Monday, September 1, 2008

Tom Schlafly is our locally brewed Don Quixote

St. Louis could use more guys like Tom Schlafly. We have here a lawyer and entrepreneur - a CEO, albeit of a small business, a small brewery - who sidelines as a satirist.

Schlafly's monthly column for the Schlafly Growler newsletter, Top Fermentation, is often a venue for sly satire. The sly humor starts with the title, of course. Top fermentation is the brewing process (defined by choice of yeast) that produces ales, as opposed to lagers. Tom is the top Schlafly dog. And his mind and column are in constant ferment. I score that a triple entendre, which is right about two more entendres than we have come to expect from St. Louis chief executives.

Schlafly has published a book, compiled and elaborated from his Growler columns, that styles him as a "renegade brewer" in its subtitle. He continued in that renegade spirit, even after the big brewer in town (you know who) embraced Schlafly Beer by coproducing (and mostly paying for) a local beer festival in partnership with the little guys in town.

His latest September 2008 column continues to continue in that spirit, even after you know who was purchased by InBev. This means that when Schlafly tilts at his windmills now, the dragon that could defend them is not just the biggest beer dragon in town, or in this country - he is poking at the biggest beer dragon in the world.

Schalfly begins his new column by pointing out that "September is here, meaning it's time for Oktoberfest," because the ur Oktoberfest (the one in Munich) begins on September 20 this year. He then picks up his satirist lance and immediately tilts at the cross-town global dragon, saying that the original Oktoberfest "continues to be recognized as a Munich beer festival despite the fact that some of the most famous brands of beer served there (Franziskaner, Löwenbräu and Spaten) are now owned by InBev," which is based in Belgium, not Bavaria.
Schlafly continues to tap this "buy local" theme, noting that at the first Oktoberfest (hosted on October 12, 1810), surely "the caterers served beer from locally owned breweries." Then he moves toward the bottom line in a manner that must be considered bold (if not fearless) by the standards of local CEOs.

"Like Schlafly Beer, most catering companies in St. Louis are also locally owned," Schlafly writes. "I would therefore encourage any caterers who happen to be reading this column to keep in mind the fact that the money they spend on Schlafly Beer stays in St. Louis. I would also encourage all alert readers, and anyone else planning a wedding reception or any other kind of party, to insist that their caterers serve beer from a locally owned brewery."

Let the little Don Quixotes eat some of the big dragon's lunch, is what Schlafly is saying here. He is saying it with satire, but as anyone who indulges in satire immediately learns, the victims of satire never, ever, ever think you are funny or blameless for having coached your criticism in humor.

Remember, his Growler column is in a state of constant ferment. It bubbles and changes. This month, Schlafly changes topics from "buy local" to the sexual punning implicit in Marcel Duchamp's satire on The Mona Lisa, which is in turn nestled in a brief history of Dadaism. Like I said, we need more Tom Schlaflys in St. Louis!

He ferments his way back to his "buy local theme," with plugs for two Schlafly events, Art Outside (at The Bottleworks, Sept. 5-7) and Hop in the City (at the Tap Room, Sept. 13). Hop in the City gets him all the way back to Oktoberfest (a return to the point of departure with a difference, which defines the narrative arc of classically effective storytelling), with a final poke at the global dragon across town.

"Although it's neither as old nor as large as the Munich Oktoberfest, it's still a lot of fun," he writes of Hop in the City. "It will feature 40 different styles of beer and, unlike Oktoberfest, none of the beer that's served will have been brewed by InBev."


Image of Don Quixote and Sancha Paza by Natasha Kurovsky.

Tom Schlafly has donated an experience to the 2008 Experiential Auction (5-8 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 21 at Atomic Cowboy, 4140 Manchester Ave.). He'll buy a round of beer at a Schlafly brewpub for himself and the highest bidder and give them a signed copy of his book A New Religion in Mecca: Memoir of a Renegade Brewer in St. Louis. Procceds will benefit Poetry Scores, a St. Louis-based arts org that translates poetry into other media, such as music, paintings, film and beer.

Bidding is open now and starts at $10. Leave a comment here, or email me at brodog [@]

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