This weekend, we celebrate the 20th anniversary of St. Louis first premier beer festival, Schlafly's Hop In the City. The celebration, which takes place this Saturday from noon to 4 p.m., offers more than 40 beers and six specialty tappings from the brewery. Tickets can be still be purchased here.

Founding Brewer Stephen Hale explains, “HOP in the City is a very special day for us. It gives us the opportunity to showcase our passion for all styles of beer to the community. It was really one of the first beer festivals in St. Louis so we’re happy to continue the tradition 20 years later.

Recently, we got a chance to ask Hale 6 questions about HOP and its importance as a festival within the St. Louis craft beer community.

Looking back to the 1st HOP in the City, can you compare and contrast where it was then, and how it’s grown since to today?

Twenty years is a long time. I remember the excitement building around it as we stashed keg after keg beginning in late September 1998. The festival was held on 21st Street, between Locust (a one-way street at the time!) and the alleyway by the building. We set up a bunch of small tents and hoped people would show up.

It was a lot of fun, the beers held up pretty well (we had tasted them a day or so before to make sure they were okay—it was actually how we finished an interview for a sales rep we then hired, pretty amusing way to do that), and everyone had a great time.

I have some photos from the roof of the building showing the layout, will have to dig them up sometime. It’s also worth noting that Hop in the City had its genesis when the North Bar was dedicated. The original proclamation of Saint Louis Brewery Day in the City of St. Louis is on display somewhere. The first Hop was held a year later.

Can you remember the first beers that were available at the first HOP?

Specifically the festival beer: Belgian Tripel, it was a big hit, 10% ABV, and super tasty. Nut Brown Ale was another popular one, along with our year ‘rounders (most of which are still around today). There were around thirty as I recall.

What have those original beers grown into today?

Our year-round portfolio had more or less already been established, so the bulk of the beers were seasonal, some of which we’ve brewed again and some retired. It happens to the best of the

How did the Gong come to be a part of the hourly tappings?

I’ll give credit to others for this, but as soon as it arrived I had two people hold it up so I could play it. My inner percussionist was just hankering to play it as soon as possible. The vibrations you can get from that thing are just astounding, so it’s a fun addition to the drama of the whole event.

What makes this festival so endearing to STL beer lovers?

It was one of the first large-scale festivals, and unique in that there were so many different beer styles available, all from only one brewery. It’s grown over the years but has not strayed from its inherent core philosophy: show people a good time with great beer, fabulous food and music, and a really pleasant outdoor environment (we all need to get outside a lot more often…). I can’t imagine being anywhere else.

What else can you tell me about how special this festival is to you?

I would be remiss not to talk about the 2001 festival; it was scheduled for Saturday the 15th, but then 9/11 happened on a Tuesday. We didn’t have a file with procedures for holding a beer festival in the wake of a terrorist attack. We agonized over whether we should have the festival or not and came pretty close to canceling it, but the collective agreement, eventually, was that we should still host it.

We thought that going ahead with the festival would send a message to the terrorists that they had failed. After days of watching replays of planes crashing into buildings we as a society needed to turn off our TVs; get out and celebrate the freedoms the terrorists would deny and appreciate a sense of community with one another.

Tom Schlafly then asked for a moment of silence. Over an hour into the festival the crowd was totally silent. Cars on Locust Street stopped, as the drivers joined in our silence. You could have heard a pin drop in that tent. Tom recalls savoring the moment, knowing something like that would not happen again. He then gave a hand signal to the bagpiper, who played “Amazing Grace.” It was a supremely moving experience.

It was a lot of hard work to put on in the early years, and the crew involved now does a stupendous job in making it seem seamless and really enjoyable for all the guests. It’s a chance for a bunch of Schlafly Beers to be enjoyed on one occasion, organized in a format that lets people stay with what they like and experiment with other styles they may not have tried yet.

What is your can’t miss beers that everyone must try at this year’s HOP?

Let’s start with the festival beer: DDHPPPSNEIPA. That’s just the abbreviation, and I’m really looking forward to this beer. Double Dry-Hopped Passionfruit Pineapple Peach Session North East IPA. Let’s hope it’s a mouthful in many regards… Hoppy, fruity, hazy, and not over the top strong. Can’t wait!

I also particularly enjoy trying beers that were stashed last fall, it’s like getting a preview of some of them before they’re released again. Specialty tappings from the Pilotworks is always a treat, but it’s a long line so I don’t always get to try all of them.