Phil Wymore of Perennial Artisan Ales

Going Pro by | Jul 2012 | Issue #66

Phil Wymore has been brewing professionally for seven years. Over that time, the craft industry has changed radically. One measurement of that change: If Wymore were looking for a job today with the same credentials he used to land his first brewing job, he wouldn’t be employed. “I was not a homebrewer when I landed that first pub job,” he says, “and now, I can’t imagine a pub-brewer hiring an assistant that wasn’t a homebrewer. It was just great timing that a person like me could come in and get a job. I had no experience—I just knew I liked Pale Ales.” Wymore has made the most of his shot, parlaying stints at Goose Island and Half Acre into his own St. Louis startup, Perennial Artisan Ales. Perennial’s artisan hook, Wymore says, goes beyond handcrafting their product: “We wanted to give the beer producers a face. We want people to know who’s making their beer.”

1. Get in the door
When Phil Wymore found brewing, he’d held down enough jobs to know what he wasn’t interested in doing for a living. Wymore was working as a chef at a sushi bar, and the pitch from one of his regulars—to come work the kitchen of a new brewpub—wasn’t the least bit enticing. The pub’s kitchen didn’t interest Wymore, but the brewhouse blew him away. “I met the brewer, weaseled my way into becoming his assistant, and then the writing was on the wall for me,” he says. Brewing combined pieces of jobs he’d liked in one package: “It offered me a creative outlet, it let me geek out on science and let me work with my hands.”

2. Open up
Wymore learned the details of production brewing when he managed cellar operations at Goose Island. And he got a dry run at starting up his own brewery when he was the head brewer for Chicago’s Half Acre Beer Company during its first year. Half Acre wanted to tap the experience Wymore carried from Goose Island, and Wymore wanted to see first-hand how to implement a business plan. The year-long stint worked, Wymore says, because both he and the Half Acre crew knew he’d be moving on to his own venture. “We knew it was a temporary arrangement, and they were an open book as far as sharing financial information. It was a real accelerated learning situation.”

3. Scrimp, then splurge
Goose Island more than doubled its production output during Wymore’s tenure. So when Wymore designed his startup, Perennial, he built out his brewing space with full capacity in mind, so the only constraints on growth would be from demand, not physical bottlenecks in the brewery’s production flow. Wymore also learned when to scrimp, and when to splurge: He bought his brewing equipment used, but insisted on buying new, high-efficiency bottling and keg-washing lines. “Keep your fixed costs as low as you can, and spend money where you really need to,” he says. “As hard as it is to pull the trigger on those bigger expenses, it has made my life easier, and I haven’t regretted it.”

4. Be unique
Perennial was conceived as “a brewery for beer geeks,” Wymore says. “We want to make beers that we get excited about, and our beer-geek friends get excited about.” Wymore says the support from their base in Missouri has been great, but their large production scale means they also have to ship beer far away from St. Louis, to cities like Chicago and New York. And it means putting creative Belgian spins on the flagship beers that Perennial distributes inside its home market. “We didn’t just want to have the twelfth Pale Ale or the twelfth wheat beer in St. Louis,” Wymore says. “We’d rather have the first Belgian Pale, something with a different character to offer people.”

5. Easy drinkers go hard
Inside St. Louis, Perennial sells more pints of Southside Blonde than anything else. It’s a beer Wymore didn’t originally want to brew. “I was going in from the more radical standpoint of not having something that sessionable,” he says. He was out-voted by his wife and father-in-law, who wanted an approachable style that could mint new craft beer drinkers. Southside is brewed with two-row and wheat malt, hopped with Warrior and Mount Hood, and fermented with Westmalle’s abbey yeast. “There was some pressure, because that beer needs to be pretty damn good,” Wymore says. “I’m surprised how often I reach for it.”

6. Go beyond the Pale
Hommel Bier was the first recipe Wymore brewed for Perennial. The Belgian Pale Ale melds Belgian and American brewing styles, and links Wymore’s past work in Chicago to Perennial. Hommel Bier was inspired by Half Acre’s Daisy Cutter Pale. It combines biscuit and aromatic Munich malt with the classic Dupont yeast strain and assertive Pacific Northwest hops in the kettle and in the fermenter. Wymore wanted a recipe that would be low in bitterness and highly aromatic; Columbus, Mount Hood and Cascade hops give the beer an orange nose that matches its orange-colored body.

7. Use a light touch
Wymore built Saison de Lis, his flagship Saison, to showcase the chamomile the beer is herbed with. “I think it’s one of the most pleasant aromas I’ve run into,” he says, “but it needs something delicate to let it shine. In my mind, Saison is the perfect vehicle. I wanted to make an everyday, great-drinking beer, but set it apart.” A restrained 5-percent alcohol content and low hop presence let the chamomile come through; the flower, in turn, creates a delicate-finishing beer that Wymore calls “an everyday, go-to beer for beer geeks.”

8. Challenge yourself
Wymore has been challenging himself to create a tasty mint beer ever since an experiment with a Brown Ale, a charge of dried mint and an old Bourbon County Stout barrel went badly. “I’ve been saying, ‘I will figure out a way to use mint in a beer and enjoy it.’” He’s found success in a Mint Chocolate Stout aged in rye barrels. He drops bags of dried peppermint and cocoa nibs into tanks full of big (9.5-percent ABV), mellow Stout; when the beer emerges from the barrels, it gets hit with the mint and cocoa again. “It ends up like an Andes mint,” Wymore says. “There’s a ton of mint character, but all the dark chocolate comes through, too. It’s this awesome dessert beer.”

9. Don’t rush
Barrel aging asks brewers to make a simple tradeoff—cede control, and tap a whole new world of flavors. Perennial’s barrel program casts a wide net, laying down beers in spirit barrels, and experimenting with wild ales aged in wine vessels. Abraxas, a Mexican Chocolate Stout (a limited volume of which is aged in rye barrels), has developed a cult following. And the brewery is putting local fruit to work in barrels of wild beers. Perennial recently released Savant Beersel, a wild ale aged in French Cabernet barrels with Brettanomyces and Missouri wine grapes; a Flanders Red aged with sour cherries, two strains of Brett and wild bacteria is in the works, but requires a good deal of patience. “The single-Brett beers take a shorter time in the barrels,” Wymore says, “but when you start putting [Pediococcus] into the mix, and you rush the fermentation cycle, you get horrible results.”