Pretty drinkable beer

Dan Kopman and Stephen Hale had something in common that made them quite popular at Kenyon in the 1980s. They were the only students on campus making their own beer. "There was no shortage of customers," remembers Hale, whose older brother taught him the art of home brewing over spring break in 1979.

Kopman recalls using the space under the staircase of his campus home in the New Apartments for a fermentation room. "Some batches barely got one day to ferment," he says. "People would come home from parties and help themselves. They didn't really care what it tasted like; it was free beer."

Kopman '83 and Hale '82 stayed in touch after graduation, and they both pursued their love of brewing, albeit in different ways. Kopman honed his beer-making skills at the famous Young's Brewery in England and helped launch Young's export operation. Hale continued to perfect his home brews when he wasn't diving for sea urchins off the coast of Maine.

In the midst of the microbrew craze, Kopman returned from England to his native St. Louis, Missouri, and formulated plans to open his own brewery. He teamed up with Tom Schlafly, a local attorney who was instrumental in getting laws changed that would allow Missouri microbreweries to sell beer to other bars and restaurants. Kopman called Hale in 1991 and asked him to be the assistant brewer at the fledgling Schlafly Brewery.

"I'd spent four winters diving for sea urchins, and I wasn't looking forward to a fifth year. For most people, jumping off a lobster boat in Maine in the middle of winter isn't their idea of fun. It's not the most temperate water," Hale remembers. "I'd never been to St. Louis, but I called Dan back and agreed to do it."

The Schlafly Tap Room opened for business the night after Christmas in 1991. It was the first brewery opened in St. Louis since Prohibition. All did not go smoothly. According to a comic verse on the brewery's Web site (,

We opened the doors and all was off kilter,
The brewers were still learning to filter.
With customers packed like sardines in a jar,
The servers all hollered for drinks o'er the bar.

The brewery survived the initial chaos and was eventually selling its beer to other bars and restaurants. By 1996, Schlafly was available in bottles, and the next year thirsty baseball fans could buy it while they took in a Cardinals game at Busch Stadium. The brewery now produces more than ten thousand barrels of beer a year, and a new bottling plant opened this year.

As the brewery has grown, Kopman and Hale have both taken breaks to pursue other interests. Kopman was engaged to his Scottish girlfriend, Sheena, when Schlafly opened, and the couple returned to Scotland once the brewery was up and running. Kopman earned a master's degree in health economics from the University of Edinburgh and began working for the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service.

After having children, Kopman and his wife returned to St. Louis in 1998, and Kopman, as the company's vice president, has helped oversee everything from the tap-room menu to Schlafly's expansion plans. "The promise of free babysitting from my parents really helped us decide to come back," Kopman says.

In early 1994, Hale returned to Maine and helped open the Casco Bay Brewery. He came back later in the year to become chief brewer at Schlafly-and to reunite with his girlfriend, Sara Choler, a brewer who works as a designer at the brewery. Sara brewed a special batch of beer for their 1999 wedding in New Hampshire. "I came back to St. Louis for love and employment," Hale explains.

And now that Kopman and Hale have perfected the art and science of brewing, they must look back at the concoctions they brewed at Kenyon with a critical eye, right? Well, brewers are a proud lot.

"There were a few batches I wouldn't want to repeat," Hale says with a laugh, "but for the most part it was pretty drinkable beer."

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