Chances are you’ve never heard of New Haven, MO. The middle-of-nowhere town is situated 60-some miles outside of St. Louis and its booming craft beer scene. Truth be told, it feels even farther away than that. But it’s here, within a historic Western resort called Cedar Creek Center that lies 2nd Shift Brewing Co.
2nd Shift’s current facility is full of character and life, and that has a lot to do with owner Steve Crider. Today, Crider and operations manager Mike Sweeney are focused on cleaning bottles and setting up their bottling line in preparation for the day's work. Five-month-old Annabelle sits in co-owner Libby Crider’s arms as two cats roam the brewery floor, a caged bird squawks across the room, and Pandora plays in the background (the music ranges from Tool to Tupac, Dolly Parton to Santana).
2nd Shift’s space isn’t particularly pretty, which is typical for most production-only facilities. The brewery feels like a mash-up of a college dorm room and a startup brewery, showing signs of past hard times. The past is the past, though, and current spirits are high—a move to St. Louis is within reach.
Roughly half of 2nd Shift’s current space is dedicated to barrel-aging, one wall of which is completely reserved for Katy, a Wild Ale that’s aged for more than three months in oak barrels with pediococcus and Brettanomyces lambicus. It’s a beer that’s made 2nd Shift’s name amongst local beer geeks. Since starting, 2nd Shift has steadily ramped up production of Katy. Now, they release a new batch every month.
“It's an excellent beer,” veteran journalist, author, and St. Louis resident Stan Hieronymus says. “Katy seems more of an extension of Crider than Art of Neurosis or Technical Ecstacy. Those two are also outstanding beers I'm happy to drink. The word ‘authentic’ is overused and underdefined, but Crider is, and Katy reflects that.”
Hieronymus isn’t the only notable beer-loving Missourian taking notice.
“As a huge fan of our own Saison-Brett, which I believe is the best Boulevard beer ever, a friend suggested I give Katy a try since it’s a Brett-fermented Saison-ish beer,” Boulevard’s ambassador brewer Jeremy Danner says. “Katy may well be the best Saison brewed in the state of Missouri."
Recently, they’ve been working with a slew of local farmers to acquire fruit to age Katy on. They’ve played with peaches, apricots, and blackberries—and are currently finishing up a batch aged on raspberries. Straight out of the vat, their raspberry variant packs a tart, stunning flavor on top of the pleasant Brett-funk Katy is known for. Finding new ways to present what might be considered their hit so far is just one of the ways 2nd Shift’s been working to fulfill the demand of the increasingly flocking beer drinkers.
"Sometimes it feels like we are moving a million miles an hour," Libby says.
"Nobody works like we do because they're making money—they have tasting rooms,” Crider says. “We have to work this hard just to break even.”
"We have to work twice as hard to make half as much money," Sweeney says.
Crider’s mom gave him a homebrew kit for Christmas in 1999. By March of the next year, he had 42 kegs, 10 taps, and he’d built himself a 10-gallon system. You might say he got a little obsessed.
"I was brewing 20-40 gallons a week, dumping beer,” Crider says. “It was good. It was really good. Out here, when you have three or four dudes drinking the beer, you can't drink 20 gallons of beer a week. We tried several nights. But I'd dump beer so I could make another batch of beer, so I could try different recipes."
After homebrewing for six years, Crider's uncle proposed the idea of starting a brewery. It was Thanksgiving 2006, and the pair were on a ski trip in Utah. By the end of the trip, his uncle had convinced him. So he immediately started reading books by Dogfish Head’s Sam Calagione and Brooklyn Brewery’s Steve Hindy, trying to learn all he could about the business. Crider also took a short, four-day course at the Siebel Institute about starting your own brewery before enrolling in the full Siebel course in February 2008. He’s not shy about what he learned there.
"When I got back from Europe, that didn't gain me anything,” Crider says. “I came back and brewed exactly as I was always brewing. That school teaches you every single brewing aspect in the world in about 12 weeks—normally it takes 12 years.”
He says the most important things he found at Siebel were the relationships he developed there. Now, he has brewing friends all over the world—Chicago, Portland, North Carolina, Tennessee, Europe, Vietnam.
His original plans for 2nd Shift didn’t involve New Haven. He’d planned to open a brewpub in St. Louis, one that would feature better-than-average pub fare. He was in conversations with Tom Schmidt, previously of Franco and current owner of Salt + Smoke BBQ, to run his food program, but those plans derailed when Crider learned of the opportunity at Cedar Creek. He couldn't pass up a chance to open the brewery at such little cost.
"There was nothing here—it was all dirt,” he recalls of the 2009 buildout. “It was just a big storage area for tractors, machines, and golf carts. I dug it out and did everything for it—except the concrete work. Built the building and got my first batch out in 2010—Art of Neurosis."
In 2010, most St. Louis beer drinkers weren't quite so attuned to aggressively hop-forward IPAs as they are now, but Crider was adamant about brewing what he loved to drink. And though people loved those first few batches of beer, they couldn't always get them. Nobody warned Crider about the difficulties of hop contracting when he started making Art of Neurosis, which consisted mainly of Simcoe hops.
"I didn't know anything about hop contracting–Simcoe is a bitch,” he says. “You know, even back then in '08 or '09. I called up to get some more hops, and Hop Union or somebody asked, ‘You got a contract?’ and I said, ‘No.’ They said, ‘You can’t get that.’”
He adapted by taking any hops the provider would sell to him without a contract. After Simcoe, it was Citra and Amarillo. “So I made another IPA, El Gato Grande,” Crider says. “Everybody said that was even better.”
But every time he attempted to re-buy hops, the provider said he needed a contract. After playing that game over the next year and creating eight different hop-forward beers (mainly of which consist of the same grain bill, just different hops), he finally was able to secure hop contracts. 2nd Shift is contracted through 2020 now.
It’s surprising, frankly, that 2nd Shift even exists. At 24, Crider was scheduled to travel with a friend to Belize. “I didn’t even know where Belize was,” he says. “The next day, we contacted a travel agent, and we booked.”
Roughly two weeks before the trip, the friend found out his significant other was having a baby and called it off, but that wasn’t stopping Crider. He went by himself, and immediately fell in love with Belize.
“Everybody was broke as shit, poor as shit, but happy,” he says. “And a local guy, he took me out, and I hung out with his family—they treated me as if I was a king. Whenever I went to people's homes, they didn't have a pot to piss in, and they'd give me food. This is the way it should be.”
Aside from the generosity, Crider realized he could buy land for $500 per acre. “I sold everything I had, which turned out to be about $85 grand,” he says. “The average income is about $1600 a year—I was bringing in that much in two weeks. Fuck, I can live for a long time for $85 grand down there.”
But those plans were short-lived. Without elaborating, he explains that his first wife screwed everything up. They’d eventually go their separate ways, which Crider says “led to this, which is the best thing ever.”
He’s talking about the other half of 2nd Shift—his wife, Libby. A sommelier by trade, she met Crider at her first day on the job at 33 Wine Bar, a small speakeasy in St. Louis’ Lafeyette Square, in 2012.
"My very first day there was the first day of craft beer week in 2012, and 33 [Wine Bar] used to always have a cask to kick [it] off,” she says. “They did a cask of Katy, and I met him. We started dating about three months after that.”
By the following July, she’d quit the wine bar and moved to New Haven to help Crider with 2nd Shift. Her background in wine translated well to craft beer—particularly the business side. “I knew the buying side, I knew the culture—I didn’t know craft beer,” Libby says. “My very first day, Sean, who now runs Union Loafers, ran the beer program. [He] taught me everything I knew up until then. I remember somebody asking for something not hoppy, and I was like, ‘Oh, a Pale Ale sounds like something not hoppy.’ I’m fairly knowledgeable now.”
Another, much newer, member of the 2nd Shift team is Mike Sweeney. A longtime homebrewer, Sweeney started STL Hops—a passionate St. Louis beer website—in 2007. He was eager to break into the industry, and even lobbied Side Project’s Cory King to help him get a job at Lohr Distributing as a craft beer manager. (King had held the same position before transitioning to head brewer of Perennial, where Side Project was born.) About two years ago, with plans for relocation surfacing, the Criders brought Sweeney aboard.
"I was just a beer nerd that knew a fuck-ton about beer," Sweeney says.
Since starting his professional craft beer career, Sweeney hasn't had as much time as he would like to keep up STL Hops, but the site still serves as a vessel for him to stay engaged and up-to-date with the St. Louis craft beer scene. After relocation, as the brewery’s operations manager, Sweeney envisions his role in the brewery shifting from day-to-day brewing to sales, marketing, and ordering. He may be the new guy at 2nd Shift, but he fills a crucial role in their business—maintaining relevance in and staying up-to-date with the ever-evolving craft beer industry.
Before starting the brewery, Crider was a machinist/fabricator. Or, as he calls it, a "hillbilly mechanic." He came from a long line of them, in fact—his grandmother, dad, and two uncles all worked for McDonnell Douglas as machinists.
"A week out of high school, I was a machinist—that's what I'm supposed to be," he says, and that background pays off big time in the brewing world. "Most brewers don't know how to fix anything. I go help the guys in St. Louis any chance I get."
But, as is the case for many relationships in the brewing industry, Crider sees both sides of this generosity. Libby explains: "Anytime we've ever needed anything, they've always been there. When we weren't able to pay the bills a few years ago, they let us throw a release event [in St. Louis] and gave us all of the profit."
Crider elaborates: "We’ve literally been breaking even since the beginning. We were down to $400 in the bank. We’d call up Perennial or Exit 6 and ask if we could do something at their place—a release. They would buy the beer. The distributor would take nothing, or 1%. Then we would do a sale at their place. They just want us to make money, so we can pay the rent and keep going. We've done this several times."
They started thinking seriously about relocation about two years ago. New Haven didn’t make it easy to leave, though, offering them a free building in the middle of their two-block downtown area. They were also presented with a building right outside of town—an old hat factory on 14 acres, which cost only $60,000. But, they needed a change, and for 2nd Shift, that meant moving to The Lou.
“I had to get the hell out,” Crider says.
Although a taproom wasn’t always obvious—or even possible—for 2nd Shift, as they approach relocation, Crider’s finally realizing his original dream for his business. Their new space, a brewpub located in The Hill neighborhood of St. Louis, will give them a much bigger footprint—18,000 square feet, including a 2,000-square-foot tasting room. But don’t expect them to massively increase production.
"I'm not going to expand,” Crider says. “Once we move, we will have plenty of room to grow, and this year, we will do 1,000 barrels, probably, so we are still tiny. I only want to go to 6,000. That's all you need.”
[Editor's note: At the time of this story's publication, the St. Louis space was getting very close. 2nd Shift was planning a Black Friday bottle release to raise the remaining necessary funds for their grand opening.]
Over the next few years, his vision for the brewery is to grow at approximately 1,000 barrels per year until he hits that end point. He expects that number will allow the brewery to keep roughly a dozen happy employees and provide the benefit of taking the team on a trip to various well-known beer cities around the world every other year.
"We can make plenty of money,” Crider says. “I don't need a Ferrari. If I get one, awesome, but I don't care. Number one is getting my baby girl through brewing school because she's not going to be anything else but a brewer. She's got to take over the business."
The Criders are excited to meld their styles together into one cohesive space, though they aren't sure how that will play out just yet. "It's going to be his personality and my personality,” Libby says. “The brewery is going to be so schizophrenic. There's going to be wood paneling on one side with his nostalgic, 1970s Playboys.”
It’s that down-to-earth—and, yeah, slightly off-kilter—personality that pervades all things 2nd Shift.
“While all the beers I’ve had from 2nd Shift have been stellar, the quality of their beer is rivaled only by the quality of their people,” Boulevard’s Danner says. “Steve and Libby are ridiculously normal, approachable folks who convey a genuine appreciation with a touch of surprise when folks freak out about their beers. They’ve done a tremendous job of capturing their playful spirit with artwork and label copy that communicates intent with the perfect dose of levity. It’s clear that they’re serious about beer without taking themselves too seriously.”
For his part, Crider even thought about pulling the trigger on a big dragon bounce house he saw on Craigslist. Not to put outside, of course—inside the taproom. Libby immediately nixed that idea. She’s got other plans.
"I'm an over-sharer by nature,” she says. “I want to make sure you feel comfortable in your knowledge. There are some people in the industry that want to ask questions, and there are some people that want to just know. So there will be little books on each table explaining yeast and beers and styles. And, clearly, there will be us, the bartenders, there to explain.”
But most importantly, the couple doesn't want to lose touch with the beer itself. "We don't want to be owners,” Libby says. “I never want to not work in the brewery.”
As for their employees, they want them to have a similar connection to the brewing process. "Everybody who works for us is going to brew,” Crider says. “The front of the house, they will come back once a month to brew. I don't care what beer it is—just brew. Try to make it a different beer every time, so they understand them.”
Through all of the hard times, 2nd Shift has still managed to keep their jobs fun, rewarding, and exciting. As they finish packaging the last case of bottled beer for the day, Libby spots a container of gold sparkles on the shelf. For the past few months, they’ve been sending beer back and forth to Pipeworks Brewing in Chicago. The last case they received was filled with sticky notes, paper clips, stickers, fruits, even a dollar bill. It’s 2nd Shift’s turn to send some beer, and Pipeworks is in for a surprise.
“The war is on,” Libby says. “They’re getting glitter-bombed.”
With their big move within reach, Crider is adamant about keeping the same spontaneous, casual mindset he possessed when starting 2nd Shift, even if it means riding on the edge of his seat sometimes. He’s like the glitter bomb of brewing in that way.
“Those guys in St. Louis think I'm fucked up because I never test batch or pilot batch anything,” he says. “I just whip up a new beer, and, knock on wood, 99% of the time it sells. People want it.”