When we visited Narrow Gauge back in September, they’d only been open a few months and news of their beer was spreading quickly. Since then they’ve upgraded to larger fermenters to help accommodate the need for more beer and allow them to brew more styles.
When it was published, we also helped Jeff break the news that they were starting to package their beer in “crowlers” which really helped this article spread like wildfire. Below is the most read Brewer’s Spotlight article of 2016.
If you’re a craft beer drinker, you may have heard of Narrow Gauge Brewing. If you’re a Saint Louis craft beer drinker, you’ve definitely heard of them. Open only since June of this year, Head Brewer Jeff Hardesty has been serving buzzworthy brews from day one. One of the biggest reasons behind the buzz is not just the flavor of the beers but they way they look as well. While they brew multiple beer styles, it’s their IPAs that are literally the talk of the town. You see, their IPAs are classified as “New England” style, meaning they’re sufficiently dry hopped and extremely turbid. The notoriety isn’t without merit as their top-seller Fallen Flag, a New England Style IPA made with Citra and Mosaic hops, can sell out completely within a week’s time. Sales speak volumes in terms of how good a beer really tastes and these beers go quick.
These recipes are a labor of love by Head Brewer Jeff Hardesty. Jeff brewed his first batch of beer at home in 2011 and brewed his first commercial batch just 5 years later. When you know his background, that quick rise begins to make a lot more sense. You see, Jeff is an engineer by day (yes, he still works a 9-5) which means he approaches things in a very technical manner. You can brew great beer without a lot of math but you can brew great, repeatable beer with a lot of math. When scaling his recipes from a 10 gallon system to the 3 BBL system in place at Narrow Gauge, his meticulous calculations for brewhouse efficiency were off by just 2%. Some might say that level of thought is overkill, but Jeff would say that it’s just what you do to make good beer.
Oh yeah, one more thing. As soon as their current supply of growlers is gone, you can expect crowlers to be their go-to to-go packaging. To say Jeff’s excited about it would be an understatement.
What’s your favorite beer brewed by Narrow Gauge?
My favorite so far to date has to be Oast #2, which was an American IPA dry hopped with Citra, Mosaic, Galaxy, and El Dorado. Our Oast series is named after the drying houses that were used in England to dry hops. The series itself gives me the availability to dry hop IPAs and/or Pale Ales to my choosing. Some we will remake and possibly become one of our rotating beers and some will be made only once.
What’s your favorite local beer that’s not brewed by Narrow Gauge?
I would have to say Saison Du Fermier from Side Project. To me it’s a great beer that has both funk and tartness.
What’s your favorite non-local beer?
I am going to break the rules and pick 2. A fresh bottle of Fou Foune from Cantillon. I have had aged bottles and there is nothing like a fresh bottle. The other would have to be Juice Machine from Tree House.
How did you end up as a professional brewer?
It was kind of a spur of the moment decision after my wife and I took a trip up to Hill Farmstead in Vermont. We loved the idea of potentially living on a large plot of land and running a brewery and waking up to that scenery every day. Now with that in mind my wife and I went an extremely different route. After putting together a business plan to open up a place in a rural area in Missouri I met Ben and Dave of Cugino’s, which led to talks of opening a brewery in Florissant. Discussions with them started after they had tried a beer I poured with the STL Hops Homebrew Club at the STL Hop’s Anniversary Party in 2013, which happened to be Copra. Talks eventually lead to pulling together funding and finally brewing in mid-May took place.
What’s a typical day like for you at Narrow Gauge?
As of right now it varies day by day, but we currently only have 2 fermenters. This allows me to brew once per week. My typical brew day starts at 6:30AM on Saturdays and ends at about 6PM. Monday through Friday I am working what I refer to as my “normal” job so Saturdays and Sundays are my option of brew days. I double brew on a 3BBL brewhouse to fill our 6BBL fermenters. I try to make the most use of my time while brewing so typically during my brew day I will dry hop a batch, clean kegs, mop, fill kegs, transfer a batch into a brite tank, clean beer lines, and of course clean and sanitize tanks. Since I brew in the basement certainly the least favorite part of each brew day is carrying all the spent grain up a flight of stairs.
What’s your most favorite and least favorite beer to brew?
I would have to say it is the SHB series is my favorite to brew, which is one of our series of American IPAs. SHB is an acronym for Single Hop Beer. The beers themselves are made using a single variety of hop during the dry hopping process. This is a great way to showcase a hop and get an idea of what each hop brings in regards to flavor and aroma in a beer. As anyone that has made it up to our brewery knows we have a passion for IPAs and Pale Ales, which is certainly what I enjoy brewing.
My least favorite has to be Copra, which is an American Porter aged on coconut, cacao nibs, and vanilla beans. The brew day is fine, in fact one of my favorite smelling brew days, but the post cellar work is what fuels my reasoning for this being my least favorite beer to make. So each batch has a large quantity of shredded coconut in it, which basically wants to clog everything during the transfer. I racked the first batch over on a morning I was brewing and was covered in porter and coconut by 7:30AM. On the bright side I smelled like a mounds bar all day.
What are some upcoming beers from Narrow Gauge that you’re excited about?
Right now I would have to say an Imperial IPA I just dry hopped with Galaxy, Citra, and Amarillo this past weekend. Long term I would say Zavtrak, which is an Imperial Stout aged on cacao nibs, vanilla beans, coffee, maple syrup, and cinnamon. We had a small batch of this at the last STL Hops Anniversary Party and we are frequently questioned about when we will have it available. We have 4 new fermenters due to arrive in late October/early November, which will give us the availability to brew this beer as it needs more fermenter time. The new fermenters will triple our current fermentation capacity.
If someone’s never had a Narrow Gauge experience, what’s something you want them to know about your beer or your brewery?
Be aware at this point most of our offerings are hop forward IPAs and APAs. If you are the type of person that “doesn’t” like hoppy beers I would still highly recommending giving ours a try. Ours are both different in appearance and taste than many IPAs you might be used to. They are cloudy in appearance and low on the bitterness with high aroma and hop flavors much like the IPAs you would find in the northeast. I find that most people don’t like IPAs due to the bitterness and I agree that is a feature I like to be less aggressive in the style. Being only open since mid-June our focus has been mainly on these types of beers and the feedback up to this point has been astonishing to say the least. We have had a few porters on tap, but are currently trying to keep up with the demand for the IPAs and APAs. So look for additional styles towards the end of the year when we increase our capacity.
One important aspect of our brewery is we are located in an existing restaurant so we have a bit of an unusual set up. Look for us inside of Cugino’s at 1595 N. US Highway 67 in Florissant. When you walk in the door steer to the right as that is geared towards our tasting room. However, if that side is not open the left side serves our beers as well as. Make sure and give the food a try at Cugino’s as well because it is simply amazing. My personal favorite is the PB&JJ Burger. Cugino’s also offers 28 additional taps of mostly local beers.
Narrow Gauge will pour you a beer from 11am-1:00am Monday-Saturday and from 11am-12am on Sundays. They’ve brewed 15 batches of beer so far and only three have been the same so if you hear about a beer you want to try, hurry down to grab a pint or a growler before it’s too late. If you’d like to drop in for a pint or have any questions, see below for their address and additional contact info.