St Louis is a collection of highways, suburbs, and vacant spaces. Aside from the wonderful City Museum and arch, the focus downtown is on sports. Folks live in the collar towns and make the pilgrimage to the cathedral by the Mississippi only on sultry summer nights.
Juxtaposing religion with sports is dicey, especially in a deep red state. In St Louis, though, you'll get some leeway. They are that passionate about their Cardinals.
Swaths of cheap available urban properties are fertile loam for artists to flourish. "The Lou" is full of daring artisans stretching our understanding of what beer can be, and the last handful of years has seen an explosion of craft purveyors taking over former factories or industrial buildings. The craft beer takeover inside Busch Stadium is far more stunted, though, and with one last series left this year (and maybe more baseball thereafter?) there's limited time to make the pilgrimage and do it right.
But you can always bookmark this for later.
Budweiser features prominently, of course, and they leverage Goose Island. 312, Green Line IPA and Honker’s can be found throughout.
As for independents, access to the bulk of craft beers is hidden from general attendees: you mostly have to try the three club areas in the building. This means paying more upfront to pay more for premium beer.
There are some cracks in the pavement, though.
The true hidden gem nearby is the Bridge Tap House and Wine Bar.”
There are two grab and go markets in the lower level opposite each other. 8th Street Market and Broadway Market are niches in the concourse – blink and you’ll miss them – and they feature refrigerated boxes filled with beer. It’s like your area convenience store, but more expensive and at a ballpark.
Inside are Schlafly's varieties (White Lager, Expo IPA among others), Underdog from Urban Chestnut, both City Wide (4 Hands Brewing) options, and a surprise appearance from New Belgium's Ranger and Ranger IPA.
If you prefer a fresh pour, behind Section 142 is a bar with three Schlafly's taps – the White Lager is the best option on a hot summer day. That's about it for the stadium
Outside The Stadium and West
Just a block away is the Flying Saucer Draught Emporium. It’s a Texas-based chain with a vast beer list in a clean proper space, but it borders on a local T.G.I. Friday's vibe, so we’re still looking for an authentic experience.
While it looks like dozens of craft draft options await there, the menu is replete with green SOLD OUT stamps (13 the night we visited). Still, we found local favorites Perennial, Modern, and 4 Hands as well as Uinta Hop Nosh Tangerine IPA, Dogfish Head Burton Baton, and Firestone Walker Luponic Distortion. Bottled options are still massive and viable even if the atmosphere is somewhat lacking.
The true hidden gem nearby is the Bridge Tap House and Wine Bar. About seven blocks north of the stadium, it’s an upscale option featuring 50+ taps. The dimly lit ambience is augmented by duck charcuterie, lamb bolognaise, and a superlative beer and wine list. This author ended the evening with a Gulden Draak, a 10+% alcohol by volume Belgian Strong Ale which stood in stark contrast to the day's pacing. They offer fills of your growler, so there are no excuses for drinking poorly in your hotel room.
Follow Locust Street west and find yourself at The Schlafly Tap Room, the Grand Dame of the craft beer scene. They offer 30 unique tap handles, from easy drinking Farmhouse IPA to the seasonal Pumpkin Ale and beyond, i.e. Cask Barleywine, Watermelon Lager, and Double IPA. It may seem like the least adventurous tap room in the city, but they've earned it. They butted up against the Missouri State legislature and Anheuser-Busch in 1991 – they remain a beacon for all craft brewers to follow.
A mile west on Washington is Urban Chestnut and pure joy. Slap on the sunscreen for the huge beer garden (tables for 100+). This feels like an urban hacienda, complete with a cabana pouring beer and a playful Google playlist for music. Serving options come in two sizes of tankards: the half and the "we're gonna be here a while anyway" 35oz liter.
Beer offerings come from two lists, the Reverence Series, which are classically-crafted Euro beer styles and the Revolution Series, artisanal American beers. From the former are the Zwickel, their flagship Lager, Schnickelfritz, a Bavarian Weissbier, and Reine Liebe, a single hop Pilsner. From the latter, you’ll find Winged Nut, their signature chestnut ale, the Urbangang, a Belgian Lager, and STLIPA, a Double/Imperial IPA.
A little further west and south of Forest Park lays Modern Brewing. Time your visit, though. The tap room is only open Friday and Saturday after 4pm.
Soulard is the New Evening Neighborhood
South of the stadium is where the crowds go after a game. Bypass the noise and head to 4 Hands Brewing.
Inside you’ll find a high ceiling, bright industrial space. They have six permanent beers on tap paired with eight or nine seasonal. If the crowds follow, grab your beer and head upstairs to a huge new space and get lost playing Donkey Kong and other vintage video games or the boardwalk favorite Skeeball.
If you fall in love with the beer, get some six packs to go, including City Wide APA and Pils, Single Speed (American blonde ale), Cast Iron Oatmeal Brown, Incarnation (Mosaic hopped IPA), Contact High (wheat), Passion Fruit Prussia (Berliner Weisse).
Close by is one of three area International Tap Houses. This one has a huge space with even more seating outside. There are 40+ tap handles and knowledgeable staff to help with any questions. The lounge area has old couches and comfy leather chairs for a chill atmosphere.
Don't sleep on Mission Taco. They boast Mexican Fare with California Flare (although I'm pretty sure neither is absolutely accurate). What they do offer is a shabby chic eatery with a full bar, including a dozen rotating draft options. On the board the night we walked in were Deschutes Chainbreaker White IPA, Oskar Blues Dale's Pale Ale, Perennial IPA #10, and Bells among others. They even have a deal with 2nd Shift where you can only get a Sub-Mission IPA at the restaurant. House made tortilla chips, salty and not-too-hot, and the Three Pigs smothered burrito really hit the spot.
Perennial has been mentioned a few times already and deservedly so. In the South Carondelet neighborhood awaits a huge brick structure near the railways. The artifice belies the large bar and bright social setting inside.
Get a taste of everything. Most of the offerings come with a choice between five ounce or full pour. Enjoy the Saison de Lis (Farmhouse Saison), Hopfentea (Berliner Weissbier), Ollie Ollie Oxen Free (American IPA), and especially the Maman (American Double Imperial Stout). The Maman is think, rich and will stain the glassware. Try it even if it's typical St Louis summer weather (think 90°F and relative humidity 85%).
In the Tower Grove South neighborhood is Civil Life Brewing. It’s a throwback brewpub with a small Bavarian ski lodge atmosphere. There are no televisions. Rather, you’ll find an ad hoc bluegrass band playing outside in the biergarten – Civil Life is known for browns fashioned in the true European style, either English or German. Make sure to bring cash as they don't accept plastic.
Saving the best for last, out west in Maplewood is Side Project. This is one of the top premier craft beer destinations. And not just for St Louis, but the entire Midwest.
It’s small and can get cramped as demand is high. There is no sign you can see while driving, just on the side door you enter through. Parking sucks.
These troubles fall aside when you get your pour.
The beer is served in stemware, unusual for beer. Cory King, Owner & Brewer, thought he'd be a vintner but chose beer instead. Some would say he lives in both worlds.
They offer eight taps and a baker’s dozen bottles (on site purchase only) of American Wild Ales, Farmhouse Saisons, and American Double Imperial Stouts. Most are wildly successful and complex. For example, the Evil Twin Collaboration Styrbjørn is fermented in red wine and bourbon casks and racked in port wine barrels. Most of the products are developed via a similar wood and fermentation program.
So load up the car and enjoy the Gateway to the West. Just remember to put some ice and empty growlers in a cooler in the trunk. It’ll be full before you know it.
Oh, and wear red. They are that passionate about their Cardinals.
Thanks to Lenore Manuel-Stitt for the header image.