Wildcat Tracks: Derrick Langeneckert ’05
How does one go from science to suds? For Derrick Langeneckert, it’s all in a day’s work! After graduating from Drake University with a degree in biochemistry, cell and molecular biology, Derrick had intentions of becoming a patent attorney. He was accepted into law school but withdrew to spend a year teaching ESL in Korea. Upon returning to St. Louis, Derrick earned his masters in biology from UMSL. “While working toward my masters, I fell into an assistant brewer position at Square One Brewery,” he says. “After working with them for a year, I figured ‘I can do this!’ In 2013 we opened Alpha Brewing Company in a small space on the backside of a building on Washington Avenue downtown. We quickly outgrew that space, so in 2018 we moved to our current 14,000 square foot location. We now have 17 employees across four areas: taproom, kitchen, production, and sales.”
In a town that prides itself on locally-made beers, Derrick has worked hard to ensure he is creating a product that stands out. “Early on, we set ourselves apart by creating a barrel aging and sour beer program. We have about 150 oak barrels used in the brewing process here at the brewery. We also produce several mixed fermentation beers. That means in addition to using brewer’s yeast, we also incorporate wild and sour strains of yeast and bacteria which then create unique flavors.” His flavors feature combined ingredients which typically aren’t associated with each other or beer, and it’s a process that takes diligence. “One of our most popular brews is Delphian, which is a mixed-culture sour blonde ale aged in chardonnay barrels. We use oak barrels with several of our beers. We also have whiskey, tequila, rum, red wine, white wine, brandy, and port wine barrels with various brews in them. Aging takes a long time, usually between one and three years of patience. We also incorporate a lot of fruit in our brews. Divine Intervention is a popular blood orange blonde ale that I enjoy — it also happens to be our best seller!”
Derrick’s ability to creatively think outside the box was nurtured during high school. “Mr. Hughes was my favorite teacher; at the time he taught ethics. I really enjoyed his classes — I found him to be both analytical and understanding.”
Much of what impacted me from Westminster was learning how to think, how to reason. I appreciate that my high school education was not simply a regurgitation of facts but instead an approach to understanding.
So where does Derrick’s scientific background come into play? “Brewing beer is all about science,” he says. “Happy yeast makes good beer, and it’s an organism that we have to keep happy so it does its job. When making beer, of course it has to taste good, but it also has to be repeatable. That’s where the science comes into play. We take a lot of measurements to ensure the quality of the product we’re making.”
Alpha Brewing has made a name for itself and thrived even despite the pandemic. Derrick was able to adapt to the changes and come up with new approaches to how he runs his business. “COVID…what a fun year to run a bar and restaurant! We tried all sorts of strategies. One life saver was our canning operation that enabled us to sell cases of beer to package liquor stores. Sales were down across the board, but government programs like the Payroll Protection Program saved us in the end.”
There are a lot of fun things on tap for the holidays at Alpha Brewing. “On Black Friday, we will tap four new stouts which are only available at the brewery for a limited time. This year we are making: Dreamsicle, All Spice, Tiramisu, and Bananas Foster stouts,” Derrick says. “Plus, every year for our wedding anniversary my wife and I collaborate on a special ‘I Do Brew’ and we release a whiskey that pairs with the beer. ‘I Do Brew’ is a Belgian style triple that is traditionally brewed for weddings in northern Europe. It’s a great beer clocking in at 8% ABV, brewed with orange peel and coriander. That beer comes out January 15.”
For menus, event information, and more, see alphabrewingcompany.com.