The moment you walk through those brightly colored shipping containers, it’s clear: Rockwell Beer Co. isn’t your average brewery.
We’d like to think that feeling has something to do with the branding. The truth is, though, it’s more than vibrant colors, llamas, and the Instagrammable “Drippy R.” From the friendly faces behind the bar to the unpretentious beers they’re pouring, Rockwell is a breath of fresh air in an industry with a habit of taking itself too seriously.
We sat down with Rockwell founder Andy Hille and head brewer Jonathan Moxey to hear how they’re building an approachable place to enjoy good beer.
On Brewing a Sense of Community
“We want this place to be approachable to a lot of people, not just a specific set of people,” Hille says of the tasting room. “This is such a male-focused industry, and we’re thinking about how we can branch outside that world through everything from the beer we brew to having an inviting space. To have a place where people feel like they can hang out, feel comfortable, and feel accepted. To me, that is fun and contagious.”
“To have a place where people feel like they can hang out, feel comfortable, and feel accepted. To me, that is fun and contagious.”
So far, efforts to welcome one and all are paying off. “One of the coolest things I’ve seen at these pop-up events and promotional things is how many people I don’t recognize,” Moxey adds. “It’s beautiful that the craft beer community is coming through, but there are also all these other people that I never see at beer releases or breweries around town. That’s awesome because it means we’re doing something right. It means we’re establishing the mood we want here, where it’s welcoming and comfortable for everybody.”
“It’s a very communal space,” Hille says. “The beer hall, traditionally, has been a third meeting place that isn’t home or work. There are churches and then there are bars. It’s the weird collection of people you get together that probably would have never gathered otherwise. That, to me, is the really exciting part because we can start bringing these overlapping groups together that traditionally wouldn’t have been in the same place.”
On Brewing in a Beer City
“The big brewery in town is hemorrhaging volume, but beer sales are relatively flat. That means it’s coming in somewhere else,” Hille says of the local craft beer bump. “Traditionally, St. Louis has been slow to reject Anheuser-Busch, but now we’re seeing that trend in the market. Who’s going to step in next? It’s probably not going to be one person; it’s going to be 10 or 15 that can fill that hole.”
“I want to be able to disarm as many critics as I can that want to come in and say Rockwell is a hipster snob place.”
The key to the local beer scene, Hille has found, is keeping things relaxed and fun. “There are a lot of technical things that we take very seriously, but that stops back in the production area. For us to be approachable, that’s an inherently St. Louis thing. If we try and be authoritative, snobby, or anything like that, people just don’t go for that here. I want to be able to disarm as many critics as I can that want to come in and say Rockwell is a hipster snob place.”
On Moving in on Vandeventer Ave.
Rockwell brings a bright landscape to a stretch of Vandeventer that laid dormant for years, despite substantial growth just a few blocks away in The Grove. “We were really on an island out here,” Hille recalls. “To convince a bank that it would even be feasible for a business to open on Vandeventer was a lot of work.” Still, he and his team set their sights on a location they could truly make their own, bright shipping containers and all.
In the twelve months since, things have started to look up for the block. “Now we look around the area and see that six of the surrounding buildings are for sale or have been acquired since we started construction,” Hille says. “Trailnet is adding dedicated bike lanes down Vandeventer so there will be a big push to revitalize this area. We’re in on the ground floor of that.”
“I think now developers and local government officials are starting to see the value of a brewery. It’s bringing people to the neighborhood. It’s developmental steroids.”
The progress on Vandeventer points to the impact a brewery can have on the surrounding community. “I think now developers and local government officials are starting to see the value of a brewery,” Hille says. “It’s bringing people to the neighborhood. It’s developmental steroids. It can kick off a lot of things really quickly.”
On What to Order on Your First Visit
“Right off the bat, we’re going to have a couple of really fun ones,” Moxey says. “Standby Pilsner. Passing Clouds will be one of the first beers we make. We’ve been doing a lot with kveik, which is a type of Norwegian farmhouse ale yeast. The first beer we do with that will be a hoppy little pale thing because it ferments very quickly.”
“We’ve been very fortunate to have a lot of support from our friends in the industry,” Hille adds. “We’re excited to showcase some of their beer on tap as well.”