Four MU alumni are powering the rapid expansion of a new St. Louis craft beer company.
Phil Wymore worked at the short-lived Grindstone Brewing Co., a brewpub in downtown Columbia, during its six-month existence in 2005 — just long enough to turn his world upside down. Hired as the chef, Wymore, BA ’05, peppered the brewmaster with questions. He became enamored with the idea you could earn a living making beer.
The revelation radically altered his career trajectory, prompting him to quit pursuing a second bachelor’s degree and future graduate degree in biology, and sent him through stints at Chicago’s Goose Island Beer Co. and Half Acre Beer Co. The culmination came in 2011 in St. Louis with the opening of Perennial Artisan Ales, a craft beer start-up Wymore runs with his wife, Emily Bryant Wymore, BA ’08.
Since opening, the Wymores have collected other Tigers disaffected from previous careers. Jonathan Moxey, BJ ’05, joined the team in January 2013. He was a writer for Standard & Poor’s in New York when a friend introduced him to quality home brewing. He soon discovered his skills and motivation were better matched to ale than to ink. Andy Hille, BS HES ’09, was laid off from his job at a Chicago footwear company in 2010. Reared in northern Colorado at the heart of the craft beer renaissance, a bout of soul searching convinced him his true passion was beer. He started volunteering at a local brewery, working his way up to packaging manager before connecting with Phil Wymore and landing at Perennial in November 2012.
The unlikely brewers — with their backgrounds in anthropology, interdisciplinary studies, journalism and textiles management —produce a stable of beers distributed as far as New York , Washington, D.C., and Denver. Phil Wymore plans to expand farther, eyeing San Francisco and even European locales. He also wants to add 12-ounce cans to the product line in addition to wine-sized 750-mililiter bottles and kegs.
“It’s more than I ever expected,” he says.
The operation has grown to 12 full- and part-time employees. The small size and frequent presence of the Wymores’ 3-year-old daughter and 1-year-old son keeps things light. “It makes it a family-friendly atmosphere,” says Emily.
That atmosphere is evident in how people talk. Hille, although he is an employee, speaks in the “we” and “our” language of ownership.
“This is where we nerd out,” he says, showing off the cask area in the back of the main production room. Dozens of bourbon and wine barrels, bellies now full of beer, are stacked floor-to-ceiling. Each is a mini experiment in what time, wood and aroma will do to ale. Most of the experiments will end in 12–18 months with a limited-edition release, but Hille says they’re prepared to go for years to achieve the desired effect. “We kind of fly by the seat of our pants. We’re passionate about our beer.”
Moxey, who made his own beer for 3 1/2 years, talks about the ease with which his ideas are heard and implemented. “I feel at home here,” he says. “I don’t brew at home anymore, and it’s not because I’m over the home brew thing; it’s because anything I’d want to make at home they’re making here.”
That adaptability isn’t accidental. It’s part of a group ethic of being responsive to the seasons and the environment. Perennial makes a new seasonal label every month — in August they were working on a brew featuring in-season peaches from southern Illinois.
For their company logo, the Wymores adopted the Ginkgo biloba tree, which has no close genetic relatives. It’s called a living fossil because it is virtually unchanged from ginkgo plants in the fossil record. But it’s also quick to respond to the environment, rapidly changing color in the fall and losing its leaves.
“That’s how we view our brewery,” Emily says. “We try to do different, unique things.”
That independent spirit pairs well with the brewery industry. “They are one of the best pure forms of entrepreneurship in America,” Phil says. “Each brewery is an extension of the owner.”