May 2020

As most alert readers (ARs) know, one of my favorite quotations from Yogi Berra is “You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.”  This was certainly true for pioneers who took the Boone’s Lick Trail from where Schlafly Bankside is today to the Santa Fe and Oregon trails; and also for Lewis and Clark, who paddled up the Missouri River from the same place.

In the two months since I first wrote about Schlafly Bankside in this space,  COVID-19 has come to dominate the headlines and Yogi’s wisdom has rung true for all segments of society.  We really don’t know where we’re headed.

One of the responses to the crisis has been a call to support American businesses, especially those that are local.   The first step in doing this is correctly identifying which businesses are in fact American-owned and locally owned.  I would remind ARs who support this policy that Schlafly is locally owned; we’re the oldest and largest American-owned brewery in Missouri.  Our primary wholesaler is also locally owned.  The owner of this wholesaler is also the principal owner of The St. Louis Blues, whose ownership group is 100% local. Other beers in the market are produced in breweries owned by foreign conglomerates.   Some are distributed by a wholesaler owned by the owner of The Chicago Blackhawks.  ARs can decide for themselves whom they want to support.

Another way to support our community during the crisis is to donate to The Gateway Resilience Fund, which provides assistance to employees in the hospitality industry whose lives have been disrupted by COVID-19.  These individuals have been immensely supportive of Schlafly over the past 28 years and I want to do what I can to help them in their time of need.  If any ARs would like to join me in contributing, you can go to

For the record, I have personally contributed $50,000 to the Gateway Resilience Fund.  This represents over $1.50 per barrel of Schlafly’s annual production.  Other investors in Schlafly have also donated.  I would encourage the owners of other local breweries to contribute to the best of their ability.  I would also invite foreign conglomerates who sell beer in the St. Louis market and wholesalers owned by out-of-state interests to contribute to this effort at a level consistent with their revenues from our region.

One of the controversies surrounding the Coronavirus is what to call it.  Because it is believed to have originated in China, some people call it the Chinese virus.  Others have said this name is insulting to the Chinese.  Some have cited the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 as a precedent for naming a virus according to its country of origin, ignoring the fact that it probably did not originate in Spain.  This was long before my time, so I’m going to leave this discussion to historians.  I do, however, have vivid memories of the Hong Kong Flu epidemic of 1968, which shut down Washington, DC during my junior year of college and sent all of us home early for Christmas vacation.   I don’t recall any objections from China at the time, perhaps because the virus originated in a British Colony for which Chairman Mao’s government felt no responsibility.

Drinking beer under quarantine can be challenging.

Five years earlier I had been diagnosed with German measles.  It wasn’t until years later that I learned the medical name for my affliction was the rubella virus.  The disease had no connection with Germany apart from having been first identified by German physicians 150 years earlier.  During the outbreak in the early 1960s, I don’t recall any German politicians complaining that the common name of the virus was racist and insulting to their nation.  Presumably, they were more concerned about the Berlin Wall and Soviet tanks on their border.

As a consequence of self-isolating because of COVID-19, I’ve been able to do a lot more reading.  One of the first books I read while under quarantine was Stronghold by Tucker Malarkey, about the effort to save wild Pacific salmon. Unlike Yogi Berra, yours truly and most other humans, Pacific salmon always know exactly where they’re going.  They can spend several years swimming thousands of miles all over the Pacific Ocean and still know how to find their way back to the exact location in the same stream where they were born.

Another book I read was Blood and Thunder, about Kit Carson and the conquest of the American West.  Until reading the book I had not realized that Carson had grown up in Boone’s Lick, Missouri, which got its name from salt deposits in the area that attracted wild game and were mined by Daniel Boone’s family.  When  Kit headed west at the age of sixteen he took the Boone’s Lick Trail (the same one that started near Bankside) and continued on to the Santa Fe Trail.  While he is remembered correctly for having fought bloody battles against Native American tribes, it’s also worth recalling that he lived among native peoples, spoke some of their languages and was married first to an Arapaho woman and, upon her death, to a Cheyenne woman.

Carson’s most brutal military campaign was probably against the Navajos.  The tribe may be best known today for having provided so-called “code talkers” to U. S. Marines during World War II.  Because the Navajo language (in which Carson was fluent) is so difficult, code-talkers were able to communicate by radio without being understood by the Japanese.

Given the distinctiveness of their language, some Navajos were understandably stunned when they visited the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago.  They wandered by chance into a pavilion where they encountered some Athapaskan Indians from Canada.  To the astonishment of all concerned, the Athapaskans from Canada and the Navajos from the American Southwest were able to understand each other perfectly.  Apparently the Navajos were descended from Athapaskans who had migrated south centuries earlier taking their language with them.  This realization was so disturbing to both groups that they studiously avoided each other for the remaining three weeks of the exposition.

As unsettled as we all are now in not knowing where we’re going, it can apparently be even worse for some to find out where they actually came from.


Tom Schlafly

Chairman – The Saint Louis Brewery