St. Louis is a beer city I’ve wanted to visit for a few years now. Long gone are the days when Budweiser was the only game in town, and there are several young breweries emerging as some of the best in the Midwest. And it’s only a little more than six hours down the road! Three friends and I decided to head down I-70 to see what a St. Louis Beercation had to offer us.
Our first stop was Side Project Cellar. SPC opens at 1:00 on Fridays and we did our best to arrive as close to open as possible. The space is cozy and comfortable. Warm sunlight streams through the large front windows. The décor is somewhat rustic, with white painted wooden chairs and simple wooden tables. There is a primary L-shaped bar holding eight to ten people and another mirror image bar next to it for additional seating. There is one long communal table in the bar area and several smaller tables throughout the rest of the room. We had been there maybe 45 minutes without much of a crowd when the line steadily grew to reach the door. I’m glad we got there early and had a chance to order a couple bottles for our table before the wait time got longer. Once you try the beer, you understand the reason for the line – everything is fantastic. Every beer Side Project makes is barrel aged. While they have this in common, there is considerable room for diversity. We started with Apple Brandy Derivation, a thick, chewy, sweet 15 percent stout that is amazingly delicious. From there, we moved on to Pulling Nails, a tart blend of wild ales aged in Chardonnay barrels that couldn’t have been more different from the Derivation, but was equally delicious.
After a break to check into our accommodations, we headed to our next stop, Perennial Artisan Ales. Although we didn’t plan it this way, we got lucky and booked our trip for the weekend they were selling Abraxas, Perennial’s well-known imperial stout with ancho chili peppers, cacao nibs, vanilla beans, and cinnamon sticks. This stuff tastes fantastic, especially the vanilla and coffee variants. We picked up our pre-ordered packages and found a seat on the patio. The inside of Perennial’s tap room has an old, industrial feel, like an old school or a church. It’s a little bit dim and a little bit loud. The outside feels completely different – there is a large, open patio lined with picnic tables. A fire pit sits in the center and the outside is lined with stacks of firewood. Lovely place to sit on a mild fall day and drink an Abraxas. Eric Hildebrant from STL Hops, a great resource for all things St. Louis beer, was on site. He was kind enough to buy us a bottle of a great beer we probably never would have thought to order, and then he gave us a tour of the brewing facility. Eric explained the building’s history as a Coke syrup plant and a storage facility and he showed us all the different brewing and barrel-aging spaces. Really a great tour. Friend Eric on Untappd and Twitter (ericstl6) and reach out to him before you head to St. Louis and he’ll give you some great tips.
We decided we could fit one more brewery in on Friday and headed to 2nd Shift. The taproom is a big industrial space walled off from the brewery by a large wall of barrels. The space is large and is filled with tables. It is fairly casual, with mismatched tables that largely look like they belong in a school library. Although I preferred the beer at SPC and at Perennial, I still had some nice things at 2nd Shift, highlighted by brett saison Katy. We ate dinner at the Filipino food window, and the chicken adobo burrito was juicy, flavorful, and delicious.
After 2nd Shift, we were still a little hungry and weren’t quite ready to call it quits for the night. We looked up dining options and found Mac’s Local Eats, a burger window in the back of Tamm Avenue Grill. Wow, I’m so glad we went there, as I can say with no exaggeration that I had the best burgers (yes, plural…more on that later) I ever had there. We arrived at the window and were looking at the menu when Mac himself asked if he had eaten there before. When we told him we had not, he gave us a detailed explanation of each menu item. Mac dry ages whole cows and grinds them up into tasty balls of meat that are smashed down into thin, crispy patties. Burgers are topped with fresh ingredients and he doesn’t use any produce that is out of season. Every burger comes standard with cheese, pickle, ketchup, mustard, and thin-sliced raw white onions. I had the Lumberjack, which is a beef patty, pork patty, American and pepper jack cheeses, bacon, and onion, and finished it off with rip fries, which are coated with sweet and spicy powder like you get on Riplets potato chips. Despite all the delicious beers I had that day, that burger was the best part.
On day two, we set off for Narrow Gauge, located in the northern suburb of Florissant. Narrow Gauge is only about a year old and is still very small, operating out of Cugino’s Italian restaurant. Cugino’s has an old bar area that seems like it’s been there for decades. It’s kind of a divey sports bar, which was a good place to watch some football on Saturday. The walls were lined with old beer signs and a big Budweiser neon sign covered most of the bar back. There were Christmas lights and old fans on the ceiling. We started with some beer samples. Most of NG’s beers are New England style IPAs, and theirs were some of the best I’ve had of the style. We sampled some St. Louis style pizza topped with Provel cheese (kind of like Velveeta if you’re not familiar) and toasted ravioli to complete our tourist dining curiosities. After enjoying a few hazy beers, we ordered some crowlers to go – NG generally does not package yet, but it does have crowlers and growlers – and moved on.
Our next stop was closer to downtown at 4 Hands. 4 Hands had by far the most appealing tap room of everywhere we visited. It’s an old industrial building retrofitted with some great modern touches. The downstairs floor has what looks like an accent wall of wallpaper with giant hops, but when you look closely, you see the hops are painted, not paper, and they are made of four hands. There is exposed brick and glass block windows everywhere on the first floor. Upstairs is a large, open beer hall with long live-edge wooden tables, a large bar, and an attractive white tile bar back. There are free skeeball and arcade games. 4 Hands has a nice range of beers, probably the most diverse tap list of anywhere we went. Perhaps it’s all the beer I had already tried the past day and a half, but I was ready for some lighter fare, and I enjoyed the City Wide Pils and the Tiger Tears Pilsner quite a bit.
We took a little break from the brewery scene to watch the Ohio State game, and after a loss we were ready to drown our sorrows. Our final brewery of the trip was Civil Life, which was recommended to us by Eric, Mac, and nearly everyone else we had met in town. Civil Life is a nice place to wind down after you’ve been drinking for two straight days. Everything on the menu is sessionable. The tap room has a tall ceiling and wood paneling and feels like a comfortable lodge. There is a nice beer garden in front. This is a great place to sip on some lighter beers and catch up with some friends. I enjoyed the English bitter, the Dortmunder, and the Vienna lager. We ordered our first round at the bar and were told it had already been paid for. Turns out Mac swung by earlier in the day on the hunch that we would stop by and bought us beers. Between him and Eric, we met some fantastic people on this trip.
Speaking of Mac, we had been thinking of those burgers all day, so we made a second trip. We enjoyed our second round so much that we had a third round while we were there! My stomach might not feel quite right for a few days, but it was worth it. St. Louis is a fantastic city to explore and a great place to eat and drink. We didn’t even hit every brewery, which just means there’s more reason to go back and explore again. I can’t think of any reason why Columbus beer travelers shouldn’t plan a weekend trip right now.