Civil Life portfolio involved a lot of testing of ingredients, yeast strains and hops until they found recipes that worked, Hafner says. He says this process was just about learning the art of brewing in general.
“None of us had ever worked in a brewery before, so you can call us the unlikely story of three guys that never worked in a brewery who opened up a brewery,” Hafner says. “It kind of captures a bit of our spirit, too — that we’ve been successful and we’ve come at it with a slightly different approach than people who have in in the industry do.”
Why a community brewery sells
The Civil Life is more than a brewery — it’s a community hotspot. People move to Tower Grove specifically to be within walking distance of the brewpub, Hafner says.
The Civil Life has been community-oriented since its first day of business during 2011. The day it opened, the owners hosted a parade from Tower Grove Park to the brewery. Hafner says about 200 people showed up at the park, and there were another 300 waiting at the brewery. He also says he thinks the overall shift in thinking away from major corporations and toward local businesses has contributed to the community’s overwhelmingly positive reception to the brewery.
“I think people are connected to this more local approach to things, whether it’s in eating at small restaurants or supporting breweries where they’re in your community rather than other places,” Hafner says. “And I think that’s a way that we’ve really benefitted from that general move back to more local — we obviously see that more in food and restaurants and then obviously in beer, too.”
Hafner says the parade was the first time he felt community support behind his business, and he says he enjoys knowing the Civil Life contributes to the stability and growth of his section of Tower Grove.
“That kind of makes all the stress and all the loans and all that stuff worthwhile when you know that people not just live in the neighborhood, but the neighborhood itself does [benefit] — the neighborhood is really supportive, and that’s been a really big deal to us,” Hafner says.
Why craft beer is a craft
Hafner emphasizes while brewing craft beer is a business, it’s important to remember it is first and foremost a craft.
There is an art to replicating a beer recipe so it tastes the same each time, regardless of factors such as yeast and temperature that quickly can make a batch turn out differently, Hafner says. Because everyone on the Civil Life team except Mosley was new to brewing, Hafner says there was a major learning curve in perfecting recipes and the art of brewing. Hafner says he tries to make sure each batch he serves is up to the Civil Life’s high standards.
“That’s kind of the strides — you make really big gains in the beginning because there’s a few things you do that make drastic change[s] and really improve things, and now we’re really looking for that, like when the craft becomes a precision focus on producing these great beers every single time,” Hafner said. “It’s a lot. Every day you come into work, you have to approach your job in a certain way, and my staff does that.”
Hafner says the key to being successful in his craft is hiring a great staff, striving to improve and reflect every six months about how far the brewery as come, and how it can improve going forward.
Plans for the future
The Civil Life owners have some big plans in store for this year — they purchased the property next to them during October and are planning on adding a canning line or another bar onto their pub.
Hafner says no formal plans have been made yet, but he says he is excited to do a few mobile canning runs during the next six months to test it out.
“We’re draught-only right now in St. Louis,” Hafner says. “The hope is that when we add on, we’ll add a canning line.”
Tell us about the beer
Trademark: “We’re mostly known for our English and American styles that
are of moderate ABV, so not anything too high in alcohol,” Hafner says. “We
also focus more on malt-driven beers rather than hop-driven beers. And, because of the way the craft beer market is, there’s not as much of a focus on some traditional styles. So I think that’s one thing that separates us in a traditional sense. It’s not that we’re separated because we’re making more interesting or crazy beers that really draw attention, but we’re making really true, traditional beers that have been made for hundreds of years in different brewing regions around the world.”