St. Louis, Missouri

Destinations by | Sep 2012 | Issue #68

Illustration by Sam Brewster

For nearly 60 years after Prohibition, St. Louis’ beer scene was dominated by “The Brewery,” the massive Anheuser-Busch brewing complex just south of downtown. A lawyer named Tom Schlafly gave the city another choice when he opened The Saint Louis Brewery in 1991. He and co-founder Dan Kopman never set out to topple Goliath. “We just wanted to make some really good beer and throw some good parties,” Kopman says.

Along the way, they inspired a new generation of craft brewers to play in the sandbox. The metro area has added 10 new breweries since 2009; two dozen breweries operate within a two-hour drive of downtown.

But it’s not just the quantity of breweries that signals St. Louis’ recent embrace of craft beer. The new guys, like Urban Chestnut, Civil Life and Perennial, have proven that their liquid is worthy of placement in the city’s best establishments. Proud beer bars with 20 or more tap handles devote much of that space to locally brewed craft beer. That wasn’t even an option just a few years ago. And fine-dining restaurants that once relegated beer to the back page of a wine list are now putting local brews front and center—and serving them in proper glassware.

St. Louis has always been a beer city. In 1991, it started its transformation to a craft beer city. Today, it’s one of the country’s top destinations for beer travelers.

Baileys’ Range
Beers, burgers and boozy milkshakes are the highlights of Range, which opened last year in a former downtown grocery store. Restaurateur Dave Bailey and family decked out Range in a modern farmhouse decor, with colorfully painted lights fashioned out of old milk cans hanging above a communal table. Twenty-nine of the bar’s 30 taps are dedicated to locally brewed beers (an out-of-state guest gets the last handle). Drafts are offered in 9- and 16-ounce pours. [4.32]

Families flock to Cicero’s for the St. Louis-style thin-crust pizzas; college kids go for the live music; and beer geeks pack the house for the 55 draft options and more than 200 bottled selections. Cicero’s popular Beer School has expanded to two sessions on Wednesday nights (5:30pm and 7pm; fall semester begins this month). Brewers, brewery owners and other industry reps lead classes and tastings. Enrollment is free, and whatever beers are featured at school that night are $1 off at the bar.

Dressel’s Public House
Don’t let the Guinness patio umbrellas fool you into thinking this is just another wannabe Welsh pub. Inviting wood tones and surfaces covered with eclectic art give Dressel’s a classic tavern vibe, while chef Mike Miller’s menu is a nod to contemporary gastropub cuisine (his herb-roasted Porchetta Louie is a standout at $12). Owner Ben Dressel takes pride in his smartly curated selections from local and out-of-state breweries, including good suds from the bar’s cask engine—like Arcadia IPA ($6), which pops with that porchetta.

The Good Pie
Good Pie owner Mike Randolph is partial to turbo-hopped beers to pair with the Neapolitan-style pizzas that come from his wood-fired oven. Expect to see Six Row Brewing’s Double IPA (brewed a mile from the pizzeria), 4 Hands Divided Sky Rye IPA (brewed 3 miles away) and the like flowing from a few of Good Pie’s 10 taps. Urban Chestnut, one of St. Louis’ newest craft breweries, runs a Bavarian-style beer garden around the corner from Good Pie.

HandleBar, a 2-year-old beer bar in St. Louis’ club-packed Grove entertainment district, has a fondness for bicycles, Russian food and beer. Owner Tatyana Telnikova, a cyclist and a Moscow native, is responsible for the first two, hence the vintage bikes hanging from the walls and a menu that includes borscht and blinchiki (crepes). The regional-focused beer menu is the work of HandleBar “director of inebriation” Keeley McGrew. Her draft, bottle and can list spans from craft (Tallgrass 8-Bit Pale Ale, $5/can) to value ($1.50 PBR tallboys on Wednesdays).

International Tap House
There are two “iTaps” in town—this one, positioned midway between Busch Stadium and the Anheuser-Busch InBev brewery, and the original, in a strip mall in a western suburb. Forty draft lines and refrigerators full of almost 500 bottled brands make iTap an easy place to spend a lazy afternoon or evening. For food, order from the adjacent Epic Pizza & Subs (they’ll walk your grub over to the bar) or grab takeout barbecue from Bogart’s (arguably the city’s finest) a few doors up the street.

Pi Pizzeria
The fifth St. Louis-area Pi Pizzeria (a sixth outpost is in Washington DC) opened in May in the Mercantile Exchange building across from the city’s convention center. Owner Chris Sommers says he enjoys seeing tourists and downtown dwellers rub elbows at Pi’s sleek bar, accented with reclaimed barn wood. Half of the 24 taps pour beer from St. Louis breweries. One is PiPA ($5), an orangey American Pale Ale brewed especially for Pi by 4 Hands Brewing Co.

Schlafly Tap Room
The Tap Room, the granddaddy of St. Louis’ craft beer movement, celebrates its 21st birthday this year. Situated within walking distance of where the Rams, Cardinals and Blues play, the Tap Room does a brisk business, especially on weekends. They come to try some of the 18 Schlafly brews on draft (including an always-present cask option), and they stay for chef Andy White’s sinfully sweet sticky toffee pudding ($6).

The Royale
The Royale is the type of place where the entertainment might be a poetry reading one night and a DJ the next. But the beer is always good, beckoning locals to its barstools seven nights a week. A 12-handle draft tower rotates selections frequently, but about half the lines pour local brews, like the session-friendly American Brown Ale ($5) from The Civil Life Brewing Co. and the sexy Schnickelfritz Hefeweizen ($5) from Urban Chestnut Brewing Co.

St. Louis Wine & Beermaking
Friendly customer service has helped St. Louis Wine & Beermaking thrive for more than two decades. Novice homebrewers will benefit from the store’s free monthly workshops, while more intermediate and advanced brewers enjoy the deep selection of brewing equipment and fresh ingredients.

The Wine and Cheese Place
Yes, it sells wine. And yes, it sells cheese. But The Wine and Cheese Place is also the place to buy craft beer in St. Louis, with hundreds of brands lining its shelves and coolers. Longtime manager Paul Hayden keeps his Twitter followers (@TWCPBeer) informed of the latest rarities he scores. And he’s known for having the freshest Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale and some of the best prices in town. Note: The shop ships to most states through its online store.

Global Brew Tap House & Lounge
Illinois often gets beers that can’t be found on the Missouri side of the Mississippi River. That’s one of the attractions of Global Brew, located about 30 minutes from St. Louis. Another attraction is the bar’s focus on beer—50 on draft and a couple hundred in bottles, which can be purchased to-go at retail prices. Global Brew doesn’t have a kitchen but lets customers bring in food (like from the sushi joint next door). Note: A second location opened in June in O’Fallon, Ill.