If someone were to ask you what you consider to be “St. Louis’s” beer, there are likely several names that come to mind. While narrowing the identity of St. Louis down to one specific product is probably a fool’s errand, one thing is certain: St. Louis brewing definitely has a specific attitude.
That attitude is exactly what makes the beers at Heavy Riff Brewing ones to remember. With the recent launch of their distribution campaign and the hiring of their marketing director, David Scarmana, the rock music themed brewery is certainly poised for growth and greater recognition around the city.
With a team full of music fans, it’s no surprise Heavy Riff’s Dogtown bar is filled with guitar neck-shaped taphandles and classic concert posters. Head brewer Jerid Saffell claims his brother, Justin is the real music aficionado while Saffell played drums growing up. His goal for the identity of Heavy Riff was to create an homage to their love of music without being gimmicky.
The story of Heavy Riff’s flagship rockstar, Velvet Underbrown began with Matt Walters of Foeder Crafters of America, a company he started with Justin Saffell. At the time, Walters was homebrewing with St. Louis Wine & Beermaking where he originated the recipe for a brown ale. The recipe was adapted by Saffell and Velvet Underbrown was born.
In its original form, the beer was lighter with more toasty and biscuit notes than the version you might have had at the bar. Velvet Underbrown today is balanced with a big, creamy head (one might even say… velvety). With a rich body and low coffee notes, the beer drinks more like a stout than a brown.
When asked what he wants consumers to experience when drinking the Velvet Underbrown, Saffell hopes they “look past the style of brown.” While it may seem like a fairly straightforward style, the creamy mouthfeel of Velvet Underbrown truly sets it apart.
Scarmana adds, “It’s a surprisingly good warm-weather beer. Drinkable at any bar or pub, any day.” Both suggest pairing the beer with rich foods such as burgers or pot roast but also note that its sweet enough to stand up next to a dessert. According to Scarmana, “Its an all the time beer that tastes like a special occasion beer.”
Velvet Underbrown is crafted in a way that helps lend it perfectly to experimentation. One of the first variations Saffell concocted was a Vanilla Coffee version, originally made in collaboration with local shop Vincent Van Doughnut. Its certainly as robust and creamy as the original, but with a punching coffee flavor, a pleasant bitterness and clean finish.
As for what’s on the horizon, Saffell mentioned the Velvet Overbrown, an Imperial brown version plus a bourbon barrel aged version have been discussed. They’re also pushing towards a nitrogen version this winter to make it extra creamy.
Until recently, Heavy Riff’s beers were exclusive to the brewery and festivals; however with the inking of their new distribution partnership with Show Me Beverages (formerly Bevolution) this summer, you’ve likely already seen their brews on draught throughout the St. Louis area.
But if you want to share their beers with friends, better have your growlers ready or grab one of their crowlers they now fill onsite. While the team is happy with the new distribution getting their product into more hands, they’re keeping busy enough just filling the influx in draft orders. While they do plan to package more in the future (they already bottle some of their limited, 750ml format beers), they hope to avoid the need for contract brewing. In the meantime, Saffell says they’re exploring options like mobile canning.
For Saffell, seeing Velvet Underbrown in bars gives him a sense of fufillment. “It feels good to give something to the city. A beer for St. Louis”
Find Velvet Underbown and all of Heavy Riff’s beers on Untappd and Taphunter. Look for them at the Saint Louis Brewers Guild Halloween Party on Saturday, October 28th in Lafayette Park and other upcoming festivals!
Heavy Riff Brewing Company is located at 6413 Clayton Ave, St. Louis, MO 63139. Hours of operation are Monday-Thursday 4pm-11pm, Friday & Saturday 12pm-12am, and closed on Sundays.