Owensville Roller Mill
By Bobby Bush
St. Louis has four good-to-great brewpubs. Old 66 Brewery, Morgan Street Brewery, St. Louis (a.k.a. Schlafly) Brewery Tap Room and Trail Head are all on my recommended list, if I ever decide to make one. But I visited them all just a few months earlier. What's a pitiful beer boy to do? I studied the brewpub finder and my trusty atlas. Kansas City was too far for a one night drive, as was Columbia, Aurora and Parkville. Augusta, Missouri has a brewing beer garden, but a fortuitous phone call found they close at 5:00, about the time my plane arrived in St. Louis.
So there was a town called Owensville, a small point on the map about 60 miles (actually 85, I learned later) west of St. Louis. Fighting a little rush hour traffic and a few obligatory wrong turns, I finally found Highway 50 and its burgs. At most, a single stoplight marked the towns of Leslie (population 85), Gerald (1,171) and Rosebud (364). What had I gotten myself into? But I had called ahead. The friendly voice at Owensville Roller Mill Company assured me that a) they brew their own beer and b) that they would be open until midnight or thereabouts.
I struggled a bit with the dusty streets of Owensville. Finally located the old barn-like structured, circa 1893, but a friggin' Miller Lite neon glared obnoxiously in the window above the gravel parking lot. What in the hell was I doing here?
But then laughter, smiling faces around tables, eating, drinking. This was indeed a bar, not some bare knuckles fight hall. Across the rough wood floor I walked, taking one of five empty stools at the fake-marble plastic-topped bar. The cute bartender got the three house beers mixed up, but manager Brent Baker and I finally sorted it out. Fest, Blonde and Stout samples were offered to this relieved, weary beer traveler. Adolph's Famous Blonde was mildly hopped, smooth with medium body. Brief bitter finish was trailed by a suggestive honey aftertaste. Burnt caramel and toffee flavors embraced Fest. Lightly bitter, it presented a dryly sweet finish. Steam Engine Stout was not quite full bodied with roasted malt taste. With seven tap handles, the brewpub usually has 5 of their own on tap.
Mike Knehans is owner and brewer. His family had owned this building, which served as a grain mill many years ago, of course. He brought it back to the clan in 1994, and added a brewhouse to the bar about 2 ½ years ago.
In astonishment, I comment to manager Baker that, of the nearly 550 brewpubs I have been to, this is the smallest town (population 2,500) that I'd ever visited to find beer. He smiled and agreed, but stated that Owensville Roller Mill draws their crowd of regulars from Gerald and Cuba, not too many miles away. "Brew it and they will come" must work well in rural Missouri. Owensville even hosts a beer fest in September.
Long trip. Decent beer. Interesting story. I took a different route on the way home. As I turned onto the interstate in Cuba, Missouri, a line of traffic at the drive-in theater brought back old memories. With good beer, small town American probably isn't such a bad thing after all.
This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush